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Guantanamo Bay Naval Camp and detention center. / Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

News that Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen is stepping down from the five-co-defendant 9/11 case at Guantánamo Bay is only the latest blow in the Kafkaesque history of U.S. military commissions. In addition to the judge’s departure, one of the defendants in the case, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, just lost his longtime capital defense lawyer, known as “learned counsel.” Meanwhile, the case against accused USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is essentially back to square one after hundreds of rulings were overturned because of a judge’s conflict of interest. Two years before, al-Nashiri lost most of his defense team because of improper government surveillance.

It will take time for new judges and lawyers to get up to speed—especially because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first case was diagnosed at the base March 24. Remote access is extremely limited. Under a brand-new policy instituted in response to the coronavirus, lawyers who obtain “mission essential status” to take the weekly air shuttle to Guantánamo must remain in isolation for two weeks before being allowed to cross Guantánamo Bay to the site of the prison, and will have to self-quarantine for two weeks when they return to the mainland. Of course, detainees are at risk for the virus due to the age of many, conditions of confinement, and physical and psychological debilitation associated with nearly two decades of indefinite detention.

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