Sept 11 case judge warns gov't over Gitmo censor

In this pool photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, three of the five Sept. 11 defendants, from left, Ramzi Binalshibh, Walid bin Attash and the self-proclaimed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, attend a hearing on pretrial motions in their death penalty case at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013. Two of the defendants delayed the start of the hearing Monday when they refused to respond to questions from military judge U.S. Army Col. James Pohl, second from right. (AP Photo/Janet Hamlin, Pool)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — The military judge presiding over the Sept. 11 tribunal at Guantanamo on Thursday admonished an unknown government official who cut the sound during a hearing in an apparent attempt to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

Army Col. James Pohl said only he has the authority to decide when to close a hearing or when spectators should be prevented from hearing testimony and he ordered the government to disconnect any equipment to cut the sound feed in the courtroom at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Spectators, who include journalists and relatives of people killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, watch proceedings from behind soundproof glass with a 40-second delay so that a courtroom security officer, in consultation with the judge, can turn on a white noise machine at the mention of any classified information.

But on Monday, the white noise machine was suddenly activated — without the apparent knowledge of the judge or his courtroom security officer — when one a defense attorney began to refer to the secret CIA prisons overseas where the five Sept. 11 defendants were held before they were taken to Guantanamo. The judge later determined the statement was not secret and he released a transcript of the remarks.

The identity of the person who cut the sound has not been released, but a prosecutor later said it was an "OCA," a government term for Original Classification Authority, a broad category that refers to any agency, such as the CIA, that has responsibility for classified information at issue. Judge Pohl said it was inappropriate for anyone but him to close courtroom proceedings.

"This is the last time that an OCA or any other third party will be permitted to unilaterally decide that a broadcast should be suspended," he said.

He then ordered the government to "disconnect any ability or any third party to suspend the broadcast of these proceedings."

Defense attorney David Nevin, whose remarks prompted the censor, said lawyers for the Sept. 11 accused fear their private conversations with clients are being monitored by the same government officials who suspended the proceedings. He filed a motion to halt all proceedings until the judge can assure that their attorney-client privilege is not being violated. Pohl did not immediate rule on their request.

A four-day pretrial hearing was coming to a close Thursday with little progress on the preliminary motions that must be resolved before the death penalty trial of the five men on charges that include murder and terrorism for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The military judge presiding over the Sept. 11 tribunal at Guantanamo has admonished government censors for cutting the sound during a hearing without his consent.

Army Col. James Pohl says only he has the authority to decide when spectators should be prevented from hearing testimony deemed classified. Court spectators watch from behind sound-proof glass to prevent the inadvertent release of classified information during the proceedings against five men charged in the attacks.

Pohl spoke from the bench Thursday as a four-day pretrial hearing came to a close at the U.S. base in Cuba.

His warning was aimed at an unknown government official who briefly cut sound on Tuesday, surprising the judge. The judge later determined the statements by a defense attorney were not classified and he released a transcript.