Pentagon cited for thwarting Guantanamo access

A federal judge held the Defense Department in contempt of court Thursday because it disobeyed a court order to videotape the release hearing of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler had ordered the government to videotape the testimony of Mohammed Ahmad Said Al Edah, a Yemeni citizen who has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. He petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release in 2005 and testified by video conference at a closed hearing in June. The government was supposed to video tape his testimony, redact any classified information and provide a copy for public release. But the government told Kessler in July it had unintentionally failed to record Al-Adahi’s testimony, leading to yesterday’s contempt ruling.

Kessler’s order emphasized the need for the public and the press to observe court proceedings, even where classified information is involved. Noting the “intense national and international interest in the conduct of these proceedings,” Kessler explained that her purpose in ordering the videotape “was to ensure the maximum amount of public accessibility to the judicial process. By requiring the Government to videotape Petitioner’s direct testimony and cross-examination, and then make it public after classification review, the Court sought to ensure that the public would have an opportunity to observe as much of the testimony as possible.”

Kessler found no evidence that the failure to videotape the testimony was intentional, so she declined to impose criminal contempt sanctions. In order “to ensure maximum public access” to Al-Adahi’s testimony, however, Kessler ordered a redacted transcript of the testimony posted on the court’s website. She also ordered the government to submit “a detailed explanation of all steps it has taken to ensure that such errors shall not occur in the future.”

In August, Kessler ordered the government to release Al-Adahi. He remains in custody while the government appeals that ruling.

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