Guantánamo judge to U.S. government: Preserve what’s left of CIA ‘black sites’

The military judge in the Sept. 11 case has ordered the U.S. government to preserve whatever remnants exist of the CIA’s Bush-era secret prisons known as the “black sites,” defense and prosecution lawyers said Friday.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, who in 2004 issued a similar order forbidding destruction of the Abu Ghraib prison where guards abused prisoners in Iraq, issued the single-page protective order on Thursday, according to two lawyers who read the ruling. It was still under seal at the war court Friday.

It does not specify the number of black sites in the secret network, which President Barack Obama ordered closed soon after taking office, Pentagon defense attorney Jay Connell said. Nor does the order name the countries that allowed the CIA to set up its secret prisons where three Guantánamo captives were waterboarded. Two of them are now in death-penalty proceedings before Judge Pohl.

“The motion of the Defense to preserve evidence of any existing overseas detention facilities within control of the United States is granted subject to subsequent modification,” Pohl wrote, according to those allowed to read the three-paragraph ruling.

The request for the protective order was a source of controversy in January. A lawyer for the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, was just beginning to explain to the judge why the defense wanted the order when an agent reached into Pohl’s court and muted the sound. CIA agents waterboarded Mohammed 183 times.

A furious Pohl ordered the agent’s button unplugged. Mohammed’s lawyer, David Nevin, later said the censor worked for the CIA.

The judge agreed to the defense lawyers’ request after the prosecution team withdrew its objection to it this week.

Pohl issued the ruling at the end of a week of hearings that halted the Sept. 11 pretrial hearings until a military mental health panel examines whether alleged plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh is fit to stand trial.

Bin al Shibh, 41, disrupted this week’s proceedings two days in a row with complaints about his secret prison camp conditions, was ejected from the hearings four times and separately called the judge and another colonel in charge of the prison guard force war criminals.

While the U.S. government still has classified as Top Secret the locations of its now-defunct prison network, various investigations have identified some of the countries as Thailand, Poland, Lithuania, Djibouti, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

No date has been set for the death-penalty terror trial before a panel of U.S. military officers of Mohammed and four alleged accomplices imprisoned here at Guantánamo. They are accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

The earliest the trial could start is in January 2015.

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