Guantánamo lawyers want CIA 'black sites' made public at trial

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — Defense attorneys for one of the five accused 9/11 conspirators are pressing the U.S. military to, for the first time, publicly discuss classified details of the so-called CIA-run 'black sites' in open court. 

Lawyers for Ali Abdul Aziz Ali will file three pre-trial motions with the U.S. military tribunal here this week in an attempt to get the U.S. government to discuss the Agency-operated overseas detention centers, lead attorney James Connell said Sunday. 

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Ali, along with accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and co-conspirators Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin 'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi are scheduled to appear before the tribunal on Monday, Connell told reporters. 

Monday's appearance will be the second pretrial hearing held at the Expeditionary Legal Compound, headquartered at Camp Liberty in Guantánamo. 

The issue over disclosing information on the CIA sites will likely be brought before the tribunal on Tuesday, according to Connell. 

The information being sought by Ali's legal team has resulted in the "substantial possibility" that previously secret information on the CIA black sites will come up in open court, Connell said. 

The detention sites, reportedly located in Poland, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and elsewhere, housed high-value detainees such as Ali and Mohammed.

Civil rights activists claim the enhanced interrogation techniques the detainees housed at these black sites were subjected to — such as sleep deprivation, extreme isolation and waterboarding — were tantamount to torture. 

While agency officials have shuttered the sites in recent years, Connell argues the information gleaned from detainees via those enhanced interrogations is unreliable and calls into question the entire basis of the U.S. government's case against his client. 

The sites were briefly discussed during previous terrorism trials held at Guantánamo before the Pentagon and White House opened up the proceedings to the public, according to Connell.

Specifically, Ali's defense team is requesting government officials preserve any evidence of the CIA black sites, as well as the actual buildings at the sites where the interrogations took place. 

Connell is also requesting all information pertaining to detainee interrogation policies drafted by the George W. Bush administration.

Debating those motions during open hearings could force government attorneys to reveal details on the black site operations and specifically the interrogation techniques used on detainees, he said. 

The motions set to be filed during pretrial hearings come as congressional lawmakers are debating whether to declassify a Senate report chronicling the use of enhanced interrogation techniques under the previous administration. 

Last December, Senate Intelligence Committee members approved the classified, wide-ranging report on detainee interrogation operations by the CIA and the U.S. intelligence community. 

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that after reviewing more than 6 million pages of CIA and intelligence documents, investigators issued a series of 20 findings and conclusions, which the panel also voted to approve.

“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” said Feinstein at the time. 

“I am confident the CIA will emerge a better and more able organization as a result of the committee’s work," she added. 

When asked by The Hill on Sunday whether the government would comply with his request to publicly discuss the black sites in detail, Connell said the motions were designed "to have [the] answers unclassified." 

He declined to comment on whether the defense team was concerned that evidence concerning the black sites were in danger of being destroyed or if it had already been destroyed.

For his part, Chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told reporters his legal team would handle Connell's request "responsibly" but noted the government's case was treading a fine line between "liberty and security." 

That said, Martins made clear that in previous pretrial hearings, the case has been made that no information in the government's charges against the accused 9/11 conspirators was gained via mistreatment or torture of detainees. 

To date, government lawyers have publicly disclosed nearly 80,000 pages of unclassified materials to defense attorneys, Martins said. He argued such disclosures would "ensure a fair trial" for the accused.