Leading NGOs Urge Military Judge To Allow Public To Hear Details Of 9/11 Case

January 14, 2009 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – Four leading non-governmental organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief today opposing a court order on classified information in the military commission case of the alleged 9/11 conspirators, United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. The order is overbroad and would unjustifiably prevent public scrutiny of the most important and highly-anticipated trial at Guantánamo Bay, the groups say.

The order, which was signed by military judge Stephen R. Henley on December 18, 2008, goes far beyond protecting documents and information that have been classified by intelligence agencies. It greatly expands the definition of “classified information” to include any information merely “referring” to various government agencies, including the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. It further allows the court, under certain circumstances, to classify information already in the public domain and presumptively classifies “any statements made by the accused.”

The amicus brief was filed by the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. All four groups are regular observers of the military commission proceedings at Guantánamo Bay.

The protective order “diminishes the fairness and transparency of these proceedings by permitting the government to exercise virtually unlimited authority to exclude the press, public, and trial observers—including amici,” the brief states. As a result, the groups ask the court to rescind the protective order or to modify it to require individualized determinations about whether specific information should be withheld for reasons of national security or personal safety.

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