If the government prevails, observers at any of the 9/11 hearings would see, but not hear those on trial.

28 Aug 2012
Lisa Hajjar
Al Jazeera.com

If the government’s order is accepted, then every time one of the defendants speaks, the sound will be cut off to the observation booth at the back of the courtroom where journalists and observers sit [EPA]

Hurricane Isaac has caused a suspension of the Guantanamo military commission hearing for the five accused 9/11 suspects that was scheduled to begin on August 22. When the storm passes and the hearing on multiple pre-trial motions commences, it will produce fodder for a new chapter in the long, strange saga of American torture.

The five defendants – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa al-Hawsawi – were held for years in CIA in black sites and subject to what the government euphemistically terms “enhanced interrogation methods” before being transferred to military custody at Guantanamo in September 2006.

With another choice euphemism, the government describes them as “participants in the CIA programme”. That participation exposed them to “classified sources, methods and activities”.

The challenge the government faces is how to prosecute people who have been tortured without putting the torturers and those who authorised them on trial, too. Of course, no one responsible for CIA torture has actually been put on trial, but these 9/11 defendants are a weak link in the wall of unaccountability.

If they testify or speechify about their “participation” in the CIA’s interrogation programme, then journalists and others observing the military commission might hear things that the government claims would cause “exceptionally grave damage to national security”. To avert that possibility, the government has produced a protective order to make everything the defendants say presumptively classified, pending completion of a classification review.

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