Defense Dept. faulted for not taping detainee

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the Defense Department was in contempt of court for failing to videotape the testimony of a Guantanamo Bay detainee who is challenging his detention in court.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler had ordered the government to videotape Mohammed Al-Adahi, 47, when he testified June 23 via a secure video link from the prison in Cuba to her courtroom in Washington. Like scores of detainees, Adahi is contesting his confinement through federal lawsuits under the centuries-old legal doctrine of habeas corpus.

In August, after hearing Adahi's testimony and the government's evidence, the judge ordered Adahi's release, ruling that the government failed to show that the man's brief stint at an al-Qaeda training camp and two encounters with Osama bin Laden justified confinement. The government is appealing her decision, and Adahi remains at the prison.

In Thursday's order, Kessler expressed frustration that the government did not videotape Adahi's testimony. She wanted the government to tape his appearance and make it public after a classification review so the "public would have an opportunity to observe as much of the testimony as possible," the judge wrote

"There is intense national and international interest in the conduct of these proceedings," she wrote, adding that "a picture is truly worth 1,000 words, and the full import of [Adahi's] testimony cannot be gained from the cold, dry transcript alone."

The government conceded that it had made a mistake in not taping the testimony and blamed the error on miscommunication, according to court papers.

Kessler wrote that she had no evidence the Defense Department intentionally failed to tape the testimony. She ordered the government to submit a report explaining what measures it has taken to prevent future mistakes. She also wrote that a transcript of Adahi's testimony would be posted on the court's Web site. The judge could pursue further sanctions if another such error occurs.

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