GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The military judge presiding over the Sept. 11 tribunal at Guantanamo on Thursday admonished an unknown government official who cut the sound during a hearing in an apparent attempt to prevent the disclosure of classified information.
Army Col. James Pohl said only he has the authority to decide when to close a hearing or when spectators should be prevented from hearing testimony, and he ordered the government to disconnect any equipment that would enable officials to unilaterally cut the sound feed in the courtroom at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Spectators, who include journalists and relatives of people killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, watch proceedings from behind soundproof glass with a 40-second delay so that a courtroom security officer, in consultation with the judge, can turn on a white noise machine at the mention of any classified information.
But on Monday, the white noise machine was suddenly activated - without the apparent knowledge of the judge or his courtroom security officer - when a defense attorney began to refer to the secret CIA prisons overseas where the five Sept. 11 defendants were held before they were taken to Guantanamo. The judge later determined the statement was not secret and he released a transcript of the remarks.
The identity of the person who cut the sound has not been released, but a prosecutor later said it was an "OCA," a government term for Original Classification Authority, a broad category that refers to any agency, such as the CIA, that has responsibility for the classified information at issue. Judge Pohl said it was inappropriate for anyone but him to close courtroom proceedings.
"This is the last time that an OCA or any other third party will be permitted to unilaterally decide that a broadcast should be suspended," he said.
He then ordered the government to "disconnect any ability or any third party to suspend the broadcast of these proceedings."
Defense attorney David Nevin, whose remarks prompted the censor, said lawyers for the Sept. 11 accused fear their private conversations with clients are being monitored by the same government officials who suspended the proceedings. He filed a motion to halt all proceedings until the judge can assure that their attorney-client privilege is not being violated. Pohl did not immediate rule on their request.
A four-day pretrial hearing was coming to a close Thursday with little progress on the preliminary motions that must be resolved before the death penalty trial of the five men on charges that include murder and terrorism for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.