WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Thursday released testimony that was censored during a Guantanamo Bay court appearance by the September 11 suspects, with a spokesman attributing the omission to a mistake.
Michael Schwartz, a lawyer for Walid bin Attash — one of the five accused of plotting the attacks — said in the previously unheard remarks that his client had refused to wear headphones because they reminded him of torture.
“The reason for that is the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big boy pants down at the CIA,” Schwartz said, according to a transcript from Saturday’s proceedings. “It makes it impossible.”
The headphones were intended to be used for simultaneous translation.
Schwartz, an Air Force Captain, was referring to remarks made by Jose Rodriguez, ex-director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, describing detainee interrogation techniques used during George W. Bush’s presidency.
“We needed to get everybody in government to put their big-boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed,” Rodriguez said in an interview with the CBS network’s “60 Minutes” program.
Journalists sitting behind a glass screen at Saturday’s hearing listening to the legal exchanges did not hear Schwartz’s words at the time as they were censored out by a military official during a 40-second transmission delay.
On Thursday, however, Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said the words had not been deliberately censored.
“The government’s chief prosecutor was adamant that the accidentally ‘white noised’ portion be restored as quickly as possible, having been in the courtroom to witness the statement,” Breasseale said.
“Upon completion of a thorough security review, the Office of Military Commissions did just that,” he added.
The Chief Prosecutor is General Mark Martins, who told a Guantanamo hearing last November that defense officials had moved to make the high-security proceedings more transparent, but “national security requires a balance.”
“There are absolute requirements in terms of basic information for transparency, but there are items that cannot be publicly disclosed,” Martins said at the time.
“There has to be a process by which we surgically remove those items. Our nation’s secrecy is not an open book, there has to be an oversight,” he added.
But the Guantanamo defense team protested about the censorship and other matters at a news conference on Sunday.
Schwartz “merely mentioned the use of torture and the discussion was immediately censored from public consumption,” said lawyer James Connell, who is defending Pakistani suspect Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali.
“Several other defense attorneys then had to artfully rephrase their comments to ensure the hearing would not be censored further,” Connell added.
Confessed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-plotters opted to defer their pleas at Saturday’s arraignment proceedings in a 13-hour hearing at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They also repeatedly refused to answer questions.
Mohammed, a Kuwait-born Pakistani, was water-boarded 183 times during the three years he was held in secret CIA prisons after his 2003 capture in Pakistan. He was eventually transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.
He was also deprived of sleep for 7.5 days in a row, while his alleged co-plotters were also subjected to harsh interrogation techniques.