Unexplained Blackout of Discussion of CIA Interrogation Centers at 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearing

Thursday, January 31, 2013
Merrilly Noeth, a relative of a 9/11 attack victim, watches the hearing from behind sound-proof glass. (graphic: Janet Hamlin,AP)

Questions surrounded the pretrial hearing this week of the men accused of organizing the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after the audio and video feed of the military court proceedings were abruptly cut for several minutes.


When the subject of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) black site prisons arose, those watching the hearing at Guantánamo Bay heard a blast of static on the speakers, followed by loss of sound and then video on the closed-circuit feed. A red light then flashed at the right side of the judge’s desk.


The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, did not authorize the blackout and said it never should have happened, particularly during what had been an unclassified discussion. As the feed resumed, he remarked that it seemed as “if some external body is turning the commission off.” One of the defense attorneys then asked, “Who is controlling these proceedings?” Pohl would only say that the subject was forbidden for discussion in open court, and that he was obligated to uphold any decision that had been made to cut the feed.


Joanna Baltes, a Department of Justice lawyer working on the prosecution team, told The Washington Post that the “original classification authority” reviews the feeds.


“The authority that Baltes referred to almost certainly is the CIA, but it remains unclear whether agency personnel have a previously undisclosed ability to cut the feed,” according to Peter Finn of the Post. The CIA refused to comment.


Following the incident, attorneys for the defendants expressed concerns that privileged communications with their clients could be picked up by microphones monitored by unknown officials.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Guantanamo Military Commissions: Only The Judge Is In Control, Except When He Isn’t (by Adam Kirchner, Public Record)

The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Hearings Resume: But Who Is The Man Behind The Curtain? And “Who is Controlling These Proceedings?” (by Adam Kirchner, Public Record)

Guantanamo Judge Declines to Explain Mysterious Censoring (by Peter Finn, Washington Post)

Strange Censorship Episode at Guantánamo Enrages Judge (by Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald)

Guantánamo Lawyers Seeking 48-Hour Visits (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Military Judge Orders Guantánamo Prisoners not to Talk in Court about being Tortured (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Military Defense Attorneys Clash with Guantánamo Commander about Reading Mail (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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