9/11 trial: Any mention of torture is classified, military judge rules
The military judge in the 9/11 trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others granted a government request to make all mention of alleged torture in the court classified. The defense called the ruling 'shameful.'
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“For now, the most important terrorism trial of our time will be organized around judicially approved censorship of the defendants’ own thoughts, experiences, and memories of CIA torture,” she said. “The decision undermines the government’s claim that the military commission system is transparent.”Skip to next paragraph
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Although some details of their treatment have been made public, there has never been a full public accounting of what was done to certain terror suspects, including Mohammed, in the name of protecting US national security.
Officials have acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to a particularly brutal interrogation technique known as waterboarding. Reports are that he was subjected to the technique 183 times.
Human rights advocates say waterboarding is torture. The US government says it did not and does not engage in torture.
The issue is important in Mohammed’s military commission trial because the jury that decides the case must be able to assess the credibility and veracity of the government’s evidence.
Some of the evidence may have been obtained during coercive interrogations. But if any mention of interrogations is barred, jurors may not be in a position to make a full assessment of certain pieces of evidence.
Judge Pohl defended his protective order, saying his ruling did not decide pending issues of relevance, materiality, or admissibility.
“The … protective order neither expands the traditional rules of discovery nor addresses what use, if any, can be made of the disclosed information during the course of a trial,” he wrote.
“Rather, it provides the framework for defense counsel to obtain and assess classified information while at the same instance permitting the government to preserve information relevant to our national security.”
The judge also approved the continued use of a 40-second delay to the courtroom audio made available to members of the media and others viewing the trial behind thick, soundproof glass.
The 40-second delay gives government censors time to cut off any audio broadcast of the trial in the event that classified information is uttered or otherwise revealed in open court.
The order also gives censors the authority to cut off the audio when they suspect classified information is about to be revealed.
The protective order says in part: “The broadcast may be suspended whenever it is reasonably believed that any person in the courtroom has made or is about to make a statement or offer testimony disclosing classified information.”
Judge Pohl acknowledged that members of the media and the ACLU object to the delayed audio as an unwarranted closing of the court.
He said he was “acutely aware of [his] twin responsibilities of insuring the transparency of the proceeding while at the same instance preserving the interests of national security.”
Pohl said the “brief delay is the least intrusive and least disruptive method of meeting both responsibilities.”
“The problem is not so much the audio delay, but the basis for it,” she said. “The delay is the tool through which the government unconstitutionally prevents the public from hearing testimony about torture.”