Blog of Rights

Guantánamo Military Judge Grants ACLU’s Request to Argue Against Censorship of 9/11 Defendants’ Testimony

By Hina Shamsi, Director, ACLU National Security Project at 6:18pm

In an order made public today, a military commissions judge at Guantánamo Bay announced that he will hear oral argument on the ACLU’s challenge to censorship of torture at the trial of the 9/11 defendants.

In May, we filed a motion asking the military commission to deny the government’s request to suppress statements by the defendants about their treatment while in U.S. custody, including torture and other abuse.  As we said in our motion,

"Both the Constitution and the Military Commissions Act of 2009 recognize the public’s presumptive right of access to all proceedings and records of this historic military commission.  That right of access may only be overcome if there is a countervailing interest of “transcendent” importance, a standard that the government’s extraordinary and draconian proposed restrictions cannot meet.  The government asks this Commission to suppress as presumptively classified the defendants’ every utterance concerning their personal knowledge of their detention and abuse in CIA custody. . . . The eyes of the world are on this Military Commission, and the public has a substantial interest in and concern about the fairness and transparency of these proceedings.  This Commission should reject - and not become complicit with - the government’s improper proposals to suppress the defendants’ personal accounts of government misconduct."

The military judge said yesterday that at the next hearing in the case, on August 22, he will hear our motion as well as a motion filed by 14 news organizations that also challenged the government’s over-broad request to bar public access to court records and proceedings.

There has been an intense and long-running debate about the legitimacy and fairness of the Guantánamo military commissions both in the United States and abroad.  That debate won’t be ended by the commission’s decision on this issue alone.   But the commissions certainly won’t be seen as legitimate if they have at their heart the government’s judicially-approved censorship of the defendants’ accounts of their torture in government custody.

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