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4 Aug, 2012 02:04

ACLU, media to argue against censorship in 9/11 mastermind trial

ACLU, media to argue against censorship in 9/11 mastermind trial

The military judge in the trial of alleged 9/11 masterminds has agreed to hold a hearing in which the ACLU and a consortium of media groups would be allowed to argue their case against government censorship in the high-profile case.

­Judge James L. Pohl, President of the Guantanamo military commission, issued an order Wednesday allowing the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 14 media groups, which call themselves “the Press Objectors,” to present their arguments on August 22.

As neither side objects to counsel for the ACLU and Press Objectors to present oral arguments on the motion, the request for oral argument is GRANTED,” the order, posted on the military commission’s website, reads.

In May, a consortium of 14 media groups, including the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times and The Miami Herald, and the ACLU separately filed motions protesting regulations under which there is a 40-second delay of the broadcast of the trial. The time is sufficient for military officials to muffle the defendants’ speech if they start to describe the torture they are alleged to have been subjected to by CIA operatives.

The ACLU called said the practice was based on a “chillingly Orwellian claim” that the accused “must be gagged lest he reveal his knowledge of what the government did to him.”

The media group said the government was trying to shield CIA activities from the public eye.  

The First Amendment allows commission proceedings to be closed only upon a specific finding of a 'substantial probability' of harm to national security or some equally compelling governmental interest,” Lawyer David Schulz wrote in the media’s motion.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants stand accused of masterminding the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. They face eight charges in total, including terrorism and murder in violation of the law of war, meaning that a guilty verdict could put them on death row.

The five men were captured by US and Pakistani intelligence services in 2003, and were held captive at CIA black sites outside America until 2006, when they were transferred to Guantanamo. Mohammed confessed to plotting the 9/11 attacks “from A to Z,” but even US officials later admitted the prisoners were subject to “enhanced forms of torture.” Mohammed was subject to waterboarding at least 183 times, the officials say.

Originally, they were to be tried by a Guantanamo military commission, but the Supreme Court ruled against holding proceedings there. In 2009, newly-inaugurated President Barack Obama asked for the trial to be held in a New York federal court. However, under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by Obama in January 2011, the US Defense Department was barred from using its funds to house Gitmo prisoners in the United States. The provision meant that the venue of the trial had to be moved back to Guantanamo.

Defendants refused to enter pleas during their May arraignment. The trial's actual proceedings are scheduled to begin next year.