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Judge's Retirement Is Likely To Delay Trial Of Sept. 11 Defendants At Guantánamo

A tower overlooking Camp Delta at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in 2009.
U.S. Navy via Reuters
A tower overlooking Camp Delta at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in 2009.

There's another setback in the long-delayed Sept. 11 case at the U.S. military court in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba: The judge overseeing the proceedings has announced his retirement just nine months after taking the job.

Judge W. Shane Cohen, a U.S. Air Force colonel who arrived at Guantánamo nine months ago, said on Wednesday that he is retiring from active duty military in July and his last day on the bench will be April 24. He said he is leaving "based on the best interests of my family," and his departure makes it highly unlikely that the trial will begin as scheduled in January 2021, a date many Guantánamo lawyers had already said was unrealistic.

Cohen's announcement is the latest of many disruptions in the controversial and problematic case, which has cost U.S. taxpayers at least $6 billion since 2002. And it comes a month after another prominent Guantánamo legal figure effectively asked to quit: In February, James P. Harrington, the lead attorney for one of the five men charged in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, requested Cohen remove him from the case, citing health issues and "incompatibility" with his client, Ramzi bin al-Shibh.


The case has basically been stuck in place for years, with attorneys continuing to argue about fundamental legal issues, such as whether the U.S. Constitution applies to military court proceedings. Cohen was the third judge to preside over the case, and his retirement means a new judge must get up to speed on nearly a decade of legal filings before the case can continue.

Meanwhile, legal meetings for Guantánamo's 40 remaining prisoners, including the five defendants, have been temporarily halted due to the widening coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Navy announced Tuesday that a sailor on Guantánamo's 45-square-mile naval base had tested positive for COVID-19. That marked the first confirmed case of the virus among Guantánamo's roughly 6,000 residents.

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