Military judge denies details of CIA interrogations in open court

Col. James Pohl brought Monday’s hearing here to an early close, so defense attorneys and prosecutors could debate a motion to preserve any and all details tied to the so-called CIA-run “black sites.”

{mosads}Attorneys representing Ali Abdul Aziz Ali filed the motion in anticipation of being able to talk about the agency-run detention sites in public, lead attorney James Connell said Sunday. 

But during Monday’s hearing, Pohl sided with U.S. prosecutors who argued the ensuing debate over whether to accept Connell’s motion would all but guarantee the public release of highly sensitive and classified details of the CIA’s network of overseas prisons. 

Pohl gave the defense team the option to argue their case behind closed doors, or to forgo oral arguments on the motion completely. 

In the end, Connell and the defense teams representing the other four accused 9/11 conspirators opted to plead their case in classified session. 

But in a press briefing late Monday, Connell noted the window was still open to introduce information on the CIA sites in open court. 

The closed-door session focused on how the defense team would handle sensitive information, such as details about the agency detention centers, in an unclassified setting, he said. 

Those guidelines hashed out between the defense teams during the closed session could set the stage for at least some public disclosures of the black sites, Connell added. 

But the defense attorney seemed less optimistic such details would see the light of day after Monday’s classified hearing. 

When asked what his team’s chances were at getting any information on the black sites public, Connell replied: “That remains to be seen.” 

Chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins refused to speculate on the possibility on any issues relating to CIA black sites being brought up in court, during his press briefing late Monday. 

Connell’s team also filed motions requesting government officials preserve the actual buildings at the black sites where the interrogations took place, as well as all information pertaining to detainee interrogation policies drafted by the George W. Bush administration.

Those motions are expected to come before the tribunal on Tuesday. 

Defense counsel for Ali, as well as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and co-conspirators Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak Bin ‘Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al-Hawsawi, were subjected to torture while being interrogated by CIA officials. 

That fact, according to defense attorneys, should make any information gleaned during those interrogations in the government’s case inadmissible in court. 

Untold numbers of high-level terror detainees were shuttled between various black sites in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Mideast by the George W. Bush White House. 

While at the sites, CIA interrogators reportedly used “enhanced interrogation techniques” — such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation — to get detainees to reveal details of looming terrorist plots against the U.S. and its allies. 

Even though the Obama administration has shut down the CIA prison network, the specifics on what types of activities took place at those sites remain classified. 

But just after defense lawyers agreed to argue the motion on CIA black sites in classified session, tribunal officials intentionally cut off audio and video feeds of Monday’s hearing. 

During tribunal hearings, only the defense teams and their clients and the prosecution team are allowed to hear the proceedings in real time. 

Reporters, as well as observers in the gallery adjacent to the courtroom, monitor the hearings via a live feed. That feed is also simultaneously streamed to media remotely monitoring the hearings at Fort Meade in Maryland. 

However, military officials built in a 40-second delay into the audio and video feeds to the courtroom gallery, to allow attorneys on both sides to discuss classified or otherwise highly sensitive material. 

After the feed was restored on Monday, Pohl openly questioned the decision to cut the feed and — in a surprising move — reiterated what was discussed inside the courtroom during the disruption.  

Visibly angry and notably surprised at the disruption, Pohl demanded to know why tribunal officials blacked out the hearing because no classified information was being discussed at the time. 

He questioned whether an “external body” outside U.S. prosecutors and tribunal officials were in charge of deciding when the audio and video feeds can be cut off. 

“We are going to have a little meeting about who turns that [feed] on and off,” Pohl said in a stern warning to the prosecution. 

Government lawyers reassured Pohl there was a reason Monday’s hearing was temporarily blacked out, but could not explain the reason in open court.  

Tribunal officials “endeavor to ensure” that any unclassified information discussed during hearings that can be released will be, DOD spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told reporters on Monday. 

Military officials were working to find out what exactly was discussed during the roughly minute-long blackout during Monday’s hearing, according to Breasseale, noting that any unclassified information discussed would be added to the official record. 

Breasseale added that accidents have happened in the past, where the feed was cut when information being discussed was not classified, but could not comment on whether Monday’s disruption was an accident. 

–Story was updated at 10:09 PM 


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