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At Guantanamo, a minor mystery as audio, video feeds are cut at hearing

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Who controls what the public and reporters can see and hear at the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? Is there an invisible hand, unknown to even the military judge, that can switch off audio and video feeds?

Those questions arose Monday on the first day of another round of pretrial motions in the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and his four co-defendants.

David Nevin, one of Mohammed’s civilian attorneys, was discussing a defense motion to preserve any evidence from the secret overseas prisons where the defendants were held by the CIA. The motion had been declassified, but Nevin had barely gotten a sentence out when the audio feed to the media centers on base and at Fort Meade was smothered in white noise. Then the video of the courtroom was cut.

When the feeds were restored several minutes later, Judge James Pohl, an Army colonel, seemed perplexed as to not only why Nevin was censored but by whom. Pohl said he did not cut off the feed, and it did not appear that the court security officer who sits beside him did, either.

Nevin and other defense attorneys said they wanted to know whether there was some mysterious entity monitoring the proceedings — and whether that entity might be listening to communications between the lawyers and their clients.

Joanna Baltes, a Justice Department lawyer working on the prosecution team, said she could explain what transpired — but not in public.

Shortly after the court went into closed session, Pohl said that if what happened could be explained in public he would do so when open session resumes Tuesday. At the closed session, the lawyers and the judge also planned to discuss whether some or all of the argument over Nevin’s motion could be heard in public.

There are 166 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, including Mohammed, but the Obama administration’s efforts to close the facility have stalled in the face of congressional resistance.

On Friday, the administration announced that the duties of Daniel Fried, the State Department’s special envoy on Guantanamo, would be assumed by the department’s Office of the Legal Adviser. Fried, who is being reassigned as coordinator for sanctions policy, had been charged with attempting to resettle detainees cleared for release.

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