US creates `top secret and above` court at Guantanamo Bay
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Last Updated: Thursday, July 01, 2010, 16:19
  
Guantanamo Bay: Even as the fate of Guantanamo Bay remains unresolved, the US has created one of the most high-tech military courts to try the detainees who were captured during the "war against terror”, that has been persisting since 9/11.

The electronic equipment in "Courtroom No 2" is worth USD 4 million, according to the US military here who put the total cost of the "multidefendant" court at USD 12 million.

The large room was created to hold trials for five of the 9/11 hijackers but the hearings got stalled after President Barack Obama decided to transfer the trial to a federal court in 2009.

The US authorities describe this as a "top secret and above court" primarily because it contains a delayed audio feed for the press, NGOs and other observers who sit behind a glass wall in the court.

The setting up of glass barriers has been slammed by rights groups but the authorities justify this structure on the grounds that it allows for shield top secret information from becoming public even if it is accidentally revealed in the court.

In case, where a witness or a lawyer divulges information considered to be a threat to national security during the proceedings, a red light flashes in the room and the feed to the public is immediately cut off.

This is the only court in the US with such a technology and has been modelled on the basis of a Canadian court created in Vancouver to try the hijackers of the Air India flight.

The second court in Guantanamo Bay called "Court Room No 1" - the original one - is an old court that date backs to the forties, which has been modernised to hold these terror trials.

Since detainees were brought to the island in 2002, only three people have been tried in the military commissions- David Hicks, the Australian who fought against the US with the Taliban and sent back to his home country where he served time and was then released, Salim Hamdan who was Osama bin Laden's driver and released, Ali al-Bahlul who was an al Qaeda propagandist and has been sentenced to life in Guantanamo Bay.

Although President Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay, the detainment camps remains open and the momentum to follow through on the promise appears to be waning.

A recent 'New York Times' report noted that closing the detention camp was a remote possibility because Obama wasn't pushing hard enough and there was considerable resistance within the US Congress to the proposal that the detainees be shifted to a prison in Illinois.

After almost a decade of being slammed by the international community for the lack of transparency surrounding the treatment of the prisoners, the military has been organising regular press tours to cover the hearings as well as to the detention facilities over the past few years.

Journalists who have visited the detention facilities describe seeing detainees playing soccer, they're living quarters, prayer areas, interrogation rooms, the library where Harry Potter is checked out frequently and even the force-feeding rooms.

More than 3000 members of the press have been to the prison camp till-date and 600 have viewed the hearings.

The slow functioning of the military commissions has also come under considerable criticism.

There are currently 181 detainees at Guantanamo Bay and only three hearings are currently going on including the case of the Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr, whose matter has provoked international criticism since he was brought to the camp at the age 15.

The two courts of the military commissions in Guantanamo Bay are considered to be the best equipped in the US and designed especially for terror trials, authorities here said.

Witness testimony can be procured from any part of the world in the courtroom through video-conferencing. At the same time, the trials can be viewed in several bases inside the US.

The military authorities here also pointed out that most of the equipment in the courtrooms were infra red sensitive so as to minimise the use of wires that could be used by the detainees to harm themselves or others in the court.

In several instances, however, the detainees do not show up to the court.

This week, Noor Uthman, a Sudanese man who is accused of running a terror camp in Afghanistan, refused to make an appearance.

During the 9/11 trials at Gitmo, the five hijackers who had decided to represent themselves used the Court Room No 2 as a meeting room to strategise.

There are chains on the defence side of the room but the security personnel here assert that there was only one instance that a defendant actually had to be shackled during the proceedings.

PTI


First Published: Thursday, July 01, 2010, 16:19


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