The important point is not that reporters will not be allowed but that even the lawyers for the defendants will not be allowed. The whole process is a sham and a travesty of justice. Even if a hearing decides to release someone the person has no recourse to any compensation for being held for years without charge.
US hearings for 14 terror suspects to start under cloud of secrecy
Published: Thursday March 8, 2007
A group of 14 top terrorist suspects face their first hearings Friday before US panels with reporters barred from proceedings shrouded in as much secrecy as their years of imprisonment.
The 14 detainees -- described as "high-value" suspects -- were transferred to the prison at the remote US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in September after spending years held in secret CIA prisons.
The suspects will go before "combatant status review" panels of three military officers who will decide whether they should continue to be held as "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo. But no defense lawyers or reporters will be present.
The Pentagon has closed the proceedings to the media for the first time since the panels started in 2005, so the only account of the hearings will come from the US military. Lawyers for the suspects also have been shut out.
The suspects include alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and suspected conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Osama Bin Laden aide Abu Zubaydah and Hambali, identified by one name, alleged to have orchestrated the 2002 Bali bombings.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the hearings were closed to prevent classified information from leaking. But human rights groups and some former military lawyers say the secretive approach further damages US credibility over its treatment and prosecution of terror suspects.
Whitman said the Pentagon will release a redacted transcript of the proceedings as soon as possible and post it on a Pentagon website along with an unclassified summary of the evidence against the detainees.
Officials would not say which of the 14 would go first, how many have refused to take part in the proceedings and declined to offer a schedule for the hearings.
Initially, the Pentagon planned to withhold the names of the detainees from the transcripts, but later reconsidered.
The status review panels are not attempting to rule on an inmate's guilt or innocence. But a decision to keep the suspects under detention is expected to pave the way for formal trials on terrorism charges before special military tribunals created by the US Congress under a controversial law.
The other 370 Guantanamo detainees have all passed through similar status review boards, in which a shackled prisoner, without a legal advocate, is presented with a brief summary of the allegations he faces. Only rarely in the status review procedures have detainees been able to cite witnesses or offer documents in their favor.
The Pentagon says such a procedure permits the United States to balance the threat posed by the terror suspects and the desire not to hold them in custody any longer than necessary.
President George W. Bush's administration has come under severe international criticism for holding detainees without charges at the naval base amid allegations of abuse and torture.
Human rights groups and European governments have condemned the detention camp as flouting fundamental civil liberties and demanded the prison be closed.
Some lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled US Congress have also called for closing the camp and possibly transferring some detainees to prisons on the US mainland.
Lawyers for Majid Khan, one of the 14 suspects, have condmned the hearings and said their client was subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" amounting to torture while in a secret CIA prison.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which is organizing the defense of hundreds of Guantanamo detainees including Khan, said it was "outrageous" that he had not seen his lawyers since October.
Barring access to his attorneys was designed to "prevent torture and abuse from becoming public, and to protect any foreign governments who may have assisted or been complicit in Khan's secret detention," the CCR said.