Guantanamo lawyers appeal to Obama
Defence lawyers for five men charged over the September 11 terror attacks have appealed to US president Barack Obama to declassify details of the CIA's secret interrogation programme of terror suspects.
The move was the latest instalment as the long-running proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, came to an end.
The lawyers said in a letter to the president that the secrecy that cloaks the treatment of their clients in CIA custody is being used to cover up what they say was torture and is now preventing them from getting a fair trial.
They urge him to order the declassification of what is known as the rendition, detention, and interrogation programme so that it can be discussed in open court as they mount their defence.
"Quite simply, the classification of the RDI programme is suppressing evidence, suppressing the truth, and ultimately will suppress any real justice," lawyers for the five defendants said in the letter.
The letter's release came at the close of four days of pre-trial hearings that repeatedly turned to allegations that the men were mistreated. Lawyers for the two of the men, for example, sought permission to take photos of scars they say came from abuse.
That focus on alleged mistreatment angered a small contingent of people whose lost relatives in the 2001 attacks and attended the session as observers. Richard Costanzo, whose sister Vicki Costanzo Yancey, of Springfield, Virginia, was killed on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon, said he found it hard to listen to the defence lawyers.
"To basically put America on trial instead of these five men is just outrageous," Mr Costanzo said. "We're not here to try to change America. We're here to get justice and that's what I hope we can do soon."
Five Guantanamo prisoners face trial by military commission on charges that include terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and providing assistance to the 9/11 hijacking plot. They could receive the death penalty if convicted.
The prosecution proposed that the trial start in January 2015, but defence lawyers say it will be impossible to complete the pre-trial process by then.
The White House had no immediate response to the letter, but government officials have said over the years that details of what is known as the RDI programme have been withheld to protect sources and methods used by US intelligence agencies.
A great deal of information sought by the defence and others is contained in a Senate Select Committee report on CIA activities that some members of the US Congress are seeking to release.
Earlier in the week, the chief prosecutor for military commissions, Brigadier General Mark Martins, told reporters at the US base in Cuba that careful consideration had been given to what information can be disclosed and the report's release had no bearing on whether the accused in the September 11 case could get a fair trial.
"It's not as simple as just sort of deciding, 'Let's just turn over classified information'," he said. "It's got to be based on the law related to how we deal with that information in a criminal proceeding."
In both the letter and during part of this week's pre-trial hearing in Guantanamo - the seventh round of hearings since their arraignment in May 2012 - lawyers for the defendants argued that the government's insistence on keeping details of the RDI programme secret is hobbling defence efforts in what is often portrayed as the most complex criminal trial in US history.
Lawyers say the classification of the information violates the Convention Against Torture, a global treaty ratified by the US in 1994, because it denies them the right to complain about the harsh interrogation they endured in the CIA's network of overseas prisons before they were taken to Guantanamo in September 2006.