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Guantanamo Detainee Lawyers Want To Question Yemeni President

Defense attorneys for a detainee held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base have asked a military judge to subpoena Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The attorneys representing Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi man accused of orchestrating the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000 and of leading an al-Qaida cell in Yemen, say president Saleh could have information important to the case. President Saleh, who suffered severe burns after an attack on a mosque during the uprising in the Yemen last year, arrived in New York for medical treatment over the weekend.

One of al-Nashiri's defense attorneys, Richard Kammen, told NPR that part of the reason the defense wants to talk to Saleh is because, among other things, evidence the FBI used in building the case against al-Nashiri came directly from the Yemeni president.

"Published reports suggest that he initially attempted to prevent the FBI from investigating the bombing claiming it was an internal explosion," Kammen said. "[Saleh] imposed restrictions on the FBI's ability to investigate the Cole bombing [and] evidence was routed to the U.S. through him personally."

Kammen said there were other reasons for deposing Saleh, but it "would be inappropriate to publicly discuss."

The chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, told NPR that his team is looking at the defense motion.

"We are examining it and determining how appropriately we should weigh in on the matter with the court given that he is the head of a country and that's about all I can say about it at this time," said Martins.

It is unclear whether a military judge could compel Saleh to answer any of the lawyers' questions in any case. The State Department has said Saleh has diplomatic immunity as a head of state while he is in the U.S.

Military prosecutors at Guantanamo are seeking the death penalty in the al-Nashiri trial. Al-Nashiri is also accused of planning the 2002 attack on the French oil tanker called the Linburg. One crew member died in that attack.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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