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Suspect in USS Cole attack raises court censorship issue

WASHINGTON--Defense lawyers Monday lost a bid to suspend proceedings at Guantanamo against the suspected mastermind of the USS Cole attack over revelations of outside government censorship.

The issue first arose last week in pre-trial hearings for five accused 9/11 plotters when Judge James Pohl disclosed that, without his knowledge, someone outside the court had cut an audiovisual feed of the proceedings after the subject of secret CIA prisons came up.

Pohl, insisting that he alone would control what would be censored in his court, ordered that the government's ability to censor the proceedings from outside be disconnected.

Lawyers for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of directing the suicide attack on the Cole in Yemen in October 2000, raised the issue anew in a motion at the start of a hearing into their client's case.

The motion “to abate the proceedings in order to resolve the issue of third party monitoring of defense communications and censorship of commission hearings” was listed on the military commission's website, although its contents were sealed.

Judge Pohl rejected the motion, however, after confirming that the external monitor's ability to cut the video feed had been eliminated, as he had requested.

A lawyer for al-Nashiri, Stephen Reyes, also asked a witness to testify to explain who's listening from “behind the curtain.”

During the hearing, a meeting between the suspects and the prison authorities was set to settle the question of whether, as the defense alleges, conversations between suspects and their lawyers are listened to during prison visits and in court, even when the microphones are turned off.

The hearings at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo on the southeastern tip of Cuba are carried on closed circuit television with a 40-second delay to journalists, relatives of victims and human rights activists observing the proceedings from outside the courtroom.

The delay enables a security officer, seated next to the judge, to block the feed when the exchanges touch on matters that are considered classified.

But last week's incident was the first time the government was known to have intervened from outside the court to stop the feed without the judge's knowledge.

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