Judge threatens to delay bin Laden driver trial

A military judge threatened on Friday to delay the first Guantanamo Bay war crimes trial if prosecutors can't arrange for defence lawyers to question accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other possible witnesses, Reuters reported.

Defence lawyers plan to call Mohammed, fellow September 11 suspect Walid bin Attash and other "high-value" detainees at the Guantanamo prison camp as witnesses in the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver who is scheduled to be put on trial on Monday.

"We've come to the point where the government needs to move," Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain, said in response to warnings from prosecutors that security concerns might hamper efforts to arrange for a defence lawyer to question Mohammed and others before trial.

"I'll continue (postpone) the trial. You can send your witnesses home," Allred warned sternly. "It'll cost you an awful lot of money."

Defence lawyers said at the controversial detention centre at the US base in southeastern Cuba that if they were not granted access to three detainees they wanted to see during the weekend they did not expect the trial to go forward on Monday.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, said later that the Defence would be granted access to the detainees during the weekend and he expected the trial to start on Monday.

Hamdan, a Yemeni in his late 30s, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Prosecutors say he was a member of al Qaeda's inner circle while Defence lawyers argue he was just a driver and mechanic in bin Laden's motor pool.

The US military plans to bring military officers, who will serve as jurors, and witnesses from all over the world this weekend to the isolated US navy base where the war court will convene for its first trial.

The Defence planned to call the alleged al Qaeda kingpin Mohammed to elaborate on a claim made by prosecutors, who suggested Hamdan was on a mission for him in Afghanistan when the driver was captured in November 2001.

Defence lawyers say the "mission" Mohammed sent Hamdan on was to evacuate women and children, including Hamdan's own wife and daughter, from Kandahar, a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold.

Allred made clear in a previous hearing that he believed Mohammed and others could have exculpatory evidence for Hamdan and should testify. He told lawyers for the two sides to work out the logistics.

Because every word uttered by Mohammed is deemed a national security secret, prosecutors pushed for a videotaped deposition. "We don't know what will come out of their mouths when they are in open court," prosecutor Clayton Trivett said.

Defence lawyers want him to testify live in court, and to interview him beforehand so they know what he's going to say.

Anyone listening to such testimony in court would need top secret security clearance, which means Hamdan himself would not be able to hear it. His lawyers have said he is willing to waive his right to be in court that day.

Defence lawyers have complained they have been denied access to the potential witnesses for months and Allred indicated to prosecutors that he was losing patience.

"I'm only pushing you because you're pushing me," he said. "You want to start on Monday, so get on it."

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