Pentagon plans to transmit Guantanamo trials to U.S. points

The Miami HeraldSeptember 25, 2011 

The Obama administration’s choice to run prosecutions at the Guantanamo war crimes court is pledging a new era of transparency from the remote base, including the nearly simultaneous broadcast of the proceedings to locations in the United States, where reporters and families of victims would be able to view them.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made the disclosure in a profile published Sunday in the Weekly Standard that likened the West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law graduate to a James Bond-style problem solver. It also cast Martins as “The Rebrander” of the at-times denounced military commissions system, which Barack Obama scorned as a senator and presidential candidate, then reformed with Congress as president.

The 51-year-old Army lawyer, who is completing two years in Afghanistan, starts the job of chief prosecutor for military commissions on Oct. 3, according to a Pentagon spokesman, Dave Oten.

Two death penalty cases are already in the pipeline: That of the alleged architect of the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen that killed 17 sailors, and that of the five alleged 9/11 plotters accused of the mass murder.

The trials are certain to garner international scrutiny of the crude court complex built on an abandoned airfield. Now, even before he has started his job, the general told the influential conservative magazine that the war court where he prosecutes will “feature new measures to ensure transparency, including a venue enabling victims and media to observe proceedings near-real-time in the continental United States.”

They won’t be live because the feeds will be broadcast on a “40-second delay to ensure safeguarding of national security information.” At the maximum-security complex inside Camp Justice, that has meant a security officer can, and has, hit a white noise button to muffle testimony if someone suspects secret or sensitive information is about to be divulged.

If implemented, the new system would be vastly different from the one that has been in place for previous Guantanamo proceedings. In those cases, reporters and other spectators were required to fly to Guantanamo on specially arranged Pentagon flights. While there, reporters faced strict limitations on where they could go and what they could report, and the limitations and expense helped cut the number of news organizations covering events there.

Even with transmissions to the the U.S., coverage of what goes on at the tribunals will be limited. The six alleged al Qaida terrorists accused in the 9/11 attacks spent years in CIA custody at secret overseas sites before they arrived at Guantanamo in September 2006. Two of the accused were waterboarded and all were subjected to other Bush administration approved “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the Obama White House now bans.

The CIA still forbids the public to hear what they did and where they did it, even when captives have described their treatment at pre-trial proceedings. The process also shields the identities of CIA agents and contractors who carried out interrogations.

There is no indication that the transmissions will be available for broadcast by television networks in the United States.

The Weekly Standard piece, which was distributed Sunday on a Pentagon electronic bulletin board, described Martins and the new CIA chief, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, as “good buddies.” Martins had been Petraeus's legal adviser in Iraq, and Petraeus is quoted as calling the Army lawyer “truly impressive,” “uniquely situated to such a critical mission” and one who “believes in military commissions being responsible, effective institutions within our larger system of national security institutions.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman was unable to confirm the new transmission policy on Sunday, nor specify where the proceedings would be shown in the United States.

The article describes Martins as a 6-foot-4 West Point valedictorian who is married to a retired Army helicopter pilot he dated at the U.S. Military Academy, then worked on the Harvard Law Review with fellow law student Obama.

The Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, told the magazine that Martins was “a recognized superstar” who would focus not on getting the most convictions but on making the war court credible and sustainable.

Before his current assignment as the commander of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan, Martins was the co-chairman of the task force that reviewed Guantanamo captives’ files as part of a failed blueprint for closure of the prison camps by Jan. 22, 2010.

Separately, Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese said in an email from the detention center Sunday that military medical staff would next month vaccinate guards and other troops at the prison camp complex against swine flu and offer the H1N1 inoculations to the 171 captives.

Reese did not estimate the cost of the program. Nor did she say whether civilians working at the detention center, as well as prison camp staff families, would get swine flu vaccines too.

Guantanamo swine flu shots stirred controversy when the Pentagon flew in special doses to the base in southeast Cuba in 2009, during an H1N1 vaccine shortage in the United States. The Pentagon then said the captives would get their vaccines only after they’d been offered to every active-duty soldier, deployed U.S. contractor and civilians working for the Department of Defense.

Some captives have refused to get the injections, Reese said, without specifying how many.

“We anticipate having an ample supply for both troopers and detainees,” she said.

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