GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA - A military judge on Thursday ordered the government to immediately suspend a third party's ability to kill the audio feed during military commission proceedings for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planning the 9/11 attacks.
Army Col. James Pohl, the military judge, said only he and the court security officer are authorized to use the censor button to prevent the media and other observers watching the tribunal on closed circuit television from hearing classified information being discussed in open court.
"I order the government to disconnect any ability of a third party to suspend broadcast of the proceeding, and I order any third party not to suspend proceedings," Pohl said. "This is the last time that will happen. No third party can unilaterally cut off the broadcast."
The third party still has the ability to monitor the commission.
The judge's order, effective immediately, came down after the audio feed to the proceedings was interrupted Monday when defense attorney David Nevin, who represents Mohammed, discussed the title of an exhibit pertaining to the CIA's secret black site prisons, where the self-professed 9/11 mastermind and his alleged co-conspirators had been held prior to their transfer to Guantanamo.
When Nevin uttered the word "secret," a warning light, which is silent, positioned on the judge's dais, started to flash and the sound of white noise was fed through the audio feed. Moments later, the monitors inside the gallery went black. The outage lasted three minutes. (The courtroom is visible to members of the gallery but is separated by soundproof glass; the audio feed is delayed by 40 seconds).
Neither Pohl nor the defense attorneys representing the accused appeared to be aware who was responsible for censoring the transmission of the proceedings.
"Who is listening to this? Who is controlling these proceedings?" Nevin asked.
"If some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation ... then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off," Pohl said.
It was later revealed by the government that the third party monitoring the hearings who was responsible for the interruption during Nevin's discussion about the secret overseas prisons where Mohammed was detained was the "original classification authority," or OCA, likely a reference to the CIA since that is the agency that operated the black site prisons.
Pohl said on Tuesday the third party who censored Nevin was wrong.
In response to questions by Truthout at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, Guantanamo's chief prosecutor, declined to reveal the identity of the third party censor nor would he disclose whether the censor had been controlling the proceedings at a location on Guantanamo or on US soil.
Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, defense attorney for Mustafa al Hawsawi, one of the five 9/11 suspects on trial, asked reporters present whether Martins adequately answered questions related to the transparency of the proceedings.
"We have more questions than we have answers," Ruiz said.
He noted that he too is waiting for more details to be revealed about the identity of the secret third party censor.
"Who is the invisible hand? Who is the master of puppets?"
Ruiz was highly critical of the military commissions, saying it has created an "illuson of justice."
"This is phone currency," he said. "Counterfeit and phony currency."
Separately, Nevin filed an emergency motion with the court Thursday morning asking for an immediate suspension to proceedings until the defense can get a better understanding of who is listening to attorney/client communications. Pohl said he would take up the motion when pretrial hearings resume on February 11.