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Guantanamo Detainees, Defense Lawyers Continually Gagged in Military Tribunals: Report

Common Dreams staff

U.S. Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell during in-processing to the temporary detention facility at Camp X-Ray in Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in this file photograph taken January 11, 2002 and released January 18, 2002. (Photo: Reuters/Stringer/Files)

Guantanamo detainees currently on trial, and the lawyers defending them at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, are not allowed to talk about the defendant's torture while in the secretive prison, according to a new analysis by Reuters. Defense attorneys and civil rights groups say far reaching restrictions regarding "classified" information, have greatly undermined the ability of defense lawyers to do their job in court.

Torture methods are top secret, and revealing the secret would cause "exceptionally grave damage," according to the US officials and prosecutors who are forbidding any discussion about the defendants' interrogations.

Forbidden topics include details of the defendants' capture, where they were held and under what conditions, the names and descriptions of anyone who transferred, detained or interrogated them and the methods used to get information from them, according to court documents.

Every single word spoken by the alleged al Qaeda members, and what their lawyers in turn pass on to the court, is strictly monitored and censored, according to the new report. Additionally, security rules restrict not only what can be made public, but also what the lawyers can talk about with their clients, including some of the actual charges against the suspects, if this information it is deemed classified.

Subsequently, the defendants' "intimate personal knowledge of highly classified CIA interrogation methods they endured in the agency's clandestine overseas prisons," can not be discussed in any way, especially regarding the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a challenge to the rules. According to the ACLU, the government has no legal authority to classify information that will be essential to fair and open trials.

"The question here is: Can the government subject people to torture and abuse and then prevent them from talking about it?" Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, told Reuters.

"We don't think the government has any interest in classifying personal observations about conduct banned by the president of the United States," Shamsi said, referring to acts of torture supposedly banned by the Obama administration. "The commission certainly will not be seen as legitimate if the proceedings revolve around judicially approved censorship of the defendants' accounts of government misconduct."

"Everything is presumptively top secret. So if my client had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I couldn't tell you that," Cheryl Bormann, who represents defendant Walid bin Attash, told Reuters after the May arraignment of the men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Defense attorneys plan on challenging the secrecy rules at the pretrial hearing that begins on Wednesday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.

"We are prohibited from sharing any details of his mistreatment, even to the [UN special rapporteur for torture, Juan E. Mendez]," Army Captain Jason Wright, one of the lawyers for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Reuters.

"It's sort of an illusory idea, which is that we are going to give you a lawyer but you're not going to be able to talk about the central thing that is important for you to talk about with a lawyer," said David Nevin, another of Mohammed's attorneys.

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