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New York Times Runs Powerful Op-Ed By Gitmo Prisoner

"force-feeding at guantanamo" by Natasha Mayers (under Creative Commons license via flickr)

“force-feeding at guantanamo” by Natasha Mayers (under Creative Commons license via flickr)

With the simple title “Gitmo Is Killing Me”, today’s New York Times carries a chilling first-hand account from a hunger-striking prisoner at Guantanamo. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel is one of 25 Yemeni prisoners held at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release but are still held because the US feels Yemen is too unstable for the prisoners to return there.

A theme that I keep returning to regarding the hunger strike at Guantanamo is that the military is conducting an information operation to limit damage to its reputation through reducing attention to the harsh treatment guards mete out to the prisoners. That is why, as I pointed out yesterday, Saturday’s operation to shut down the communal areas at the prison and return the prisoners to individual cells was carried out after the ICRC left and at a time when no members of the press were present. With that in mind, the military is very likely to view the publication of this piece as a huge loss of control of the narrative. While they had portrayed the Saturday action as taking place against resistance by the prisoners using “improvised weapons” (a description that was avidly eaten up by the press), Naji’s account of the pain and humiliation of forced feedings changes the focus from violence by the prisoners to violence being visited upon them.

The Times explains that Naji “told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call”. Given previous behavior by the military at Guantanamo, I hope that they do not used their embarrassment over publication of this piece to limit phone calls from prisoners to their attorneys.

Naji explains his situation:

I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.

I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.

Naji is 35 years old, so he has been a prisoner at Guantanamo for nearly a third of his life. He has never been charged. He has never been tried. Is it any wonder that he would give up hope and choose to starve himself to death?

Naji’s account of the forced feedings is horrifying:

There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.

During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.

It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.

Most human rights groups object to the practice of forced feedings of hunger striking prisoners. Carol Rosenberg quotes Physicians for Human Rights: Read more

John Bogdan: The Face of the Guantanamo Crackdown

John Bogdan as his 95th Military Police Battalion assumed command of Forward Operating Base Rustimayah in Baghdad in November, 2001.

John Bogdan as his 95th Military Police Battalion assumed command of Forward Operating Base Rustimayah in Baghdad in November, 2007.

In yesterday’s pre-dawn hours, the guard force at Guantanamo entered the Camp 6 communal area and removed the prisoners to individual cells. Here is Carol Rosenberg’s description of the operation (emphasis added):

U.S. forces raided Guantánamo’s showcase prison camp early Saturday, at times battling with detainees, to systematically empty communal cellblocks in an effort to end a three-month-old protest that prisoners said was sparked by mistreatment of the Quran, the military said.

“Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons and, in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired,” according to a statement issued by the prison camps at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. “There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees.”

The pre-dawn operation took place hours after delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross left the remote island prison and during a blackout of news media access to the crisis in the prison camps.

The worst injury involved a rubber pellet piercing a captive’s “flank,” said Army Col. Gregory Julian at the U.S. Southern Command, which has oversight of the prison camps operation. The captives resisted the assault with broom and mop handles as well as plastic water bottles that had been wrapped and modified into clubs, he said.

Note how the military waited until after the ICRC had left Guantanamo (and after the ICRC’s president met with Barack Obama) to make this move while there were also no press present at the compound. I have noted previously how the military’s actions and statements during the hunger strike appear to have been an information operation and this move fits that description exactly.

When the military cancelled commercial flights to Guantanamo, I speculated on whether the new commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, John Smith, who took over in June of 2012, was responsible for the change in atmosphere there. It appears that the defense attorneys feel that more of the blame for deteriorating conditions should lie with John Bogdan, who is Commander of the Joint Detention Group (alternately described as the warden, he is in charge of the guards). See, for example, this parenthetical statement in an Andy Worthington post describing information he got from Shaker Aamer’s attorney: Read more

ICRC President Visits Obama, Brennan, Hagel Regarding “International Humanitarian Law”

ICRC President Peter Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

ICRC President Peter Maurer (Wikimedia Commons)

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, yesterday completed four days of meetings with US officials in Washington. According to the blog site for the ICRC, Maurer met with President Barack Obama, senior members of Congress and a number of high-ranking government figures, including “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.”

