Defense: Prosecutors seek to pause Gitmo trials

January 20, 2009 1:50:45 PM PST
Inauguration day was also a work day at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where soldiers, contractors and observers of a war crimes trial watched the new commander in chief take the oath. Dozens sat beneath American flags and strained to listen to televisions at a base cafeteria as plastic trays crashed and ice rattled from the drink machines. It was a diverse group - ethnically and professionally - and many of the people here have a personal stake in the decisions President Obama will make regarding the base's notorious prison for terrorism suspects.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Roderick Tumblin pronounced Obama's address a "great speech," but steered clear of politics.

"It's important for the whole nation," said the 29-year-old from Albany, Georgia. "He's our commander in chief and that's who we are going to serve no matter what."

A military judge adjourned the Guantanamo Bay war crimes court just before Obama was sworn in, leaving open the possibility that the hearings might not resume. War crimes prosecutors were seeking to suspend all trials until they get more guidance from Obama's administration, while defense lawyers want the charges dropped instead.

Joe Holland, a retired New York firefighter observing a pretrial hearing for five men charged with plotting the Sept. 11 attacks that killed his son, said he hopes Obama will not halt the trials, but found himself approving of the inaugural address nonetheless.

"He told me he's going to fight the terrorists and that's all I care about," said Holland, who now lives in Spring Hill, Florida. "He's committed to fighting and destroying them before they destroy us."

Navy Petty Officer First Class Ernie Dwight came away believing Obama can help resurrect a struggling U.S. economy.

"I have a family, I have kids so it's kind of reassuring to hear that the storm is almost over and we can look forward to brighter days," said the 37-year-old sailor from Queens, New York.

The nearly 245 prisoners at Guantanamo could not watch the inauguration for a simple reason: There is no live television feed to the areas where the men are held, though some are permitted to watch DVDs.