Lawyers for the five alleged Sept. 11 conspirators wrote Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Thursday, asking him to order the Pentagon to offer national TV broadcasts of their death-penalty tribunals at Guantánamo.
“This is the most significant criminal trial in the history of our country,” wrote nine military lawyers and four civilian defense lawyers.
“The only way to dispel the pervasive distrust of these proceedings, and the substantial damage to our country’s reputation, is to allow the entire country, and world, to observe the proceedings for themselves.”
The lawyers wrote the letter less than two weeks after they argued a motion before the 9/11 judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, to authorize national broadcasts. Pohl has yet to rule, but he said he believed only Panetta has the authority to make that decision.
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Currently, the public can watch pre-trial hearings in that case by getting to an auditorium at Fort Meade, an Army base in Maryland, or by applying to watch at Guantánamo as a journalist or legal observer.
Families of 9/11 victims get special segregated screening rooms in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Massachusetts. A division of the war court prosecutor’s office also administers lotteries to choose about a dozen family members of Sept. 11 victims they fly to the remote base to watch the proceedings in a court gallery.
Defense lawyers argued that the video feed should be provided freely to television outlets to broadcast as much as they choose.
Prosecutors replied that the war court at Guantánamo is modeled after court martial and federal criminal trial practice, which forbid TV broadcasts.
Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, suggested broadcasts would harm the dignity of the proceedings. “This is a court of justice,” Martins said. “It is not reality TV.”
The alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, used his Oct. 17th war court appearance to deliver a stinging critique of U.S. policy — “Your blood is not made of gold and ours is made of water,” he said — in what the judge said was the last time Mohammed would speak in court through his attorney.
Defense lawyers have said that the public might be surprised to realize how much of the proceedings will be held in closed session. They also want wider scrutiny on the hybrid nature of the proceedings that borrow from both military and civilian justice. The eventual jury will be chosen from a pool of U.S. military officers chosen from bases around the world by a senior Pentagon official and sent to Guantánamo.
“If these proceedings are fair, why is the government afraid to let the world watch?” Marine Corps Maj. William Hennessey argued in court last month for alleged al Qaida deputy Walid bin Attash, 34.