It is perhaps not surprising that since there is a widespread hunger strike at Guantanamo (and since the ICRC visited Guantanamo earlier this month), detention issues were high on the list of topics for the meetings:

A focus of Mr Maurer’s visit was detention-related matters. “The United States, including its Congress, must urgently find a way to resolve all pending humanitarian, legal and policy issues relating to the detention of persons held at Guantanamo Bay, including those deemed to no longer represent a threat that justifies their continued detention there,” said Mr Maurer.

But Guantanamo was not the only topic. It comes as a welcome development to me that Maurer would widen the scope of discussion with key figures such as Obama, Brennan and Hagel to remind them of their duties under international humanitarian law:

“We enjoy a robust and multi-faceted dialogue with the United States, and my visit was an opportunity to discuss issues and contexts of mutual concern such as Syria and Afghanistan,” said Mr Maurer. “The United States values the mandate, positions and input of the ICRC and I am confident that this interaction will continue to bring concrete results, notably in terms of implementation of and respect for international humanitarian law in current and future battlefields.”

Especially when it comes to Obama and Brennan, it is striking that this statement can be construed as saying that the US needs to implement international humanitarian laws and to respect them. Although not stated outright, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than to believe that the ICRC now believes that the US does not abide by international humanitarian law. I would think that the US practice of targeted killings, which is viewed by the UN as an issue for international law (and where the UN has called “double tap” drone strikes war crimes) would likely have been a topic for Maurer when talking with Brennan, who has played a key role in ordering drone strikes.

Sadly, I don’t share the ICRC’s optimism regarding our government’s respect for the “mandate, positions and input of the ICRC”. We need look no further than the sad news out of Guantanamo yesterday where it now appears that hundreds of thousands of confidential files and communications belonging to Guantanamo defense lawyers have been provided to the prosecution. In addition, a number of key files seem to have disappeared. From Carol Rosenberg: Read more

Military’s Information Operation Against Gitmo Hunger Strike Breaks Down

It has been clear from the start of the current hunger strike at Guantanamo that the military is carrying out its own information operation against a strike that it views as an information operation carried out by the prisoners. Back on March 17, Carol Rosenberg reported that commercial flights to Guantanamo will be terminated as of Friday of this week, and I asked whether the flights were terminated in order to quash coverage of the strike. Just a few days later, attorneys for Guantanamo prisoners made the same accusation to CNN:

“We are very concerned that the commercial flights have ended at a time when it’s critical to have more regular contact with our clients (not less!) in light of the hunger strikes and their potentially perilous health conditions,” Ranjana Natarajan, one of the lawyers representing Obaydullah, wrote to CNN.

Navy officials said lawyers and others who regularly take the commercial flights from Florida to the base may now take a once-a-week military flight from Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington.

But Anne Richardson, also with Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, said the flights “are also capable of being canceled, at the last minute, without warning and at DOD’s discretion.”

David Remes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 15 clients held at the detention facility, said authorities “are canceling these flights because they want to keep the public in the dark about the mayhem in the prison.”

“For the past several months, bad news has been streaming out of the camps,” Remes said. “The authorities are taking one hit after another for the way they’re running the camps, so they’re doing what comes naturally – choking off the flow of information.”

In that same March 17 report from Carol Rosenberg, we have this statement from Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale:

“That there is any concrete, mass hunger strike — that is an utter fabrication,” Breasseale said. “Some who claim to be hunger striking are in fact eating handfuls of trail mix, nuts, and other food. They are taking in plenty of calories.”

