Yemen president could face questions in Gitmo case

February 1, 2012 - 5:45 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A lawyer for a Guantanamo prisoner charged in the attack on the USS Cole has asked a judge to let him question the president of Yemen while he is in the U.S. for medical treatment.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, the Pentagon-appointed lawyer for Guantanamo prisoner Abd al-Nashiri, said Wednesday that he believes President Ali Abdullah Saleh may have information about the 2000 Cole attack that he needs for his client's upcoming war crimes trial at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.

Saleh, who was president at the time of the attack in the Yemeni port of Aden that killed 17 sailors, arrived in the U.S. on Saturday for treatment of burns suffered in an assassination attempt in June.

Officials have not disclosed his whereabouts.

"Once he's in the jurisdiction of the U.S. presumably he can be subpoenaed," Reyes said. "By coming here, it presented an opportunity."

The attorney filed a motion Tuesday asking the military judge in the case to let him question Saleh and another motion Wednesday asking for an expedited ruling so they can depose the embattled Yemeni president before he leaves the U.S.

Saleh has said he intends to be back in Yemen in time for Feb. 21 elections.

Both motions are sealed until the Pentagon finishes a security review and the lawyer said he was prohibited from discussing what's in the documents, including his exact rationale for wanting to question Saleh.

If the judge grants the motion, the defense would travel to Saleh to conduct the deposition rather than require him to come to them. The prosecution has not filed a response to their request.

Al-Nashiri, who has been in U.S. custody since 2002, spending part of that time in the CIA's clandestine prison system, could be sentenced to death if convicted.

(This version CORRECTS that Human Rights Watch hasn't said Saleh is in New York.)