There's yet another setback at the U.S. military court in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Jury selection in the 9/11 trial was scheduled to begin there this coming January, but that now looks increasingly unlikely because a new defense lawyer in the case says he needs 2 1/2 years to get ready.
David Bruck, whose past clients include Charleston, S.C., church shooter Dylann Roof and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is the new lead attorney for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the five men charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.
Bruck was appointed in April after al-Shibh's previous lead attorney, James P. Harrington, asked to leave the case citing health issues and "incompatibility" with his client. Bruck officially began full-time work on the case July 1.
In a legal filing Wednesday, Bruck said he has not yet met al-Shibh and faces hundreds of hours of work just reading the more than 33,000 pages of hearing transcripts so far. He estimates it will take him 30 months to prepare for trial and says he cannot begin preparing fully until normal work and travel resume at Guantánamo. Legal proceedings there are at a virtual standstill because of the pandemic.
It's the latest of many setbacks at Guantánamo's problem-plagued military court and prison, which have cost U.S. taxpayers more than six billion dollars. In April, the judge in the Sept. 11 case, Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen, left after nine months on the job, and the head of the military court, Christian Reismeier, moved to a different role after being in his position for less than a year.
Given that upheaval, many Guantánamo lawyers have been openly skeptical that a trial could begin in January 2021. Bruck's announcement makes that even less likely, and means the 9/11 trial is unlikely to begin before next year's 20th anniversary of the attacks.
Government prosecutors have not yet formally responded to Bruck's filing, but he acknowledges they are likely to push back on his 30-month estimate. Still, Bruck wrote, that is "the minimum amount of time required to do the job for which I have been appointed."
A 48-year-old Yemeni, al-Shibh is accused of helping plot the Sept. 11 attacks and finance the 9/11 hijackers.