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'Morally Abhorrent' Censorship of Torture at Gitmo Trials Challenged

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

(Photo: Justin Norman via flickr)

The U.S. government's censorship of torture testimony by defendants at the Guantánamo military commission has been challenged by the ACLU, which called the practice "legally untenable and morally abhorrent."

On Thursday, the ACLU filed a petition "to enforce the public’s constitutional right of access to the military commission prosecution of individuals accused of committing the September 11, 2001 attacks," and adds:

There is simply no basis in law for the Orwellian proposition that the government owns or controls—and thus can classify and seek to censor—defendants’ personal experiences and memories of a torture and unlawful detention program whose entire purpose was to forcibly “disclose” the torture and detention to the defendants. Additionally, the government chose to disclose its secrets to defendants, who the government concedes were not authorized to receive them; it has no legitimate interest now, let alone a compelling one, in censoring those secrets from the public. [...]

The public’s interest in the openness and legitimacy of these proceedings—the most important terrorism prosecution of our time—could hardly be greater. The protective-order provisions censoring from the public defendants’ testimony about government torture and other abuse could hardly be more extraordinary or draconian.


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In December, Military Judge Col. James Pohl, who is presiding over the trial, approved the US government's request to keep the details of defendants' torture from the public, and allowed for a 40-second delay on the audio feed of the proceedings.

"The judge's decision to keep testimony about torture secret did not even mention the American public's First Amendment right of access to the Guantánamo commissions, let alone apply the high standard that must be met before testimony is suppressed," Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said in a statement.

"The government's claim that it can classify and censor from the public a criminal defendant's personal experience and memories of CIA-imposed torture is legally untenable and morally abhorrent. Even if the government somehow had that Orwellian classification authority, copious details about the CIA's torture and black-site detention program are already public knowledge, and the government has no legitimate reason to censor the defendants' testimony about their own memories of it," stated Shamsi.


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