Remove secret censoring system from Guantanamo court, judge orders

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba Thu Jan 31, 2013 9:52pm IST

1 of 2. The sun rises over the U.S. detention center Camp Delta at US Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on October 18, 2012 in this photo reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Credit: Reuters/Michelle Shephard/Pool/Files

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GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A U.S. military judge on Thursday ordered the government to immediately dismantle the monitoring system that let outside censors halt the public broadcast of hearings for the Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 attacks.

"It is the judge that controls the courtroom," said the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl. "This is the last time ... any other third party will be permitted to unilaterally decide that the broadcast should be suspended."

The closed-circuit broadcast feed was cut for a few minutes during a pretrial hearing on Monday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, revealing for the first time that someone outside the courtroom was listening in with a finger on the kill switch.

It happened during a pretrial hearing for the self-described mastermind of the hijacked plane attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four co-defendants who were held in secret CIA prisons before being sent to Guantanamo in 2006.

Their hearings are held in a high-tech building where spectators watch from behind a soundproof glass wall at the rear of the courtroom.

Observers hear the sound on a 40-second delay, through a feed that also provides sound and video to journalists in the Guantanamo press center and to a couple of closed-circuit viewing sites on the U.S. East Coast.

A court security officer sitting next to the judge controls a button that muffles the feed with static and flashes a red light when secret information is disclosed.

Pohl was furious on Monday when someone outside the courtroom cut the feed as Mohammed's lawyer, David Nevin, mentioned a defense request to preserve the secret CIA prisons where the defendants had been held.

Pohl said on Tuesday that the feed had been cut in error because the information in question was not secret, and a transcript of the censored portion was later released.

After meeting privately with the lawyers, including prosecutors who seemed well aware of the outside monitoring, Pohl said an "original classification authority" had the ability to monitor the courtroom and cut the feed.

He did not identify that authority but it would be whichever agency or officer had originally classified information about the CIA prisons as secret.

Pohl ordered that monitoring system removed on Thursday and said emphatically that he and the court security officer were the only ones with authority to suspend the broadcast.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Jackie Frank)

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