Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of masterminding the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will be excluded from pretrial hearings when classified information is disclosed, a judge said.
The ruling by U.S. Army Colonel James Pohl, who is presiding over a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, means the five men won’t be present for hearings about their treatment in U.S. custody, said James Connell, a lawyer for one of the accused. The defendants say they were tortured while held at secret Central Intelligence Agency sites around the world.
“It is the U.S. government’s abuse of the defendants in secret detention which makes the hearings classified in the first place,” Connell said in a statement today disclosing the ruling. “This ruling is the latest in a series of military commission decisions favoring secrecy over transparency.”
The defendants are accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking of passenger airplanes that killed almost 3,000 people when they were crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan, the Pentagon in Virginia, and in Pennsylvania.
The five, who have been held by the U.S. for about a decade, may face the death penalty if convicted. A military trial is at least a year away.
The issue was argued during a week of hearings last month.
“Mr. Mohammed has the right to be present when we’re talking about matters that deal with his torture,” his lawyer, David Nevin, told Pohl at the time.
Colonel Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mailed comment today that Pohl’s ruling, while still classified, “is in line with similar decisions reached in federal court when classified material had to be disclosed.”
At last month’s hearing, a prosecutor, Joanna Baltes, said the government wasn’t seeking to exclude the defendants from the trial whenever classified evidence is presented. Rather, she said, the government wanted “protections” for classified information at the pretrial stage.
The case is U.S. v. Mohammed, Military Commissions Trial (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).
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