Gavel Grab

Public Access to Secret 9/11 Testimony Sought

The American Civil Liberties Union has formally asked that the American public be allowed to hear testimony from five accused 9/11 codefendants about their experiences at the hands of CIA captors in secret prisons overseas. The defendants, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, are to be arraigned Saturday at Guantanamo Bay.

Under the system to be used by the tribunal, a 40-second delay is employed. That is time enough, according to a Miami Herald article, for an intelligence official to punch a white noise button if any of the defendants describe what CIA agents did to them between their capture in Pakistan and their arrival at Guantanamo, several years later. Spectators view the courtroom proceedings from a soundproofed, glassed-in booth.

The challenged practice amounts to censorship, the ACLU contended, saying it was premised on  “a chillingly Orwellian claim” that the accused “must be gagged lest he reveal his knowledge of what the government did to him.”

The 9/11 case about to begin at Guantanamo will “test whether alleged terrorists can get justice before U.S. military tribunals,” a Bloomberg article said.

According to civil liberties advocates, civilian courts would provide greater legal protections — such as the exclusion of evidence tainted by torture — for the five men.

“A prosecution that ultimately fails to measure up to international standards of justice undermines our credibility in the eyes of the world and plays into the hands of those who want to attack us,” said David Glazier, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

An Associated Press article gave a snapshot of the how the military commission system will be used to prosecute the five. The jurors and judge are military officers. The system was reformed in 2009 by Congress, but human rights groups say the reforms did not go far enough. (See earlier Gavel Grab posts for debate over use of the military tribunal versus federal courts for prosecuting terror suspects.)

In the Washington Post, Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote an op-ed reflecting favorably on the reforms that have occurred. “Quietly and gradually, the commissions have become a real court,” he maintained. “This weekend, we’ll begin to find out just how far this institution has come — and whether it has come far enough.”

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act and other policies have weakened the historic power of courts to protect our rights and check possible government abuses, Justice at Stake says on its web site. To learn more, see Justice at Stake’s “Courting Danger” report.

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