Thursday, September 28, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, September 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New Yorker Reporter Tackles Gitmo’s Censor

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - Every time someone censors proceedings in Guantanamo Bay's war court, a so-called "hockey light" goes off to indicate that an unseen hand has cut off the audio feed being piped in from behind soundproof glass.

The New Yorker's Mattathias Schwartz filed a federal complaint Friday, demanding that six government agencies reveal whose fingers have been pushing the buttons, and what protocols they have been obeying.

Guantanamo's military commissions take place inside a portable building known as an Expeditionary Legal Complex, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.

Observers can watch the hearings in real time, but sound travels into the observation room on a 40-second delay to prevent the spillage of classified information to the press and public.

For a time, it had been widely believed that only a courtroom security officer on orders from a military judge had sole authority over these decisions.

Then, on Jan. 28, 2013, the red light over the judge's bench interrupted pretrial proceedings for the five men accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and even the judge appeared surprised by the disruption.

That judge, Col. James Pohl, suspended hearings in the case to investigate the identity of the hidden censor.

Though Pohl later banned "any other third party" from shutting down the feed again, the public still does not know who blocked the feed nearly three years later.

Schwartz notes that "many questions remain."

"The public does not know what rules are in place for cutting off the audio feed, or the instructions given to the Office of Military Commissions, presiding officers, courtroom security personnel, or any other entities or individuals with the technical capability to terminate the audio feed," the reporter's 12-page complaint states. "The public does not know the means by which any authority outside the physical courtroom can monitor or interrupt the audio transmissions to the public. And the public does not know the number of security officers assigned to the military commissions, their duties, their cost, or their training."

In March of this year, Schwartz submitted Freedom of Information Act requests seeking answers to these questions from the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, National Security Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, FBI and CIA.

All of the agencies stonewalled the requests, he says.

Schwarz is represented by David Schulz of Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.