A “war court judge” allowed a First Amendment attorney to represent a “consortium” of media organizations and argue against closing a hearing expected to feature testimony from an accused USS Cole bomber on how he was treated during CIA interrogations. The testimony, according to the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg, was to be given as part of an argument by the defense that he should not be shackled to the floor during interviews because it would remind him of how he was inhumanely treated or tortured by CIA interrogators.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, let attorney David Schulz make his argument and then indicated a solution to the issue had been agreed upon in a private conference between the government and prosecution.
Rosenberg reported Schulz told the judge the “mechanics” exist to not close the hearing. The court has a white noise machine along with a forty-second delay that can be used to protect sensitive or classified information from being disclosed. He also made clear that many details on how accused bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was treated are already public. (For more, see The Dissenter’s coverage of the letter submitted to the Pentagon outlining their objections.)
The judge then asked Schulz to leave the courtroom and proposed a “non-shackling” option that made testimony from Al-Nashiri unnecessary. The defense could be locked in a room with Al-Nashiri unshackled. Since the testimony was to be given to prevent shackling that could cause “retraumatization,” this essentially solved the problem.
Faced with objections from the media, the government was put in a position where they had to comply with the defense’s effort to win the right to interview or speak to Al-Nashiri without detention center guards shackling him to the floor. Granting Al-Nashiri this privilege was better than risking the possibility of more attention being brought to how the CIA had tortured Al-Nashiri.
The agreed remedy is also politically convenient because, for now, the Obama Administration can claim they are upholding increased transparency in the Guantanamo military commissions by keeping the hearings open to the press.
Those committed to truth probably would have liked to have seen the press win a challenge. They probably would have liked to see Al-Nashiri testify and share how he was tortured (especially since the Obama Administration refuses to prosecute current or former government officials for torture). But, for now, the government has ducked additional transparency.