Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, pictured after his arrest in 2003, was the alleged… (Associated Press )
WASHINGTON -- The Army judge in the military commission trial for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspected Sept. 11 plotters has issued a sweeping ruling that will keep secret any details about the defendants’ arrests, their treatment in custody and whether they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques that some civil rights advocates have described as torture.
The order, signed by Col. James L. Pohl on Dec. 6 and made public Wednesday, represents a clear victory for U.S. military and Department of Justice prosecutors in the opening round of pre-trial fights with defense lawyers before the first trial related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks begins. The trial could start early next year.
Prosecutors had sought for months to have any and all information about the five men’s arrests and their initial captivity and treatment at so-called “black sites” abroad kept secret. Pohl agreed, even though some government officials have previously acknowledged that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times after his 2003 capture in Pakistan.
But for the trial, Pohl ruled that “enhanced interrogation techniques that were applied to the accused … including descriptions of the techniques as applied, the duration, frequency, sequencing and limitations of those techniques” are classified and will not be allowed even by the defendants in their legal papers or in open court. They will only be discussed, if at all, in closed-door sessions.
He also ruled the “names, identities and physical descriptions of any persons involved with the capture, transfer, detention or interrogation” of the accused will be kept secret, as will any “information that would reveal or tend to reveal the foreign countries” where the suspects were initially held.
Defense lawyers, the ACLU and attorneys for a group of journalists, including the Los Angeles Times, had earlier urged the judge to permit the disclosure of this crucial information as the case unfolds at the detainee prison on the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“We’re profoundly disappointed,” Hina Shamsi, an ACLU attorney, said of the ruling, adding she will probably appeal the protective order. “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.”
Along with Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, the others accused are Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged plot cell manager; Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward; and Ammar al Baluchi, a.k.a. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi, alleged Al Qaeda financiers.
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