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The Nation

A bizarre first day in court

June 06, 2008|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — As Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four codefendants made their first court appearance to face charges in the Sept. 11 attacks, journalists watched from behind a soundproof glass wall and listened to an audio feed with a 20-second delay.

The tribunal's chief judge ordered the delay in the audio to guard against any accidental disclosure of classified information as the terrorism suspects face prosecution.

Marine Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann halted the audio feed at least five times to delete statements from three of the defendants. Two of the suppressed comments were by Mohammed, both times at a juncture when he appeared to be talking about torture or mistreatment.

Audio and visual transmission to a press room a few hundred yards away also was cut.

One public affairs officer attributed the cutoff of Ramzi Binalshibh's complaint about being forced to take psychotropic drugs as the tribunal's adherence to the Health Information Protection Act, which prohibits unauthorized disclosure of a patient's medical information.

For the 40 people in the viewing room behind the glass wall, the proceedings were bizarrely disjointed, with lawyers sitting down as spectators were just hearing their opening comments, or male voices wafting from the speakers while female lawyers addressed the judge.

The Pentagon accredited 60 journalists to cover the arraignment and shepherded them here aboard a C-130 cargo plane for the Sept. 11 suspects' first day in court.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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