Lawyers want Guantánamo war crimes case televised, but judge seems skeptical
A defense lawyer for accused terrorist Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri is asking to have video feeds of his military commission trial at Guantánamo distributed to broadcast outlets citing public interest in the proceedings. The judge questioned whether he had authority to grant the request.
Fort Meade, Maryland
A defense lawyer for the accused mastermind of the USS Cole suicide-bombing urged a military judge on Thursday to permit open television broadcasting of his client’s military commission trial at Guantánamo.Skip to next paragraph
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The lawyer, Richard Kammen, told Judge James Pohl that significant public interest and the novel and controversial nature of the military commission process necessitates wider public scrutiny.
“We want to increase the transparency,” Mr. Kammen said. “We want greater numbers of the public to be exposed to this.”
The lawyer for accused terrorist Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri is seeking to have video feeds of the ongoing litigation in the case distributed to broadcast outlets such as C-Span, Fox, and CNN, among others.
The motion was among several legal arguments made during a pre-trial hearing in a high-security courtroom at the US Naval Base, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A video feed of the proceedings is being transmitted to a media monitoring facility at Fort Meade, outside Washington, D.C.
During his broadcast argument, Kammen cited the existing video feed as justification for his broadcast request. He said the proceedings were already being filmed and transmitted to the US. There was no reason, he said, not to allow broadcast companies to hook into the feed.
Prosecutors opposed the motion.
“The right to a public trial does not include the right to a televised trial,” said Assistant Trial Counsel Justin Sher.
Live television broadcasts are permitted in many state courts, including in high-profile capital cases. But broadcasts have never been permitted at criminal trials in federal courts or courts-martial, he said.
The same rule that bars those broadcasts also applies to military commission trials at Guantánamo, Mr. Sher said.
Judge Pohl seemed skeptical of the defense request. At one point he stopped Sher in mid-sentence, suggesting that the prosecutor should focus his argument not to the merits of whether to allow open broadcasts or not, but rather whether a military judge has the authority to order such open broadcasts.
The current rule banning the televising of military commissions was promulgated by the defense secretary. Pohl said that unless Kammen could offer a higher authority that would trump that existing rule – such as a constitutional requirement – the military judge was bound to adhere to the defense secretary’s rule.
“Is there any Constitutional right that requires televising a court proceeding,” Pohl asked Defense Lawyer Kammen. “Do you have any case law?”
“No,” Kammen replied, “but Mr. Nashiri has the right to assert the public’s right [to public access] under the First Amendment.”
The judge then asked whether the public had a First Amendment right to attend every trial.