Judge Rules for Censorship of Torture Testimony at Guantánamo Military Commission

December 12, 2012 12:58 pm

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NEW YORK – The judge presiding over the Guantánamo Bay military commission 9/11 trial has approved the government’s request to censor any testimony from the defendants relating to their torture. The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the government’s request, arguing that the American public has a First Amendment right to hear the testimony. The ACLU plans to seek further review of the ruling, which was released today.

Military Judge Col. James Pohl ruled that any statements by the defendants concerning their treatment – including torture while in U.S. custody – could be kept from the public as classified, and upheld the continued use of a 40-second delay audio feed of the proceedings.

“We’re profoundly disappointed by the military judge’s decision, which didn’t even address the serious First Amendment issues at stake here. The government wanted to ensure that the American public would never hear the defendants’ accounts of illegal CIA torture, rendition and detention, and the military judge has gone along with that shameful plan,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project. “For now, the most important terrorism trial of our time will be organized around judicially approved censorship of the defendants’ own thoughts, experiences and memories of CIA torture. The decision undermines the government’s claim that the military commission system is transparent and deals a grave blow to its legitimacy.”

In its request, the government had contended that any statements by the defendants concerning their “exposure” to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program are classified as “sources, methods and activities” of the U.S. and can be withheld from the public.

In May, the ACLU filed a motion asking the commission to deny the government’s request and to bar a delayed audio feed of the proceedings, or, in the alternative, promptly release an uncensored transcript.

“The problem is not so much the audio delay, but the basis for it,” said Shamsi. “The delay is the tool through which the government unconstitutionally prevents the public from hearing testimony about torture.”

A group of 14 press organizations also filed a motion in support of the media’s right to access the commission's proceedings. Oral argument was held in October.

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