GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba –A judge expressed frustration on Monday that an unknown U.S. government entity censored his courtroom audiovisual feed, cutting public access to pretrial hearings for five accused Sept. 11 plotters.
“If some external body is turning the commission on or off based on their own views of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation … then we’re going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on and off,” said the judge, Col. James Pohl.
Pohl’s comments came after an unknown censor cut off a live media feed to the court proceedings as David Nevin, a lawyer defending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, began discussing his request for information on his client’s case.
Proceedings at Guantanamo’s maximum-security court are broadcast over closed-circuit television to journalists observing from an adjacent room. Additional reporters monitor the feed from a nearby media center, and at Fort Meade, Md.
A red light resembling a police emergency beacon goes off in the courtroom when the censorship button has been activated. A court security officer positioned next to the judge has the ability to dump the feed if anything secret arises. That officer didn’t activate the censorship button on Monday.
Defense attorneys said they didn’t previously know that someone outside the courtroom could cut off the feed.
“I would like to know who has the permission to turn that light on and off, who is listening to this, who is controlling these proceedings, or controlling that aspect of these proceedings,” Nevin said.
The censorship light has come on before, but always when activated by the court security officer, James G. Connell III, a lawyer for Abul Aziz Ali, said at an evening press conference. “I thought that there was one button and it was under the control of the court security officer,” he said.
Justice Department counterterrorism lawyer Joanna Baltes said in court on Monday that the government would provide information on the censorship during a closed court session. The judge will address the matter on Tuesday, lawyers said.
Col. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, declined to classify the activation of the censorship light as a mistake. Martins said the defense lawyers should have known about censors outside the courtroom.