Reality is beginning to catch up with Breasseale and the military jailers at Guantanamo. As Rosenberg reported yesterday, the military now admits to 39 hunger strikers (making 23% of the 166 prisoners now held):

At Guantánamo, officials counted nearly a fourth of the captives, 39 of the 166 prisoners, as meeting the minimum U.S. military definition of a hunger striker for having lost enough body weight and skipped at least nine meals in a row. Eleven of the captives were being fed nutritional supplements by tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach. Two were hospitalized for intravenous drips as well as the tube feedings.

But the military most likely still is lowballing the number of hunger strikers. The next three paragraphs from Rosenberg:

Lawyers for the detainees described a much more dire situation, with one of the best known cleared-for-release captives, Shaker Aamer, telling his attorney on Friday that about 130 of the 166 captives were taking part.

Aamer estimated he had lost 32 pounds, according to Stafford Smith, who quoted him as saying, “You can see the bones in my chest.”

“Shaker understands that one detainee is reportedly 85 pounds, another 107 pounds and a third 117 pounds,” said Clive Stafford Smith, who spoke via a monitored telephone line between the camps and Britain, where Stafford Smith is based.

That there is an ongoing battle over whose reports can be believed is quite clear from Jason Leopold’s thorough article posted yesterday, where we learn that the military is following the same script it used during the last major hunger strike by Guantanamo prisoners: Read more

ICRC Visits Gitmo Early in Midst of Hunger Strike, New Controversy Over Drinking Water

On Tuesday, Carol Rosenberg reported that the hunger strike at Guantanamo prison camp has become serious enough that the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived at Guantanamo a week earlier than had previously been planned:

Two delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of them a physician, are at Guantánamo this week in an accelerated trip moved up from next month to check out the ongoing hunger strike at the war on terror prison.

Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno said Tuesday morning that the regularly schedule two-week mission was meant to start April 1.

“However, in an effort to better understand current tensions and the ongoing hunger strike, we have decided to start this visit one week earlier,” said Schorno.

Yesterday, the controversy at the prison expanded. Jason Leopold broke the news via Twitter that attorneys for some of the prisoners have filed an emergency court petition in response to claims that guards at the prison have cut off bottled drinking water and that the tap water prisoners have been told to drink is not potable. Leopold provided links to both the court petition and a declaration from a doctor for one of the prisoners. From the filing requesting an emergency motion:
pdf cut 1
As if that is not punishment enough, the document continues on the next page (apologies, the form of the document I can access doesn’t allow lifting text, so I have to use images):
pdf cut 2

The White House said Wednesday it was keeping an eye on the hunger strike at the Pentagon’s war on terror prison at Guantánamo and once again blamed Congress for its inability to close the detention center containing 166 captives.

“The White House and the president’s team is closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay,” Joshua Earnest, principal deputy press secretary, told reporters in response to a question.

Rosenberg went on to provide denials from a Guantanamo spokesman about the allegations in the court filing:

Separately, attorneys for a Yemeni captive made an emergency court filing on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., alleging that guards at Guantánamo’s communal camp had denied two cellblocks bottled water since Sunday. The motion also claimed that the temperature in the prison were lowered to “extremely frigid” levels — claims the prison camps spokesman, Durand, denied.

Bottled water continues to be provided, Durand said, adding that tap water is potable at the prison called Camp 6 built of cement blocks at a site that once housed tent cities for Haitian and Cuba migrants. He added that, if Camp 6 captives feel cold, they can walk into the open-air recreation yards, where the temperatures this time of year reaches the high 80s.

“We are assisting the Department of Defense in preparing a response to these allegations via the Department of Justice,” Durand said, “but they are absolutely false.”

AP’s reporting on the situation carries a more extensive denial from Durand:

The U.S. government has not filed a response to the motion. Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison, said prisoners are provided with bottled water and that the tap water is safe to drink.

“It’s potable water. It’s the same water I make my coffee with and that they make lunch with,” Durand said. He also denied that there had been any change to the air conditioning settings inside the prison camps.

Complaints about water quality and access to bottled water during hunger strikes are not new at Guantanamo, as similar claims from prisoners surfaced in 2005. Durand had better hope that he is correct in his claims regarding water quality and water sources, since the ICRC has the expertise to test water quality and has a history of doing so at prisons, so there is an independent entity onsite now that can directly assess the accuracy of his claims. Will ICRC be given access to water samples?

