Judge Furious Over Mysterious Censors at Guantanamo Bay Trials

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Common Dreams

Judge Furious Over Mysterious Censors at Guantanamo Bay Trials

'Who is this invisible hand?' Gitmo Defense lawyers ask

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Observers watch the Sept. 11 hearings from a viewing gallery at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Janet Hamlin, AFP/Getty Images)

A military judge presiding over a pretrial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base ordered an end to a secretive U.S. government agency's censorship of what the media can and can't hear in the courtroom, following an unexpected blackout of hearings earlier this week.

On Monday, sound from the courtroom that feeds into a soundproof media booth and through a feed to journalists in closed-circuit viewing sites on the US East Coast, was mysteriously cut during a discussion of a secret CIA prison—where the suspects of the 9/11 case, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants, were held and potentially tortured before transport to Guantánamo—leaving reporters and other observers in the dark for several key minutes of the discussion.

The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, said the the information that had been blacked out was not officially confidential, and thus should not have been censored.

Pohl said earlier that he did not previously know there was anyone outside of the court that could censor the proceedings.

"The cutting of the feed revealed for the first time that a still unidentified entity outside the courtroom was listening in to proceedings with a finger on the kill switch," Al Jazeera reports.

The mysterious censor, who has had control over what reporters can and can't hear in the courtroom, is said to come from an Original Classification Authority, a term that could refer to a number of government agencies, Democracy Now! reports.

Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake adds that the OCA, "likely works in cooperation with the CIA and is tasked with ensuring that even the tiniest amount of information on the CIA’s Rendition, Detainee & Interrogation (RDI) program is not heard by the press."

"The episode shows the OCA may censor unclassified language," he added.

In Pohl's angry rebuke of the episode, he insisted that "this is the last time ... any other third party will be permitted to unilaterally decide that the broadcast should be suspended."

However, Pohl added emphatically that he and the court security officer were the only ones with authority to suspend the broadcast coming out of the courtroom, implying censorship in and of itself is not the problem, but who has the power to censor.

Defense lawyer James Connell said many questions still remain:

The judge ordered that the prosecution must disconnect that censorship authority of the OCA. The extent to which monitoring has taken place and will continue, however, is an open question. An emergency motion was filed today which addresses that issue after it came up this week and the judge has said that will be the first issue to take up on February 11. I hope that we will take a preliminary baby step towards finding out the truth of what is going on in the military commission but events so far may say that that hope is unfounded.

Pohl is also considering halting the entire case over allegations from defense lawyers that the same censors have been using technology to eavesdrop on the lawyers' private conversations with defendants in both the courtroom and in other parts of the detainee compound.

Navy Lt. Commander Walter Ruiz, attorney for one of the defendants, criticized the anonymous government monitoring system for curtailing the tribunal process.

"Who is the invisible hand?" Ruiz asked. "Who is pulling the strings? Who is the master of puppets?"

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