- Closed-circuit trial coverage for media will be piped to Maryland from Guantanamo
- "Fairness, Transparency, Justice" are new watchwords for the Pentagon
- The next proceeding involves the alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind
The American system of carrying out military trials for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba -- vilified by some -- is getting an overhaul.
Go to http://www.mc.mil/HOME.aspx and you'll find a flashy new website trumpeting "Fairness-Transparency-Justice."
Late Friday, the Pentagon pledged to provide journalists with access to closed-circuit television coverage of future trials.
Previously, reporters had to travel to Guantanamo under U.S. military supervision to view the proceedings in one of the base's two courtrooms, near where 171 terrorist suspects are detained, or in a nearby media room.
Soon, journalists will be able to watch the trials from Fort Meade, Maryland, a military base near Washington. Photography and recording by the news media will still be banned and the playing of the video from the trial will be delayed long enough for Pentagon censors to delete anything deemed to be a national security secret. Initially, the television feed will be available only to journalists and it will be the same live video provided to journalists at Guantanamo.
The next proceedings, against the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing in 2000, are to begin in coming weeks, with a preliminary hearing by the end of November. The Pentagon told the Pentagon Press Association that the new link will begin feeding video in the case against Abd al Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al Nashiri. The video will be screened in a Fort Meade auditorium that can accommodate 100 people.
Relatives of victims might also be able view the proceedings.
"I would absolutely welcome a live feed of the military commission proceedings against not only al Nashiri but every terrorist in Guantanamo Bay charged with terrorism," the retired commander of the Cole, Kirk Lippold, told CNN in an e-mail. "Our nation is at war and the American people and the world need to see that, through the military commissions process, justice will be impartially and fairly carried out against those who seek to do us harm."
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it was seeking the death penalty for al Nashiri for allegedly planning the Cole bombing, which killed 17 sailors, wounded 37 and crippled the ship.
Al Nashiri's lawyers say the delay in the case, as well as waterboarding of al Nashiri and threats against him and his family, should force the government to drop the case.
His legal team denounced the whole military commission system.
"We are disappointed the United States will now descend further down the path of expedient and secret justice that military commissions have come to represent," Rick Kammen said Wednesday. "The public and the rest of the world observing this process cannot and should not believe that it is an adequate substitute for a fair trial, one that produces a verdict or sentence we can have confidence in."
The Pentagon told journalists Friday that the website contains 85 percent of the legal materials presented at Guantanamo proceedings. The goal is to have 100 percent online within a few weeks.