Military Commission

Questions of Legitimacy Hang Heavy Over 9/11 Trial

Defense lawyers aren't told what evidence is classified, need the prosecution's approval to call witnesses, and have to defend their clients in a commission that may have been unlawfully influenced by senior U.S. officials hungry for a conviction, they told the Guantanamo court on Friday.

Those were just some of the many frustrations defense attorneys expressed at the military commission hearings in the case of September 11 terrorist attacks this week at Guantanamo Bay. Other concerns were whether the U.S. Constitution applies at Guantanamo and whether the government can classify the memories and experiences of the five accused men and thereby silence them.

James Connell, a lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks, on Friday insisted he doesn't know how to handle information pertaining to his client because the government won't explain what's classified. He could be prosecuted for mishandling classified evidence, he said, so "I treat everything at the highest classification level and drive my IT folks crazy." It also makes it extremely difficult for him to prepare his case. Connell said the National Security Agency created a document specifically explaining the classification of evidence in military commissions, but the government has refused to provide it to the defense. "It stuns me that no one will give us this information," he said.

Prosecutors at the hearing claimed they're just following the rules, although the chief prosecutor, General Mark Martins, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of "transparency" in these "reformed" military commissions.

The defense request "is not relevant as a matter of law," Joanna Baltes, a Justice Department lawyer for the prosecution, told the court on Friday. "The defense is required to treat classified information as classified. If the government marks it classified, that's the end of the inquiry."