When victims of al-Qaida attacks want to talk to reporters at Guantánamo, retired Navy Capt. Karen Loftus squires the so-called victim family members to Camp Justices press shed and introduces herself as their escort.
When The New York Post put a spotlight on Loftus unique role as victim and witness advocate in the coming Sept. 11 death penalty trial, the native New Yorker willingly posed for a photo at the Brooklyn Bridge.
So it came as a puzzlement in December when the Pentagon blacked out her name on a military judges order compelling her to testify this month in a pre-trial hearing of a Guantánamo death penalty case. The job description in the order made it clear Loftus would be the witness even with her name covered up.
So why the secrecy in postings on the Pentagons military commissions website, the portal for tribunal documents, whose motto is Fairness, Transparency, Justice?
Im following the office policy because Im a witness, said Loftus, who works from the Pentagons War Crimes prosecutors office in Washington, D.C.
Yes, the woman in charge of arranging travel for victims and witnesses is herself being treated as an anonymous witness in the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged architect of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole al-Qaidas attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors.
Meantime, the episode serves as the latest illustration of the peculiar pick-and-choose transparency that exists in the war court that the Bush and Obama administrations built in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The Pentagons death penalty trials are months if not years away, and the court is systematically constructing a patchwork of secrecy to surround the security trials that, by order of Congress, are being held outside the United States at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The CIA delivered Nashiri to Guantánamo for trial in 2006, according to declassified documents, after agents waterboarded him, threatened his mother, and held a revving drill and cocked gun to his head. But where he was held or anything about the CIA interrogation techniques, which President Obama banned upon taking office -- none of these may be revealed in open court by order of the judge. The same is true about what the CIA did to the five accused conspirators in the 9/11 attacks.
A U.S. government censor sits in the Guantánamo court, his finger on the button of a white-noise machine that can muffle sound if he suspects someone is about to utter a state secret. Spectators hear courtroom conversation on a judicially sanctioned 40-second delay.
It is in this court that Loftus is being called to testify about her job the week of Feb 4. She runs a Pentagon lottery for family members of victims who want to watch the Guantánamo proceedings. She also operates a members-only portal on the Pentagon website and arranges their travel. She travels with the victims from Washington, D.C., to Guantánamo, where she has been seen comforting victims in court, and dining with them at the base pub.
In court, she can instruct a guard to pull a curtain around the victims inside the spectators gallery to shield them from the searching eyes of other observers. She helps them decide if, or when, they talk to reporters.