Military Continues Efforts to Hide True Scope of Guantanamo Hunger Strike

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHelLZQR_Oc’]

 

On Monday, I asked the question of whether the cancellation of regular commercial flights to Guantanamo was part of an effort by the military to cut off coverage of the hunger strike there. Yesterday, CNN obtained quotes from Guantanamo defense attorneys where they answer that question in the affirmative. The military also has grudgingly admitted that the strike is growing, but they still claim a much lower number of hunger strikers than the attorneys say are taking part in the strike. Head of Southern Command General John Kelly appears to be the chief military spokesperson spearheading the efforts to minimize the impact of the hunger strike. He has made multiple statements this week, appearing both in a press availability and in Congressional testimony.

From the CNN story, we have this regarding the military’s actions in cancelling flights and the impact this has on dealing with the hunger strike:

Lawyers from the firm Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick told CNN they had DoD approval for a meeting with Obaydullah next week but were told that the scheduled flight has been canceled.

“We are very concerned that the commercial flights have ended at a time when it’s critical to have more regular contact with our clients (not less!) in light of the hunger strikes and their potentially perilous health conditions,” Ranjana Natarajan, one of the lawyers representing Obaydullah, wrote to CNN.

Navy officials said lawyers and others who regularly take the commercial flights from Florida to the base may now take a once-a-week military flight from Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington.

But Anne Richardson, also with Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, said the flights “are also capable of being canceled, at the last minute, without warning and at DOD’s discretion.”

David Remes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 15 clients held at the detention facility, said authorities “are canceling these flights because they want to keep the public in the dark about the mayhem in the prison.”

“For the past several months, bad news has been streaming out of the camps,” Remes said. “The authorities are taking one hit after another for the way they’re running the camps, so they’re doing what comes naturally – choking off the flow of information.”

Here is Carol Rosenberg reporting on the military’s admission that the strike is growing: Read more

Were Commercial Flights to Guantanamo Ended to Cut Off Coverage of Hunger Strike?

 

Allegations of abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo have increased since Rear Admiral John W. Smith took over last June.

Allegations of abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo have increased since Rear Admiral John W. Smith took over last June.

Carol Rosenberg reported yesterday that the Navy has ruled that commercial flights to Guantanamo can no longer be provided on a regular basis. The timing of this move strikes me as particularly suspect, since these flights are heavily used by defense counsel for Guantanamo detainees and a large group of these attorneys has banded together to ask newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to address the abuse charges prisoners have cited in instituting a widespread hunger strike at the prison. Guantanamo officials deny that a hunger strike is taking place.

From Rosenberg’s report:

The Guantánamo Navy commander is halting commercial air passenger service from South Florida to the remote outpost in southeast Cuba, invoking a federal regulation that the Pentagon had apparently waived for years.

Fort Lauderdale-based IBC Travel said Friday that it will cease its several times a week service to and from the base after April 5, on an order from Navy Capt. John “JR” Nettleton to discontinue service by May 1. It will continue weekly cargo flights to the base, said IBC spokesman Richard Rose, with permission from Nettleton.

/snip/

The small shuttles that carry about 20 passengers had been a vital air bridge to Guantánamo, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court gave attorneys access to the prisoners in August 2004.

Isn’t it interesting that the Navy would end the waiver that allowed passenger flights but they still elect to maintain the waiver for cargo flights? The attorneys have been especially busy of late, as accusations of improper treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo have begun to accelerate again. The attorneys maintain that a hunger strike has been going on for over a month and that over 100 prisoners are taking part. Guantanamo officials dismiss the bulk of those claims:

Attorneys for detainees long-held without charges at the U.S military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, assert that a general hunger strike involving many of the 166 detainees who remain incarcerated there has entered its second month.

But the U.S. military strongly denies that claim, calling it “a fabrication,” and instead says only 14 detainees are actively engaged in hunger strikes detrimental to their health.

