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As 9/11 Pretrial Begins, ACLU Calls Out "Orwellian" Censorship of CIA Torture

Rights group makes constitutional challenge as Guantanamo proceedings start

Common Dreams staff

Guantanamo pretrial hearings this week weigh in on censorship versus state secrets. (Photo by The U.S. Army via Flickr)

On Monday, a judge will oversee pretrial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo prisoners who are accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks. One of the key issues Army Col. James Pohl will decide on is whether or not there will be any public testimony by the prisoners regarding their torture and detention in CIA custody.

The defense lawyers are asking to abolish a "presumptive classification" process that treats any discussion of what happened to the defendants their time in secret CIA detention as a top national security secret. Mohammed’s defense attorney, David Nevin, called the war court system a "rigged game,” reports the Miami Herald. According to Nevin, attorneys and defendents "are forbidden to discuss between themselves anything from what Mohammed says the CIA did to him to his 'historical perspective on jihad.'"

The ACLU is at the hearings this week and will give a statement arguing that the censorship of torture is a constitutional challenge. In a press release, the ACLU cites the government's most recent filing (PDF):

The government has effectively claimed that it owns and controls the defendants’ memories, 'thoughts and experiences' of government torture. These chillingly Orwellian claims are legally untenable and morally abhorrent.

"The government has effectively claimed that it owns and controls the defendants’ memories, 'thoughts and experiences' of government torture."—ACLU

The chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins claims that the defendants' “exposure” to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program is classified “to safeguard genuine sources and methods of intelligence gathering that can protect against future attack." In addition to the "presumptive classification," the government is pushing for a related requested of a 40-second delay in the audio feed of the commission proceedings, for censorship purposes.

The ACLU filed their motion (PDF)in May in response to the protective order and proposed audio delay:

The eyes of the world are on this Military Commission, and the public has a substantial interest in and concern about the fairness and transparency of these proceedings. This Commission should reject–and not become complicit with–the government’s improper proposals to suppress the defendants’ personal accounts of government misconduct.

The prisoners were in the custody of the CIA for up to four years before being brought to Guantanamo in 2006. After being captured in Pakistan in 2002-2003 their detention was concealed from the International Red Cross, whose mandate is to monitor treatment of prisoners around the globe. The CIA's own declassified documents disclose that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in an attempt to get him to give up al Qaida's secrets.

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