Gitmo judge bans outside censors from 9/11 terror tribunals

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In a surprising turn of events, Army Judge Col. James Pohl on Thursday banned outside military or intelligence agencies from monitoring or, in some cases, blacking out live-video feeds of the 9/11 tribunal hearings here. 

In a short statement at the beginning of Thursday's pre-trial hearing, Pohl made clear the only individuals that should be able to control the audio and video feed of the tribunal's proceedings will be Pohl and the court's official security officer. 

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The ruling puts the tribunal's procedures over who controls what is — and what is not — publicly released by the court in line with court procedures in place at the state and federal level, Pohl pointed out. 

His decision comes two days after the military court's top officer acknowledged that that outside military or intelligence agencies can censor the closed-circuit broadcast of the hearings from the Expeditionary Legal Center at Camp Liberty in Guantánamo. 

On Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors disclosed that the real-time transmission of the tribunal’s proceedings collected by the court’s official reporter is tracked by a government agency known in military legal terms as an “Original Classifying Authority,” or OCA. 

That agency or agencies — which is likely either a military or intelligence body — can determine whether a particular document, statement or conversation is classified at any time. It can then censor the proceedings of the tribunal. 

An OCA representative on Monday blacked out closed-circuit broadcast of the tribunal during Monday's hearing for nearly two minutes. At the time, Pohl adamantly protested the decision, noting that no classified information was discussed during the blackout. 

Monday's incident "is the last time" an OCA representative will be able to monitor or intentionally terminate the tribunal's live-feed, Pohl told the court on Thursday. 

It still remains unclear where the OCA representative is monitoring the trial from, and Pohl did not comment on a location on Tuesday. 

Pohl also did not give any information on what agency the OCA representative belongs to, at the time. 

The video feed of the tribunal's proceedings broadcast to reporters and the public features a 40-second delay, allowing court security officers to black out the transmission if attorneys discuss classified or otherwise highly sensitive material. 

Until Tuesday, it was understood that the only people who were able to listen in to the tribunal’s proceedings in real time were Pohl and his security officer, the defense and prosecution teams and the five accused co-conspirators. 

Pohl's decision to cut off OCA's authority over the closed-circuit feed on Thursday came after defense attorneys requested to suspend the hearings, over concerns about so-called "confidential communications" between the defense teams and their clients. 

The emergency motion was filed by defense lawyer David Nevin, the lead attorney for accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, on Thursday. 

Mohammed, along with Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa al Hawsawi and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, have been charged with planning and coordinating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Nevin and other members of the defense team remained unconvinced that OCA representatives would not be able to use the microphones positioned at the defendants’ tables to pick up any discussion or any type of audio, even if the mute button on the microphones had been pushed. 

But with the OCA no longer able to monitor the tribunal feed, Nevin's motion may no longer be necessary. However, Pohl plans to rule on the request to delay the hearings during the next scheduled pre-trial hearing, set for February.