Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guantánamo Trials Should Be Open

by David A. Schulz

New York Times

April 18, 2012

Last week I stood before a military judge at Guantánamo Bay to argue that the press and public had a constitutional right to observe the proceedings of military commissions. It is an argument I’ve made scores of times on behalf of news organizations objecting to closed proceedings in criminal and civil trials, but this was the first time that a military commission — part of a system of tribunals created in 2006 to try terrorism suspects — agreed to hear such arguments from the press.

Whether this marks a new openness, or is another in a long line of false starts, remains to be seen. But the government has a real opportunity to show its commitment to the rule of law by acknowledging that the public’s First Amendment rights apply at Guantánamo. The values served by open criminal proceedings — public acceptance of the verdict, accountability for lawyers and judges, and democratic oversight of our government institutions — apply there with particular urgency.

The controversy over public access to the Guantánamo trials has come to a head in the prosecution of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of masterminding the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer Cole. Mr. Nashiri’s lawyers want to meet with him unshackled, asserting that shackling brings back memories of torture and interferes with his ability to assist in preparing his defense. They proposed to call both Mr. Nashiri and a psychologist to testify in support of their request.