WASHINGTON — A US military judge ruled Monday the five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks will be barred from attending pre-trial hearings whenever classified information is discussed, lawyers said.
Defense attorneys condemned the decision, which they said applied mainly to information related to the years the accused were held in secret CIA prisons before they were taken to the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2006.
“The military commission has decided that its hearings are so secret that not even the defendants can attend,” said James Connell, the civilian lawyer for 9/11 suspect Ammar al-Baluchi.
“Of course, it is the US government’s abuse of the defendants in secret detention which makes the hearings classified in the first place,” he said in a statement.
The military commission’s ruling, conveyed by the defense lawyers, had not yet been posted on the tribunal’s website.
The defense attorneys criticized the move as “the latest in a series of military commission decisions favoring secrecy over transparency, including the military commission’s ruling that all ‘observations and experiences’ of the defendants regarding their detention and interrogation are classified.”
US officials have said previously that imposing secrecy on some pre-trial hearings is in line with practice in civilian courts when federal criminal cases touch on classified information.
The hearings at the US naval base at Guantanamo, which are laying the groundwork for an eventual trial of the alleged 9/11 plotters, often have focused on disputes over secrecy.
The five suspects, including the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, face the death penalty if convicted of the murder of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, in the worst ever attack on US soil.