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Judge restricts more materials in 9/11 trial

Lawyers cannot make public even unclassified materials in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others, the military judge rules.

January 03, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
  • The ruling by the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, depicted in a sketch, follows an order on Dec. 6 in which he directed that any evidence or discussion about harsh interrogation techniques used against the five defendants be kept secret.
The ruling by the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, depicted in a sketch, follows… (Janet Hamlin, Miami Herald )

WASHINGTON — The military judge overseeing the trial for alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four others has ruled that lawyers cannot make public even unclassified materials.

The ruling by the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, follows an order on Dec. 6 in which he directed that any evidence or discussion about harsh interrogation techniques used against the five men also be kept secret. He issued the ruling despite accusations by human rights groups that the government was trying to hide the fact the men were tortured.

The latest decision, issued Dec. 20 but just released, marks the second time the judge has sided with government prosecutors at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in what will probably be the only trial involving alleged participants in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pohl also ordered the names of the jurors be kept secret.

Upset with the back-to-back rulings, members of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, as well as a consortium of attorneys representing various media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, are continuing to pursue legal challenges to Pohl's orders.

Under the new order, the attorneys cannot share unclassified information dealing with law enforcement and the military, nor surveillance information, medical records, autopsy reports and the names of the military commission jurors, witnesses and others connected to detention operations.

None of the material, Pohl said, "shall be disseminated to the media." But the judge allowed the disclosure of some unclassified material in pretrial legal briefs and during pretrial hearings, as well as the trial.

In another development, President Obama this week signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which supports overall military operations but also puts on hold his plan to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay — a pledge he repeated in October during his run for reelection.

Instead, the act extends restrictions blocking detainee transfers through the end of September, putting off for at least nine months any attempt by the administration to shut down the prison.

"President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before Inauguration Day," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as [that] the illegal military commissions will be extended."

There are 166 prisoners at the detention camp.

Along with Mohammed, the other defendants in the Sept. 11 trial are Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged plot cell manager; Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward; and two alleged Al Qaeda financiers, Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi and Ammar al Baluchi, also known as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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