The Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for a bizarre episode of live censorship during Monday's pretrial hearing for the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners accused of planning the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Miami Herald reporter.
The incident occurred during a question about a motion to preserve whatever remains of the CIA black site prisons where the defendants say they were tortured. Observers watching the trial from behind a pane of glass had their audio feed cut for about three minutes, and others viewing the trial remotely also lost video.
Once the sound was restored, Judge James Pohl explained that it was not an officer of the court who was censoring the proceedings, as there had been in previous sessions during the discussion of classified materials.
"If some external body is turning things off, if someone is turning the commissions off under their own views of what things ought to be, with no reason or explanation, then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off," he said, according to reporter Carol Rosenberg, writing for The Miami Herald.
In the moments that followed the unannounced censorship, The Washington Post noted that Joanna Baltes, a Justice Department secrecy expert, told attorneys for the defense that she could explain what had happened, "but not in public."
Rosenberg tweeted on Tuesday morning that Baltes ultimately notified attorneys that the original classification authority reviews the courtroom feed, "as in for example the CIA on interrogation techniques and black site program," she added. The feed was apparently cut by mistake, the judge later explained.
Both the judge and the defense attorneys reportedly expressed concern that the same authority monitoring the courtroom feed may also be monitoring discussions between the defendants and their attorneys. In at least one exchange Tuesday, Rosenberg noted that the judge confirmed a courtroom transcript was being prepared on behalf of the prosecution and not for the court's own records.
A total of 166 men remain imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay without formal criminal charges. Although President Obama vowed to close the prison, he's been rendered largely unable to do so by Congress in subsequent military budgets that specifically prevent the transfer of detainees from military to civilian custody.
The State Department said this week that it is shutting down the office of a special envoy working to close the military prison, shifting the responsibility to the Office of the Legal Adviser.