Gates: 'Closed' Gitmo hearings needed
Mike SheehanPublished: Thursday March 8, 2007
The Secretary of Defense is urging closed hearings for detainees at Guantanamo Bay because of concerns over "classified information," The Los Angeles Times is reporting.
"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Wednesday defended a Pentagon decision to hold secret hearings for 14 suspected terrorists transferred to Guantanamo Bay last year," writes Julian E. Barnes for the Times, "despite the fact that similar proceedings have been held in open session."
Barnes notes that the decision "represents a change in administration policy and was criticized by former military lawyers and human rights organizations."
Gates dismisses the criticism, saying "he did not think that closing the combatant status review tribunals for the 14 suspects, who include alleged Sept. 11 organizer Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, would undermine the credibility of the process," writes Barnes.
"For these particular individuals, a good deal of the discussion associated with their evaluation is going to [involve] classified information," Barnes quotes Gates at the Pentagon. "That's the reason."
A Duke University law professor disagreed, saying, "If we appear to be putting a cover over Guantanamo, I think it is a mistake."
Excerpts from the registration-restricted LA Times article, available at this link, follow...
Human rights groups said that the hearings were being closed to the media because the Bush administration feared the detainees would make allegations that they were subjected to harsh forms of interrogations, such as water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, or other abuse.
"Let's say Khalid Shaikh Mohammed decides to participate, and they ask him a question and he says, 'You got that information when you were water-boarding me,' " said Jumana Musa, an advocacy director for Amnesty International. "My guess is they don't want the press there, and they don't want that showing up in any public transcript."
Jameel Jaffer, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, said that his organization had been hoping to observe the combatant status review tribunals and suspected that the Defense Department closed the hearings out of fear of what the detainees might say.
"We do not think they have any legitimate reason to be closed," he said. "If everything takes place behind closed doors, there is a reasonable suspicion the hearings are not fair."
Although transcripts of the hearings will be released, they will be censored. Defense officials have reserved the right to redact allegations of abuse from the transcripts, a move Jaffer opposes.
The Bush administration plans to begin secret proceedings against fourteen "high-value" terrorism suspects currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The military tribunals, scheduled to begin tomorrow, will take place behind closed doors and away from the scrutiny of the media. None of the suspects will be able to have a lawyer present.