GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — The military judge in the case of five 9/11 co-conspirators has cut off U.S. government censors after discovering someone outside the court had control over audio feeds of the proceedings.
It was a bizarre twist in a case that has dragged on for years after the September 11 attacks in the effort to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused co-conspirators to justice.
Prosecutors were working to portray the proceedings as fair and transparent, but that was called into question for some when the judge, Colonel James Pohl, discovered this week that someone in the U.S. government was monitoring the proceedings on Tuesday and - for two minutes - cut off an audio feed to journalists and observers. It happened as a defense attorney was talking about black sites, or secret U.S. prisons where the defendants allege they were tortured. The line has a 40-second delay designed to prevent the leak of classified information.
The judge on Thursday ordered that switches controlled by outside censors be disconnected.
The attorney, David Nevin, on Thursday expressed concern that someone other than the judge had that power over the proceedings.
"Why is it that coming up on five years into this [that] not even the judge is aware of who's listening and who has the authority and the ability to shut it down so that you can't hear it? So that not one more word after right now, when I've decided you've all heard enough, not one more word gets heard. What kind of a system is that?" he asked.
Officials did not identify the agency that was monitoring court proceedings.
The men, in some cases, have been held for nearly 10 years, and the U.S. government wants them tried as soon as possible.
Action on several motions has been pushed back, and chief prosecutor, Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, says there are lengthier and more difficult issues to solve before a trial date can be set.
“And although it is wearying, it's necessary that we do this. That as we move toward judgment, we do it in a way that is in accordance with our values. That's what we're going to do. That's what we all swear an oath to do and that's what we will do," he said.
The incident has reignited the debate among some victims' family members on whether the trial should be here at Guantanamo Bay or moved to a federal civilian court in the United States. With a law banning the transfer of the prisoners to the U.S., that is for now a moot point.