Judge Overrules Censors in Guantánamo 9/11 Hearing


FORT MEADE, Md. — The military judge overseeing the prosecution of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other detainees accused of aiding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ordered the government on Thursday to disconnect the technology that allows offstage censors — apparently including the Central Intelligence Agency — to block a public feed of the courtroom proceedings at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The order by the judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, followed an interruption on Monday of a feed from the military tribunal courtroom during a pretrial motion hearing in the Sept. 11 case. The interruption brought to light that unidentified security officials outside the courtroom could censor a feed of the proceedings that the public and the media are allowed to view on a 40-second delay.

“This is the last time,” Colonel Pohl said, that any party other than a security officer inside the courtroom who works for the commission “will be permitted to unilaterally decide that the broadcast will be suspended.”

He added that while some legal rules and precedents governing the military commissions were unclear, there was no doubt that only he, as the judge, had the authority to close the courtroom. While officials may disagree about whether classified information had been improperly disclosed, he made clear he would not tolerate any outside party having control over a censorship button in his case.

“The commission will not permit any entity except the court security officer to suspend the broadcast of the proceeding,” Colonel Pohl said. “Accordingly I order the government to disconnect any ability of a third party to suspend broadcast of the proceeding, and I order any third party not to suspend proceedings.”

The 40-second delay in the closed-circuit broadcast from the high-security courtroom at Guantánamo Bay was instituted to allow a censor to block transmission of the proceedings to the public and reporters if classified information was inadvertently disclosed. But until Monday, there was no public sign that anyone other than the courtroom officer near Colonel Pohl could turn off the transmission. The feed is shown at Fort Meade as well as at a press room at Guantánamo.

The interruption came as David Nevin, a lawyer for Mr. Mohammed was discussing arguments over a pending motion regarding the preservation of evidence “at a detention facility.” Colonel Pohl expressed surprise and anger, saying Mr. Nevin had not said anything classified and that his security officer in the courtroom had not hit the censor button.

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