Guantanamo judge’s ruling avoids issue of secret testimony

Posted April 11, 2012, at 8:48 p.m.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — A First Amendment attorney, in a first-ever appearance at the war court, urged a military judge Wednesday not to close testimony by a captive on how the CIA interrogated him. The military judge then mooted the issue, for now, by ordering the prison camps to unshackle the captive for meetings with his lawyers.

The averted showdown came at a pre-trial hearing in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 47, facing a capital murder trial as the alleged architect of al-Qaida’s 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. Seventeen sailors died and dozens more were wounded.

It had threatened to be a crucial test of transparency in the military commissions as they gear up to bring five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks before the military tribunal.

At issue had been a defense request to order the prison camps commander to have al-Nashiri unshackled at the ankles during meetings with his attorneys, just as he is at the war court defense table. Wednesday he strolled in surrounded by guards and sat at the defense table in a white prison-camp uniform issued to cooperative captives, looking relaxed in the defendant’s chair as his lawyers sought to argue he has been so traumatized by his CIA interrogations that he can’t help prepare a defense in this death-penalty case.

To make their argument, his attorneys filed notice that they would call him to testify about the things that agents did to him before his 2006 transfer to Guantanamo — waterboarded him, revved a drill near his hooded head, and racked a handgun, according to a CIA abuse investigation — and include classified information that under the war court rules would mandate closure.

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