The spectre of torture and the veil of secrecy will loom large over a new series of hearings starting on Monday at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the accused plotters of the 9/11 attacks.
It will mark the second appearance for the self-proclaimed mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his four co-defendants before the special tribunal known as military commissions on the US naval base.
The preliminary hearings designed to pave the way for the ‘trial of the century’ will take place all week at the outpost in south-eastern Cuba after being postponed more than two months so that the defendants could observe the holy month of Ramadan and due to an Internet outage and a storm.
“One of the major issues that will be decided is whether the US Constitution, which governs all cases in the US, also applies to Guantanamo Bay or whether Guantanamo Bay is a sort of legal black hole as it’s been described,” said James Connell.
He is representing Khalid Sheikh’s Pakistani nephew Ali Abd al Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al Baluchi.
At issue are the torture and abuse the five men said they suffered at the hands of US authorities, and the classified status that President Barack Obama’s administration says covers details of the suspects’ treatment, citing national security concerns.
Among the petitions that will be examined during the five days of hearings are government motions to ‘protect against disclosure of national security information’ and to ‘protect unclassified discovery material where disclosure would be detrimental to the public interest.’
With prosecutors refusing to reveal information deemed classified and holding parts of the debates behind closed doors, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) rights group and 14 media groups are calling for complete transparency.
“The public has the right to see the proceedings,” said Connell.
Cheryl Bormann, who is defending Walid bin Attash of Yemen, agreed that the hearings should be part of an ‘open process, a fair process, a transparent process.’
“The government shouldn’t be able to hide behind classification issues,” she added.
“If this is going to be a trial about what happened on 9/11… only the truth should come out and not the US government’s spin on the truth until they opened the process; right now, it’s just their spin.”
Because of the men’s treatment at the CIA’s secret prisons where they were held prior to their 2006 transfer to Guantanamo, ‘there’s a presumptive classification about everything our clients say to us, even the most inaccurate things,’ said James Harrington, attorney for Yemeni Ramzi Binalshibh.
All documents and other communication between lawyers and their clients are subject to censorship.
“That’s a clear violation of our rights as lawyers, (we should) be able to talk about things without interference, or Big Brother looking over your shoulder at everything you do,” Harrington told AFP.
Journalists and a select number of members of the public follow the proceedings from behind soundproof glass, and the audio only reaches them after a 40-second delay.
The delay allows a military censor to blur statements whose content is deemed a threat to national security.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2012.