WASHINGTON — A US military judge has turned down a defense request to televise the war crimes tribunal of the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of a deadly attack on a US warship in 2000.
In a ruling released Wednesday, Army Colonel James Pohl said the court had satisfied the public's right to an open trial by allowing the media and others to visit Guantanamo or watch proceedings for Saudi detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the suicide attack off the coast of Yemen, which saw militants riding an explosives-laden skiff blow a 30-by-30-foot (10-by-10-meter) hole in the USS Cole, a US Navy destroyer.
Nashiri, a Saudi citizen, faces the death penalty for allegedly masterminding the October 2000 bombing that killed 17 sailors, and for a 2002 attack on the French oil tanker MV Limburg that left one dead.
Guantanamo military trials can be watched by journalists and victims' families who have authorization through a window from a room adjacent to the courtroom, with a 40-second audio delay, or via a live closed-circuit broadcast at Fort Meade, a military base in the eastern US state of Maryland.
In July, Nashiri's lawyers invoked "transparency" in calling for Guantanamo authorities to allow media outlets to broadcast the upcoming trial at the US naval base in southeastern Cuba, saying it was an "event of national and worldwide interest."
Pohl said the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press "do not embody an independent right to bring the mechanical facilities of the broadcasting and printing industries into the courtroom."
"The line is drawn at the courthouse door," he added in citing a 1965 US Supreme Court ruling.
Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, said that by deciding against televising the Nashiri trial, Pohl and the special military tribunals he oversees "have passed up an opportunity."
"Televising the hearings, with however much time delay the government wanted, would help the public asses competing claims -- government claims of fairness versus defense allegations of misconduct," she said.
"This decision only makes the government look like is it protecting itself from any criticism that the public eye might bring."
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