A group of news organizations that include the New York Times, the Washington Post and the McClatchy Co. has filed an objection to the Pentagon’s plan to close an upcoming hearing in the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is alleged to have been involved in masterminding an attack on the USS Cole in 2000 which killed seventeen US sailors.
As McClatchy reports, “Al-Nashiri is expected to testify” at an upcoming hearing on April 11 because his attorneys are going to argue before a military commission at Guantanamo that their client should not be “shackled to the floor” when he testifies because that is likely to remind him of “trauma that he suffered in CIA custody.” The testimony is to be given “behind closed doors” to protect “sensitive information” from being revealed. But, the organizations maintain that there are less “restrictive” ways of handling this issue, especially since investigations revealing how Al-Nashiri was treated during interrogations have already been declassified.
From the objection submitted to the Pentagon, the news organizations further outline their opposition to closing the hearing:
…Given the First Amendment standards that protect public access to the proceedings in this prosecution and the substantial public interest in the transparency of the military commissions, we respectfully submit that: (1) no proper basis exists to close testimony that addresses information that is already publicly known; and (2) the authorized procedure of allowing the press to observe the hearing behind glass with a white noise machine used to redact in real time any classified or protected information is a less restrictive alternative that should be used. Furthermore, (3) a de-classified transcript of the proceeding should be made publicly available on an expedited basis to minimize in time and scope the infringement on the public’s right to following the proceedings in the case…
The objection clearly states the “First Amendment independently ‘protects the public and the press from abridgement of their rights of access to information about the operation of their government’” and Congress has mandated twice, in 2006 and 2009 under the Military Commissions Act, that the proceedings must be open to the press and the public, “except in certain narrowly limited circumstances.”
There should be no acceptable justification for closing the hearing when the military possesses equipment like a white noise machine, which can be used to prevent the press from hearing anything the military doesn’t want press to hear. The military can use sensory deprivation so the press cannot hear certain details. Theoretically, they could hold an open hearing and crank up the white noise when Al-Nashiri starts to testify, only turning the volume down when they are sure there is not going to be any more testimony including classified information.
It is believed that the Pentagon doesn’t want anyone to know the identities of the interrogators. In that case, white noise machine…
This is how much is already known and has been published by press organizations in the United States. The US government clings to absurd secrecy and wants all citizens of the world to believe what happened to Al-Nashiri continues to be sensitive and classified, even though the types of interrogations, the agency involved and the locations where the interrogations occurred is known.
In November 2002, Al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai. He was flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan called the “Salt Pit.” He was then moved to a secret prison in Thailand, where he was waterboarded twice (which is torture and a war crime). He also, at one point, was held at a secret prison in Poland.
According to a declassified CIA Inspector General report, sometime between December 28, 2002, and January 1, 2003, an “unloaded semi-automatic handgun” was used “as a prop to frighten Al-Nashiri into disclosing information.” A “debriefer” entered Al-Nashiri’s cell and “racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri’s head.” On probably the same day, the “debriefer” also used a “power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri.” The “debriefer” entered the cell and “revved the drill” while Al-Nashiri stood “naked and hooded.”
Another “debriefer” on another date threatened Al-Nashiri saying, “We could get your mother in here,” and, “We can bring your family here.” He apparently wanted to think he was an intelligence officer from a Middle Eastern country because he spoke in an “Arabic dialect” and it was widely believed that in this country female relatives were sometimes sexually abused in front of detainees. Al-Nashiri was put into stress positions and at one point his arms were believed to have been dislocated from his shoulders. And in another incident a “stiff brush” was used to induce pain.
The torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” he was subjected to by the CIA make press access all the more important. The organizations objecting to the closure understand this and write:
…[The] circumstances of Mr. al-Nashiri’s interrogations at the hands of the CIA and/or others under the direction or cotnrol of the US Government –which has already been the subject of significant public and press attention worldwide (see below) — presents issues of profound public interest and concern. These and other matters to be addressed at the hearing of April 11, 2012, shed considerable light on how the United States government treats “high-value detainees” such as Mr. al-Nashiri, and how such treatment affects both the fairness and the appearance of fairness of these proceedings—all issues of profound public interest to the readers and viewers of the Press Objectors…
The CIA inspector general called Al-Nashiri’s torture, “the ‘most significant’ case of a detainee who was brutalized in ways that went beyond the Bush administration’s approved tactics,” according to the New York Times. The upcoming hearing will be all about what interrogators did to Nashiri, as that will be the core of the defense’s argument for why he should not have to be shackled during his testimony. So, it seems the Pentagon is doing the CIA a favor and closing the hearing to prevent the CIA from coming under further scrutiny for torture.
It isn’t enough that the government is going to try him before a military commission, making a fair trial even more impossible because the military commissions system is a new second-class system of justice. Press access has also got to be curtailed to limit the number of revelations that might come out about how he was treated for four years in secret CIA prisons.
Finally, Kristen Berg of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), which campaigned to get the Pentagon to improve access to court filings from military commission hearings, wrote in a blog post in November of last year, the Nashiri case was to be the “first critical test for the administration’s continued pledges to increase transparency in the controversial offshore commissions.”
It looks like the most transparent administration ever is off to a wonderful start.
Kevin Gosztola is the co-author of the new book, “Truth and Consequences: The US vs. Bradley Manning.” He will be doing an FDL Book Salon on April 28 on the recently published book.