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A surrogate of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday rejected a request by the Sept. 11 defense lawyers to let media organizations televise the Sept. 11 trial from the war court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
William Lietzau, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy, wrote the defense lawyers that the Pentagon provides ample transparency for the trials through news coverage, a remote viewing site at Fort Meade, Md., and a website that posts transcripts of the pre-trial proceedings within 24 hours of hearings.
"At this time, there are no plans to televise military commission proceedings," Lietzau wrote in a single-page response to the lawyers for five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
A total of 13 defense lawyers for the former CIA prisoners now facing military capital penalty proceedings wrote Panetta on Nov. 1 requesting that he use his authority as Secretary of Defense to enable the broadcasts.
The chief military commissions judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, said at a hearing earlier this year that only Panetta could make that decision.
Lietzau said he was responding for Panetta.
The lawyers, who defend alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other men, argued that the trial, likely a year away, "is the most significant criminal trial in the history of our country." They argued there's a "the pervasive distrust of these proceedings," and that the Guantanamo system has harmed the reputation of the United States.
"Allow the entire country, and world, to observe the proceedings for themselves," they wrote.
Lietzau responded that the war court was following U.S. military courts martial and federal criminal practice. His letter was dated Nov. 20, but the defense lawyers said they received the reply Monday and provided a copy to The Miami Herald.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief war crimes prosecutor, has opposed broadcasts in remarks that suggest cameras in the court could harm the dignity of the death-penalty proceedings.
Defense lawyers have said that the public might be surprised to realize how much of the proceedings will be held in closed session.
They also want wider scrutiny on the hybrid nature of the proceedings that borrow from both military and civilian justice.