Home Featured A Curious Censorship Issue at the Guantánamo Court

A Curious Censorship Issue at the Guantánamo Court

A Curious Censorship Issue at the Guantánamo Court


When a judge disqualified a prisoner last month from being part of the conspiracy case in the Sept. 11 attacks, the ruling was based on one finding: a mental health board’s diagnosis that the man, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet, when the Pentagon released a transcript of a pretrial hearing this week where the diagnosis was discussed, every mention of PTSD was blacked out.

It’s the latest example of a sometimes baffling pick-and-choose approach by censors to the public record that emerges from Guantánamo Bay.

On Sept. 19, reporters, families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and a law student were all watching the proceedings from the spectators’ gallery at court when lawyers mentioned “PTSD” or “post-traumatic stress disorder” nine times in two hours.

A court security officer never pushed the mute button on the audio, which spectators hear after a 40-second delay. The delay is a feature of the Guantánamo court, not used in U.S. criminal courts, to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

But when the Pentagon released the “unofficial/unauthenticated transcript” on its military commissions website, only a secondary diagnosis endorsed by prosecutors survived the censor’s marker.

“He has a delusional disorder,” Clayton G. Trivett Jr., a lead prosecutor, said. “It does not make him incompetent. It does not make him unable to cooperate intelligently in his defense.”

Redactions of the public record are the work of a shadowy organization called the SCDRT, or the Security Classification/Declassification Review Team. For years, the Pentagon typically posted transcripts of public hearings within 24 hours, sometimes on the same day.

But it can take weeks or months for security officials to redact transcripts when public testimony involves the inner workings of Guantánamo’s prison or the C.I.A.’s overseas secret prison network, known as the black sites, where prisoners were tortured.

There was no immediate explanation for the redactions of PTSD.

David I. Bruck, Mr. bin al-Shibh’s lawyer, has said that his client’s condition resulted from “years and years of solitary confinement” and other forms of torture in the black sites.

Because the judge removed Mr. bin al-Shibh from the case, four men now face a joint prosecution. The lead defendant is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind behind the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

In court on Friday, Gary D. Sowards, a lawyer for Mr. Mohammed, said the unseen censors were using redactions “for public relations and tactical considerations, not for national security.”

“The C.I.A. tortured people to the mental incapacity to stand trial,” he said.

The prosecution did not respond.

But Col. Matthew N. McCall, the judge, replied that he did not reach that conclusion when he ruled that Mr. bin al-Shibh was mentally unfit and removed him from the case. The judge said he had found no need to link any of the prisoner’s diagnoses to the C.I.A. program.

Colonel McCall agreed that some redactions “made very little sense” because the information that was blacked out drew no national security objections at the time it was spoken.

“I will see what I can put out to see that those kind of redactions aren’t being made,” he said, noting that the court transcripts are handled by “a different entity.”


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