US NAVAL BASE AT GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Lawyers for the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of the deadly 2000 attack on the USS Cole demanded Thursday that his Guantanamo military tribunal be televised.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s trial at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is the first since the military tribunal system was reformed by President Barack Obama’s administration to make it fairer.
But there were howls of protest from defense lawyers and media outlets when Wednesday’s pre-trial hearing was held behind closed doors and without the defendant — who was barred due to the classified nature of proceedings.
Now Nashiri’s defense attorney, Richard Kammen, is calling for the trial to be televised.
“We don’t request any greater intrusion in the system than already exists. We require additional cable connection,” he said. “We want to increase the transparency, so a great amount of the public can see this event of national and worldwide interest.”
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the suicide attack off the coast of Yemen, which saw militants riding an explosives-laden skiff blow a 30-by-30-foot (10-by-10-meter) hole in the USS Cole, a US Navy destroyer.
Nashiri, a Saudi citizen, faces the death penalty for allegedly masterminding the bombing in October 2000 that left 17 sailors dead, and for a 2002 attack on the French oil tanker MV Limburg that left one dead.
Guantanamo military trials can be watched by journalists and victims’ families who have authorization via a live closed-circuit broadcast at Fort Meade, a military base in the eastern US state of Maryland.
“You have adopted a legal fiction… that Fort Meade is an extension of the courtroom,” Kammen told military judge, Colonel James Pohl. “Prosecutors say they want a greater transparency. Let’s take them at their word.”
But prosecutor Justin Sher argued against the move, saying some “witnesses may be reluctant to testify” if hearings are televised and pointing out that transcripts would be available anyway on the tribunal’s website.
Pohl is slated to make his decision before the next pre-trial hearings that run from October 23 to 25.
The judge declined to recuse himself on Monday from presiding over the case after Nashiri’s lawyers cited a potential financial conflict of interest due to the nature of his annual renewable contract with military authorities.
After being barred on Wednesday, Nashiri was free to attend Thursday’s hearing but chose not to.