GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA – Lawyers for a detainee accused of 9/11-related war crimes are pushing to have Congress declassify information about the United States' detention and interrogation practices for suspected terrorists, a move that would allow the attorneys to argue before a military commission that their client was tortured.
The defense lawyers for Ammar al Baluchi, accused of sending about $120,000 to the 9/11 hijackers to cover their expenses, told reporters at Guantanamo Bay that they want lawmakers to review classified documents about al Baluchi's treatment in CIA custody in hopes that it will encourage Congress to declassify a broader memo outlining government policy on interrogations.
James Connell, an attorney for al Baluchi, said that if the Senate report were to be declassified, "it would totally change the nature of these military commissions" by allowing Baluchi and fellow defendants to openly discuss in court their allegations of torture.
“We're not sure they have all the information that we have," Connell said. "We have good reason to believe there's some additional facts we can give them that might help them in their internal debates” over whether to declassify the memo.
Some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are urging the panel to declassify a report on the CIA's detention and interrogation practices after 9/11, practices denounced at home and abroad as torture. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said a public airing of the report "will finally close this painful chapter for our country."
The motion goes to the heart of an enduring theme in this week’s military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay: Are detainees prevented from exercising a right to speak out about torture because the details of their treatment have been classified? And have proper authorities properly and fully investigated their claims?
Prosecutors opposed the defense proposal.
Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief war crimes prosecutor, said he didn't want the defense counsel to have the authority to determine what classified information to send to Congress.
He argued that this authority should be in the hands of executive branch officials in charge of determining whether to declassify information, who are better positioned to determine impact of declassification on national security.
“There has to be a need to know. Just because you're in Congress, and you're a public official, and you've got important responsibilities to your constituents doesn't mean you have a need to know," Martins said. "It's not necessarily a particular representative's need to know a specific source or method or specific piece of information.”