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9/11 cases: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed speaks in court, lectures judge

The accused 9/11 mastermind had skipped pretrial hearings at Guantánamo, but he made a surprise showing Wednesday afternoon and addressed the court. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had some counsel for the judge.

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The action came after a full day of debate over whether the judge should approve a protective order proposed by the government that would effectively treat certain thoughts, memories, and experiences of Mohammed and his codefendants as national security secrets. Pohl is expected to rule soon on whether any statements made by the accused terrorists concerning their rendition and alleged brutal treatment in secret CIA prisons must be handled by defense attorneys and others as if they are classified as top secret information.

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Military prosecutors are seeking to block any attempt by defense lawyers to use the defendants' alleged torture while in CIA custody as a way to put the US government itself on trial at Guantánamo.

Defense lawyers argue that the government could not properly classify information retained by the defendants since their time in CIA custody because the government does not maintain control over the defendants’ thoughts and memories.  

Significant details about the defendants’ treatment in so-called CIA black sites have been disclosed by the government and reported in the media, including that Mohammed was subjected to 183 episodes of waterboarding.

Human rights advocates say the technique is a form of torture. US officials deny that harsh interrogations crossed the line into torture.

The defendants were also subjected to forced nudity, extreme isolation and sensory deprivation, prolonged temperature extremes, sleep deprivation, and threats made against family members, according to government documents.   

Mohammed and the others are charged with orchestrating and helping to carry out the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that left nearly 3,000 dead. If convicted they face a potential death sentence.

Earlier on Wednesday, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, Hina Shamsi, urged the court to reject the US government’s broad assertion of authority in its proposed protective order.

“We are aware of no other protective order that is as radical as what the government is asking you to judicially bless here,” Ms. Shamsi said.

The government claims that the five defendants possess highly sensitive information about intelligence sources and methods by virtue of their being targets of those sources and methods. Shamsi said the government cannot involuntarily subject individuals to classified interrogation techniques and then impose a prior restraint on their ability to report potential government wrongdoing – particularly when the information is retained as memories.  

“It goes without saying, but perhaps the CIA needs to hear it said. Thoughts, experiences, and ideas belong to human beings, not to the government,” Shamsi told the court.

Deputy Trial Counsel Joanna Baltes defended the government’s approach. She said the government’s proposed protective order used the same standards applied in terrorism trials conducted in federal court, including the prosecution of Ahmad Ghailani in New York City.

“It is an inflammatory allegation for the ACLU to come in here and say they’ve never seen anything like this,” Ms. Baltes said. “To suggest in this case we are violating the First Amendment is disingenuous.” 

Defense lawyers disagreed.

“Simply holding someone in custody does not mean you control their thoughts and experiences and observations,” said James Connell, a lawyer for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.

Although the trial is being conducted at a courtroom at the US Naval Base, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, some members of the media are monitoring the proceeding via a video feed at Fort Meade, Md.

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