Starting tomorrow, almost 11 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the U.S. military commissions at Guantanamo Bay will hear the first set of arguments in preparation for the trial of the five alleged plotters.
Lawyers will argue over whether the U.S. constitution applies at Guantanamo Bay, as it would in a regular U.S. court; whether everything that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators say is “presumptively classified” — especially any statements about their capture and treatment by the U.S. government in CIA custody; and whether the government can prevent defense lawyers from sharing even unclassified information with the media.
In the upcoming hearings, scheduled over the next eight days, the government is expected to argue that the judge shouldn’t decide whether or not the U.S. Constitution applies at Gitmo; that the government can keep secret every statement from the five defendants about their experiences being subjected to torture and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA; and that the government should be allowed to keep the public from seeing information that’s not classified but, the government says, would nonetheless be “detrimental to the public interest” if released.
In addition to the lawyers representing the five men on trial, the ACLU and 14 news organizations will argue to end the presumptive classification of the men’s statements, and other efforts to seal government records and close portions of the commission hearings, as a denial of the public’s First Amendment rights.
At stake is whether the United States government can whisk terrorism suspects to offshore prisons to avoid giving them basic rights; whether Americans will ever be allowed to know what their government did to suspects arrested after 9/11 and interrogated for years in secret CIA prisons overseas; and whether these five men now, 11 years later, will finally be given a fair trial.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this will be a defining moment for the United States.
I’ll be blogging about the case on Huffington Post.