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Military Commission “Lifts” Provision Classifying “Observations and Experiences”

The pre-trial motions hearing in the 9/11 case (United States v. Mohammed et al.) is back in session this week.  Today’s session was in camera and closed (with public access beginning tomorrow), but we have received word that today the military commission issued several orders lifting the classifying of the “observations and experiences” of defendants formerly held by the CIA.   A press release, from James Connell (attorney for defendant Ammar al Baluchi), that details the orders is provided after the jump.

MILITARY COMMISSION RETREATS ON CLASSIFICATION OF TORTURE MEMORIES 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media contact: James Connell 011(5399) 5168
Alternate: Erin Daste 011(5399) 5321

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA Today, the military commission in the 9/11 case issued several orders (AE200II, AE 013CCC, and AE013DDD) which lift the provision classifying the “observations and experiences” of defendants formerly held by the CIA.  Defense attorneys are still required to treat CIA information as classified, but the military commission acknowledged that it had limited authority to control defendants’ thoughts and memories.

“This ruling is an important step forward in accountability for torture,” said James Connell, attorney for Ammar al Baluchi.  “The real question is whether the prison will allow the prisoners to communicate with foreign government officials, medical care providers, human rights authorities, and media.”

This ruling is the latest vindication of a series of defense challenges to the United States’ authority to classify the thoughts, memories, and statements of the former CIA prisoners.  In September 2012, the government abandoned its long-held policy of “presumptive classification,” in which every statement of former CIA prisoners was considered classified, but substituted a provision defining all prisoner observations and experiences on CIA detention as classified.  Defense attorneys challenged that provision as violating the Convention Against Torture.  Today’s ruling, which the prosecution strenuously opposed, lifts that restriction.

“People who have been abused by officials have a right to tell human rights organizations, medical care providers, and others about their torture,” said Lt Col Sterling Thomas, United States Air Force, military attorney for Mr. al Baluchi.  “If governments are allowed to keep allegations of torture secret, the protection against torture is worthless.”

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is the Managing Editor of Just Security. Follow him on twitter @thomasdearnest.