WASHINGTON: A US military judge ordered yesterday that testimony describing the capture, secret imprisonment and torture of defendants accused of taking part in the September 11 attacks must be kept secret.
Judge James Pohl released his ruling on his military tribunal’s website, accepting a request from the US government that the testimony should be kept secret from the public and media for reasons of national security.
A human rights group and 14 media organisations had challenged the practice at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay of holding parts of the defendants’ trial behind closed doors when sensitive topics were addressed.
The alleged Al Qaeda operatives accused of being behind the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington were detained around the world in secret American intelligence operations, imprisoned secretly and subjected to torture. Self-declared 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants face the death penalty if they are convicted of organising the hijacking of four jetliners and killing almost 3,000 people by having them crash into landmarks like the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
The Central Intelligence Agency has admitted that interrogators subjected “KSM” to waterboarding — simulated drowning — while in custody.
In his ruling, Pohl endorsed the US government’s view that discussing these matters in open court would endanger American national security by revealing secret procedures and tactics used by the intelligence
Under the so-called “40-second rule,” reporters and members of the public following the Guantanamo hearings receive audio from the courtroom on a short delay and the feed can be cut off if classified material is released. Pohl said that his military commission had decided that the delay was the “least intrusive and least disruptive method” of balancing the competing demands of open justice and national security.
He said the delay allows the court to “remedy any negligent or intentional disclosure of classified information without unduly impacting on the ability of the public and press to fully see and understand what is transpiring.”
“The commission finds this case involves classified national security information, including top secret information, the disclosure of which would be detrimental to national security,” Pohl said.
Such classified information could include the methods used to capture suspects, the countries in which they were held in secret jails, the identities of their captors and details of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” he said.