In a letter of concern sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday, a group of 51 detainee attorneys wrote, “at least two dozen men have lost consciousness due to low blood glucose levels.” The Pentagon said it was aware of the letter but declined to discuss it.

/snip/

“That there is any concrete, mass hunger strike — that is an utter fabrication,” Breasseale said. “Some who claim to be hunger striking are in fact eating handfuls of trail mix, nuts, and other food. They are taking in plenty of calories.”

Interestingly, Defense Department spokesman Todd Breasseale claims that Guantanamo is following the US Bureau of Prisons protocol for handling hunger strikers, but the document describing the protocol linked to the CBS News account seems to differ from Breasseale’s claims. In the document (pdf) we have this: Read more

CIA OCA Censor Another Court Transmission?'>Did CIA OCA Censor Another Court Transmission?

Back on January 28, the proceedings of the military commission attempting to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and co-conspirators were interrupted when an unknown entity outside the courtroom muted the audio feed carried out of the courtroom. The presiding judge was enraged and has held hearings to get to the bottom of the event. As Carol Rosenberg reported on January 31:

“This is the last time that will happen,” the judge said Thursday. “No third party can unilaterally cut off the broadcast.”

/snip/

Pohl never once mentioned the CIA, the agency that controls information about what happened to alleged mastermind Mohammed, who agents waterboarded 183 times, and his four co-defendants. Instead, he referred to the “OCA” — short for the original classification authority — a generic term for any agency of the U.S. government that stamped a document or declared a program Top Secret.

“This is the last time that an OCA or any third party will be permitted to unilaterally decide if the broadcast should be suspended. The OCA, any OCA does not work for the commission and therefore has no independent decision-making authority on how these proceedings are to be conducted.”

Remarkably, the OCA censoring scandal has now spread to include the presence of hidden microphones the defense contends may have been used to eavesdrop on privileged attorney-client conversations, but I want to concentrate here on a remarkable coincidence where a second terrorism trial also was disrupted by a sudden, unexplained interruption in a transmission of the proceedings.

The current case centers on the nearly 80 year old, frail imam of South Florida’s oldest mosque, Hafiz Khan. He and a number of co-conspirators are accused of funneling money to the Pakistan Taliban:

One of Mr. Khan’s sons, Izhar Khan, 24, the imam of a mosque in Margate, Fla., sat near his father in the jury box. Both men appeared in court for the first time since their federal indictment was unsealed late last week. Neither man entered a plea.The indictment says the defendants conspired to provide material support to a conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas, including planning to funnel at least $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani Taliban, which the State Department has named a terrorist organization, took responsibility for a suicide attack in Pakistan on Friday that killed more than 80 cadets from a government paramilitary force.

Significant portions of the government’s case rest on recordings of intercepted phone calls:

According to the indictment, a tape-recorded phone conversation has Mr. Khan calling for an attack on the Pakistani Assembly similar to a suicide bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Sept. 20, 2008.

Prosecutors say that in another phone conversation, Mr. Khan “declared his wish that God kill 50,000” American soldiers.

Khan’s defense team wanted testimony from a number of people in Pakistan, but they will not come to the US to testify in the Miami trail.  Several motions were submitted by the defense and the government on just how testimony could be obtained from these witnesses. The defense wanted to depose the witnesses in Pakistan via videoconferencing, but the government fought that request. The government embarrassed itself a few times in these filings, especially when it argued that the defense had not indicated what language would be used for the depositions and so the government might not have the proper translators present. Further, the government tried to argue that the defense had not adequately shown why the witnesses did not want to come to the US.

In ruling on these many motions (pdf), the judge cut through the government’s arguments very cleanly, noting that the government had recorded these very witnesses and cited them in its indictment, so the language they speak is known to the government. Further, the witnesses are co-conspirators in the indictment and so they fear arrest if they come to the US: Read more

Will Guantanamo Judge Reveal Identity of Monday’s “Big Brother” Censor?

Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald and Peter Finn in the Washington Post recount a very strange sequence of events during yesterday’s proceedings in the Guantanamo military commission that is attempting once again to “try” the group of five prisoners that includes Khalid Sheik Mohammed for their conspiracy in bringing about the 9/11 attacks. As Rosenberg recounts, the judge was enraged when a portion of the proceedings was censored by someone outside the courtroom. The judge appeared to have no knowledge beforehand that anyone besides himself or his security officer could control the censoring process:

Someone else besides the judge and security officer sitting inside the maximum-security court here can impose censorship on what the public can see and hear at the Sept. 11 trial, it was disclosed Monday

The role of an outside censor became clear when the audio turned to white noise during a discussion of a motion about the CIA’s black sites.

Confusion ensued. A military escort advised reporters that the episode was a glitch, a technical error. A few minutes later, the public was once again allowed to listen into the proceedings and Army Col. James Pohl, the judge, made clear that neither he nor his security officer was responsible for the censorship episode.

“If some external body is turning the commission off based on their own views of what things ought to be, with no reasonable explanation,” the judge announced, “then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off.”

Finn described the event as the action of an “invisible hand”:

Who controls what the public and reporters can see and hear at the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? Is there an invisible hand, unknown to even the military judge, that can switch off audio and video feeds?

Finn gives more details of the proceedings as the button was pushed:

David Nevin, one of Mohammed’s civilian attorneys, was discussing a defense motion to preserve any evidence from the secret overseas prisons where the defendants were held by the CIA. The motion had been declassified, but Nevin had barely gotten a sentence out when the audio feed to the media centers on base and at Fort Meade was smothered in white noise. Then the video of the courtroom was cut.

When the feeds were restored several minutes later, Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, seemed perplexed as to not only why Nevin was censored but by whom. Pohl said he did not cut off the feed, and it did not appear that the court security officer who sits beside him did, either.

Rosenberg informs us that the judge was very upset:

But to court observer Phyllis Rodriguez, the judge appeared “furious” and “livid” when he realized that that outsiders had their finger on the censorship switch of his courtroom.

“It’s a ‘whoa moment’ for the court,” said Human Rights Watch observer Laura Pitter. “Even the judge doesn’t know that someone else has control over the censorship button?”

Both articles point to DOJ attorney Joanna Baltes offering to explain to Pohl in secret session how the censorship came about and it appears that Pohl intends to disclose who pushed the button if, as Finn states, “what happened could be explained in public”.

The event also upset the attorneys. As Finn reports, it prompted further concerns:

Nevin and other defense attorneys said they wanted to know whether there was some mysterious entity monitoring the proceedings — and whether that entity might be listening to communications between the lawyers and their clients.

Just who is responsible for this censoring? And, as Nevin speculates, is this same “invisible hand” also an “invisible ear” listening to his discussions with his clients?

This episode is yet another example of the folly of not trying these defendants in federal court. The military commission rules are an ever-changing mess where nobody, now apparently including the presiding judge, knows what is appropriate and what is not or even who determines what constitutes secret information. In a federal court, there never is a question that the judge controls all aspects of the proceedings.

Iran’s PressTV was highly entertained by the episode, citing both the “invisible hand” phrase and putting “open” into scare quotes in their lede paragraph about the session and its unexpected censoring:

During defense arguments in an “open” session of the US military trial of Guantanamo inmates, an ‘invisible hand’ suddenly cut off the audio-visual feed to the media, even mystifying the military judge.

It would appear that PressTV was laughing uncontrollably over this, as they attributed quotes from Finn’s Washington Post article to the New York Times, which, at the time of this writing, has not reported on the event.

At any rate, I will provide an update if an explanation from Pohl is forthcoming. That is, if I’m not too busy laughing at the irony of Iran being able to ridicule the US about censorship less than 24 hours after arresting a number of journalists for “consorting with hostile foreign news media”.

