The military tribunal — where alleged 9-11 master-mind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged 9-11 conspirators will be tried — is expected to rule at a pre-trail hearing today on the government’s request to censor testimony.
The government filed the motion back in April, requesting that the court implement a 40-second tape-delay in the audio-feed from which news reporters and select observers will listen to the proceedings. It argues that the tape delay will ensure that classified information, regarding the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program at Guantanamo Bay, is not released to the public.
The ACLU and a coalition of 14 media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters, have filed separate motions to block the censorship.
Anytime the defendants mention their experiences in detainment, the 40-second delay will allow the court to mute the testimony. In its motion, the ACLU argued that the censorship was pointless because there’s already tons of information available to the public that details specifically what the now illegal interrogation program consisted of.
“That delay renders the proceedings presumptively closed by withholding from the public, media, and observers, at the press of a button, any access to detainees’ personal accounts of their detention and mistreatment,” the motion states.
The ACLU cites, among many sources, a 2005 report published by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which Mohammed and the four other defendants describe how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. The report gives detailed information about the more brutal torture techniques used on terror suspects including sleep deprivation, prolonged nudity, beatings, forced shavings and water-boarding.
The government argues that even though classified information has leaked to the public, it’s still classified. It also argue that there’s no way to know what the defendants might reveal that will jeopardize the country’s fight against terror.
“Because the Government cannot predict whether the Accused intends to disclose classified information at [the] arraignment or during subsequent public proceedings in this case, the Government requests that the Military Judge immediately implement the protective measures set forth in the proposed Protective Order,” according to the government’s motion.
According to First Amendment precedent, the government bears the burden of proving that the potential release of classified information during the trial will cause a serious threat to National Security. The ACLU argues that many of the interrogation techniques are no longer legal and already well-known, so testimony detailing that information couldn’t be considered a threat to the country’s counter-terrorism operations.
The ACLU requests that if the court does accept the government’s motion for an audio-delay, uncensored transcripts should be made available to the public and the media in an expedient manner. Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, argues that such a restraint of First Amendment rights only serves to further undermine the credibility of military tribunals.
The Obama administration originally called for Mohammed to be tried in Manhattan Federal Court, but heavy backlash and costly security measures, led to the decision to move the trial to Guantanamo Bay. Many critics have called into question the fairness of military tribunals.
“There is an ongoing public debate about the fairness and transparency of the Guantanamo military commissions, and if the government succeeds in imposing its desired censorship regime, the commissions will certainly not be seen as legitimate,” Shamsi said in a release.