US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay(Cuba): Defense lawyers for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators questioned the extreme secrecy imposed on pre-trial hearings in the case.
    
This week's hearing at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp at a US base in Cuba is the latest stage in Sheikh Mohammed's long and meandering journey towards an eventual trial over the attacks on US targets on September 11, 2001.
    
Each step of the process, held under military law and tight security, has been contested, and on Tuesday defense lawyers demanded to know why much of the proceedings must remain classified and withheld from reporters.
    
Journalists have been allowed to attend, but are kept behind a sound-proof screen and fed audio of the hearing with a 40-second delay, in case defendants or lawyers blurt out material the judge has ruled out of bounds.
    
US authorities have ruled no information can escape the hearings that might compromise the secret work of the CIA agents who captured and interrogated the men – despite suspicions that they were tortured.
    
The defense team disputes a blanket ruling that whatever the defendants say is presumed secret unless military censors pass it, and yesterday expressed concerns that even inconsequential matters are apparently classified.
    
"What role does the presumptive classification have? What information is actually classified?" demanded lawyer James Connell, asking ironically if defendants could express themselves about "what they're going to have for lunch today."
    
Fellow defense counsel Kevin Bogucki complained that military censors had taken two months to declassify a note written by his client Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni who rented a flat in Germany with chief 9/11 attacker Mohammed Atta.
    
"I couldn't even say to my clients' children: 'Your father wants you to obey your mother'," he said.
    
The judge, Colonel James Pohl, is to rule on many of the procedural issues, but the trial of the five itself is not expected to take place until next year.
    
The American Civil Liberties Union and media groups have demanded the judge guarantee the transparency of proceedings amid fears that some sessions will be conducted in secret to conceal official abuses.

(Agencies)

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