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Orwell Comes to the Guantanamo Tribunal

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May 3, 2012

The hundreds of lawyers, reporters and observers headed to Guantanamo Bay for Saturday’s arraignment of five defendants at the 9/11 military commission better check their calendars: Suddenly, it feels a lot like 1984.

The government wants to censor any statements the defendants have made about how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. If they were tortured or abused by CIA or Department of Defense personnel, that’s information the government wants to keep classified.

If it sounds Orwellian for a government to claim it can classify statements made by a defendant about their own experiences with illegal government conduct such as torture, that’s because it is. Such a move also has no basis in law, which is why the ACLU filed a motion yesterday with the military commission that asks it to deny the government’s request to suppress the defendants’ statements.

As Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project notes: “The most important terrorism trial of our time should not be an exception to the rule of public access because its legitimacy depends in part on its transparency.”

The ACLU is also asking the commission to bar a delayed audio feed of the proceedings. Right now, observers can see the hearing live behind a glass, but the audio they hear is on a 40-second delay to give censors the ability to cut off any mentions of purportedly classified information.

The truth may be ugly, but better to get it out in the open than keep it under wraps. Those seeking justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks should want nothing less.

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