Who Needs to Know at Guantanamo

This blog is cross posted from The Huffington Post:

Before he even spoke, military Judge Pohl opened this morning’s hearings in the September 11, 2001 case at Guantanamo with a telling, heavy sigh.

His exasperation at the continual ditherings and delays is increasingly obvious as unexpected issue after unexpected issue crops up, putting back the planned schedule. By tomorrow (Friday) afternoon we might get to the stuff which was supposed to have been dealt with Monday morning. (Maybe.)

Today’s holdups were about who needs to know what. The prosecution team represents the government and gets to decide what classified information related to the case it shares with the defense teams and even with the judge.

But Walter Ruiz, leading the defense for Mustafa al Hawsawi, said the prosecution had been sharing information with some of his team but withholding it from others.

“This is a game changer for me,” he told the judge. “I’m putting you on notice here… this is a significant issue.” And he’s right. It’s difficult to see how a defense team can work together when the prosecution is only letting some it see some of the relevant documents.

Figuring out these issues is all part of the expensive pretrial process which has taken years and is likely to take several more before the actual trial begins.

The accused unusually all showed up again for this morning’s hearings. In fact all five have been at all of the sessions this week. There’s a set routine to their entrance into court. Before each one is walked in by two guards wearing science-lab protective specs a chair checker carefully inspects the seats they’ll be sitting on, lifting it, holding it upside down, running his hands along and around its surfaces. Hawsawi always has a cushion on his chair because of the damage done to his body during his CIA interrogation where he was subjected to what the CIA calls rectal rehydration, and what his lawyer Ruiz calls sodomy.

Ramzi bin al Sibh prayed briefly before the hearings started at 9am, and later turned around to talk to co-accused Ammar al Baluchi for 10 minutes or so. But for most of the morning’s session the five listened, totem-faced to the legal arguments about who should be allowed to see what information. Alleged “mastermind” of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, gently tapped a rolled-up sheet of paper against his forehead as he sat silently at the front, closest of the defendants to the judge.

At the very back, behind glass panels, is the observation gallery where there are spaces reserved for relatives of those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. There are so many requests from family members to come there is a lottery system restricting the number to five families per weekly hearing. Each family can send up to two representatives. This week there are nine people from the families.

During the recesses some of them wander to the end of the gallery where we sit, just a few yards behind the accused, and gaze at the five men accused of murdering their relatives and almost 3,000 other people 14 years ago.

This week nurse Colleen Kelly from New York is here. Her brother William was killed in the World Trade Center. “We have to show the world we’re doing this process properly, using the rule of law,” she told me. “Guantanamo should be closed down and these cases moved to federal courts, this courtroom isn’t the place for these trials.”

She helps run a group for relatives of 9/11 victims called the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Last December, the group wrote to President Obama urging the release of the Senate report on the CIA torture program. It said: “We are family members who have been waiting for over thirteen years for the five men accused of being 9-11 conspirators to be brought to true justice. Although legal technicalities account for part of the delay at Guantánamo, the main reason the trial may never happen is because of torture. Our government does not want to confront the implications of illegal acts of torture committed in the name of security.”

There’s a range of views among those who had family members killed, and others are much more supportive of the Guantanamo system. But I haven’t met anyone here who doesn’t want a faster, more efficient way of reaching verdicts.

There was at least some progress today when the prosecution agreed to show the information it had shared with only some of the Hawsawi defense team with the rest of it. The day’s public session ended at 10:43am, with closed hearings set for the afternoon, beginning at 1.30pm. We’re all due back there again in the morning.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on October 22, 2015


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