International

Lawyers want Guantanamo 'gag order' lifted

Lawyers for detainees say a prohibition on prisoners talking about their conditions violates international law

U.S. Navy guards escort a detainee after a "life skills" class held for prisoners at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
John Moore/Getty Images

Defense attorneys for five detainees in the Sept. 11 conspiracy case asked the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal on Tuesday to lift restrictions that bar their clients from publicly discussing at an upcoming trial their alleged maltreatment by their American captors.

A "gag order" from the tribunal's judge violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the attorneys said. The judge said the order was made in the interest of national security.

"Everywhere I turn in investigating this issue, we hit a brick wall," said Cheryl Bormann, who represents Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni accused of training some of the Sept. 11 hijackers at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan.

Bormann spoke at a pretrial hearing at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, during a closed-circuit broadcast monitored by Reuters at the Army base at Fort Meade, Md.

Her complaint was one of several accusations leveled by defense attorneys alleging U.S. government abuse of authority.

Bormann said the protective order Army Col. Judge James Pohl issued in January, along with classified information guidelines, impaired her ability to properly represent her client.

The five suspected Al-Qaeda conspirators claim the maltreatment consisted of beatings, sleep deprivation, being subjected to temperature extremes, stress positions and waterboarding – a technique that simulates drowning.

Bormann said the restrictions are inappropriate in cases like those of the Guantanamo detainees, because they could be executed if they are convicted of terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder stemming from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"If the United States government wants to prevent these men from talking about the horrific things that happened to them, you can't have it both ways," Bormann said. "You can't gag somebody and then kill them."

Pohl said his protective order was designed to prevent the release of information that might endanger national security.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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