The Marine judge in a Guantánamo war crimes case ruled Friday that people in the United States cannot view next week’s testimony by an admitted terrorist, but people who make it to the remote base in southeast Cuba can watch in the war court’s spectator gallery.
Judge Col. Peter Rubin’s three-page, sealed decision set the stage for the second time in a row that the Pentagon will pull the plug on open court, closed-circuit television feeds to secure viewing sites at Fort Meade, Maryland, and elsewhere.
The Obama administration set up the viewing rooms around the United States after revamping the Military Commissions Act in 2009 to make the war crimes trials more accessible to the public.
Last month, a prosecutor in the USS Cole case announced that a senior Pentagon official decided to save $60,000 by not transmitting open portions of that pretrial hearing to traditional viewing sites in Fort Meade and Norfolk, Virginia.
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Much of the week was devoted to a closed-court deposition by confessed terrorist Ahmed al Darbi, a long-held Saudi captive who turned government witness in exchange for his transfer early next year from Guantánamo to serve out the remainder of an at-most 15-year sentence in his homeland. But the USS Cole case judge, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, authorized transmission of a series of legal arguments, including an open-court discussion on how long the taint of torture can contaminate future evidence.
In that instance, Spath had already ruled that he would close the court for the admitted terrorist’s testimony, and would decide later which portion the public would see — if Darbi is indeed gone from Guantánamo by the time of the death-penalty trial of the alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.
However, Rubin had ruled the opposite — for openness — when Darbi testifies in court next ahead of the trial of alleged al-Qaida commander Abd al Hadi al Iraqi. He concluded the public could see it. Then Darbi’s lawyers asked the Marine to reconsider the decision.
Rubin ruled Friday that Darbi’s lawyers had offered no new facts to cause him to reconsider that openness, according to attorneys who read the decision. But he added a caveat to cut off typical closed-circuit feeds of Hadi hearings beyond the base to Fort Meade and Fort Devens, in Massachusetts — when Darbi testifies.
“In this instance the public will be able to view from the courtroom gallery,” Rubin wrote, according to three attorneys who read copies of the decision.
The Miami Herald is the only news organization traveling to the base to report on the proceedings. The Pentagon planned to open the Fort Meade site for media, because one reporter had signed up in advance, as well as adjacent viewing rooms for the public and victim family members.
Neither the Hadi nor the USS Cole case has a firm trial date.