Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"The Strange Case of the C.I.A. Interpreter and the 9/11 Trial"

Carol Rosenberg for the NYT:
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — On a Monday morning four and a half years ago, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the men accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks, made a stunning announcement for all in the military courtroom to hear: He knew the new Arabic translator sitting beside him from the secret C.I.A. prison network where the United States tortured its detainees.


By blurting out the man’s name in open court, Mr. bin al-Shibh had undercut the government’s efforts to keep under wraps the identities of most people who worked at the black sites. The interpreter’s name, initially included in the court transcript for that day, was later redacted. Defense lawyers were instructed — in secret — that what happened was a security breach and that they were forbidden, by a national security directive, to publicly acknowledge what had happened in open court.

Never mind that the interpreter’s name was called out publicly at the Guantánamo air terminal at the end of that week as lawyers and journalists checked in for their flight back to the United States.


The episode has elements of the absurd. But it offers a graphic illustration of why the effort to try, convict and execute the five men accused of conspiring in the hijackings that killed 2,976 people has been mired in pretrial hearings since 2012.


When a defense lawyer . . . argued for open-court testimony by the interpreter, a court security officer on two occasions triggered a white noise button, preventing journalists and other members of the public from hearing what she had said.

At the Guantánamo court, the audio emerges from the court to a spectators’ gallery on a 40-second delay, time enough for a security officer to block spectators from hearing classified information — something that did not happen the day Mr. bin al-Shibh named his interpreter in open court.

But last month, the public heard [the defense attorney]’s words turn into white noise midsentence.
*Previously: "A wildfire ignited mines laid by the Cuban military decades ago and jumped the fence line at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay on Thursday, threatening buildings and forcing evacuations of six neighborhoods"