Alleged bomber's lawyer wants to question Yemeni leader

Guantánamo defense lawyers for an alleged al Qaida bomber asked an Army judge on Tuesday to order Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to undergo war court questioning at a New York hospital.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes wouldn’t say what he wants to ask the former Yemeni strongman on behalf of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who faces a death penalty trial at Guantánamo next year. He did said he believed the chief military commissions judge could issue a subpoena that “would compel the Yemeni president to be deposed” — despite a U.S. State Department declaration that the 69-year-old Yemeni would receive diplomatic immunity as head of state.

Saleh arrived in the United States this weekend for treatment of burns he suffered in June during a bomb attack at his palace mosque amid a popular uprising to oust him from power. Elections for his replacement are slated for Feb. 21.

Pentagon prosecutors alleged that Nashiri, a self-described former millionaire from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, orchestrated al Qaeda’s bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen in October 2000 when Saleh was firmly in charge of his homeland. Suicide bombers blew up the $1 billion U.S. warship in Aden harbor, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

It was also during Saleh’s tenure that some other accused Cole bombers were captured, convicted and escaped from a Sana’a prison.

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The filing was under seal Tuesday to give U.S. intelligence agencies time to scrub it.

Pentagon prosecutors have yet to respond, and a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington had no comment.

The prosecution seeks the execution of Nashiri as Osama bin Laden’s alleged chief of Arabian Sea operations against both U.S. ships as well as the French oil tanker the Limburg. A crew member died in the October 2002 attack.

Defense lawyers argue that Nashiri’s case is tainted by torture because CIA agents waterboarded him and interrogated him with a revving drill and a handgun cocked near his head before his transfer to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba in September 2006 for trial.

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