Update: The short answer to the question in the headline appears to be “no”. From tweets by Carol Rosenberg “Pohl on who controls button: “We’re getting to a line here of what’s public and what’s security. … I’m not sure what witnesses to call.”” and “Judge Pohl made clear that whoever hit the censorship button yesterday should not have, but did not clarify or describe who did it.” and also “#KSM attorney Nevin is asking for “courtesy” of understanding who’s listening in on hearings. Private talks between lawyer and client too.”

Update 2: More tweets from Carol Rosenberg lift the veil just a bit: “Now the Justice Dept secrecy expert, Joanna Baltes, has given judge and defense lawyers a piece of paper that says OCA reviews the feed.” and “OCA= Original Classification Authority, as in for example the CIA on interrogation techniques and black site program.”

Cover-up Specialist Mark Martins Chosen as Gitmo Chief Prosecutor

Brigadier General Mark Martins, CEO of Cover-ups R Us.

On Sunday, Carol Rosenberg informed us that there will be a new Chief Prosecutor in charge of military commissions at Guantanamo:

The Obama administration’s handpicked choice to run prosecutions at the Guantánamo war crimes court is pledging a new era of transparency from the remote base, complete with near simultaneous transmissions of the proceedings to victims and reporters on U.S. soil.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made the disclosure in a profile published Sunday in the Weekly Standard that likened the West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law graduate to a James Bond-style problem solver. It also cast Martins as “The Rebrander” of the at-times denounced military commissions system, which Barack Obama scorned as a candidate and senator then reformed with Congress as president.

Despite the Weekly Standard’s fawning profile of Martins as some sort of savior to the system who will lend an air of legitimacy to the military commissions, Martins is in reality a hack who is dragged out periodically by the Pentagon to cover up its worst abuses. Martins was chosen by Obama to head the committee that attempted to re-brand indefinite detention as legal, has served as Commander and Deputy Commander of JTF 435, the notorious JSOC group charged with running detention programs in Afghanistan, has served as legal adviser to David Petraeus, and, in the most outrageously named position of all, now commands “the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan”.

Here is how Martins’ recent positions are spun in his official biography from which I took the quote on his current position:

Brigadier General Martins assumed command of the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan on 1 September 2010. During the previous year, he served as the first Commander of Joint Task Force 435 and then as its first Deputy Commander upon Senate Confirmation of Vice Admiral Robert Harward. In these roles, Brigadier General Martins led the effort to reform United States detention operations in Afghanistan. Immediately prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, Brigadier General Martins co-led the interagency Detention Policy Task Force created by the President in January 2009.

Martins’ career, then, consists of using his “West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law” degrees to cover up the blatantly illegal indefinite detention policy of the US, along with justifying torture and improper arrest of civilians in night raids in Afghanistan.

Back in April of 2010, I described how Martins had been chosen first to review detention policy and then to go to Afghanistan to implement the “new” policy he had designed. Here is how that description ended:

I fail to see how the process described above is any kind of improvement in achieving release of prisoners who have been improperly detained. This description of the process also serves to expose as a sham the entire Special Task Force’s charge of improving how the US handles prisoners. And right in the middle of this mess is Obama’s hand-picked (through Gates) architect of the process, who now is dutifully overseeing its implementation.

There is no getting around the fact that it would have been known that Martins would come up with a program designed to continue the efforts to cover up the imprisonment of innocent citizens. As I noted above, his previous assignments overlap with previous significant cover-ups. Also, as just one more example, Martins wrote an article (pdf) in 2004 that lovingly described the legal justification for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq. This program was in reality so loosely set up that it has been the subject of significant attention for misuse of funds.

So while there is perhaps an improvement of conditions for reporters such as Rosenberg who will be covering the proceedings of the military commissions with the advent of near real-time broadcasts of the hearings, don’t expect any sudden changes in favor of the rule of law. Mark Martins has built his career around covering up the worst of Pentagon abuses and he now is in charge of covering up what can be considered its most prominent legal quagmire. Martins was chosen for this position precisely because the Pentagon knows it can count of him to promote the status quo while lending a false air of legitimacy.