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ACLU challenges censorship of torture allegations

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The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion Friday to stop the censorship of torture and abuse allegations that have…

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion Friday to stop the censorship of torture and abuse allegations that have arisen during the prosecution of five high-profile Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Members of the press and public are permitted to watch the criminal proceedings — in which the defendants are charged with involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — by closed circuit television or in a soundproof room separated from the courtroom, the motion reads.  Either way, the audio feed is transmitted with a 20-second delay, allowing security officials time to cut the sound whenever a defendant describes the conditions of his imprisonment or interrogation.

And indeed, whenever such topics come up, the feed goes down.

The ACLU motion calls for unredacted transcripts of the military commission proceedings thus far, as well as a ban on similar censorship in the future.

"A system that suppresses defendants’ descriptions of abuse does not serve national security purposes; it only shields the government from embarrassment or criminal prosecution," Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, said in a prepared statement. "That is not justice." 

In its motion for public access, filed with the judge overseeing the military commission, the ACLU argued that both the Constitution and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 mandate public access to military proceedings, unless specific exceptions apply.

Regarding those exceptions, the lawyers wrote, quoting statute: "The MCA permits a denial of access ‘only upon making a specific finding that such closure is necessary to (A) protect information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security…or (B) ensure the physical safety of individuals."

The ACLU maintains that no such specific finding exists.

Its lawyers further contend that the allegations at issue — torture by means of waterboarding, sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation, among other practices — would be illegal, and the CIA has no interest in hiding "the effectiveness of interrogation and detention methods that it is prohibited from using in the first place."