- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Reporters will be barred from hearings that begin Friday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the 14 terror suspects who were transferred last year from secret CIA prisons, officials said yesterday.

Interest in the 14 is particularly high because of their purported links to al Qaeda. Among them is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is suspected of masterminding the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Pakistan in March 2003.

In announcing the hearings, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he could not say which of the 14 would go first or how long the process would take. No word of the hearings will be made public until the government releases a transcript of the proceedings, edited to remove material deemed damaging to national security, he said.

Mr. Whitman said the Pentagon is planning to withhold the name of the detainee from the edited hearing transcript, although that will be reconsidered.

The hearings, which the Pentagon calls combatant status review tribunals, are meant to determine whether a prisoner is an “enemy combatant.” If the prisoner is deemed to be an enemy combatant, then President Bush can designate him as eligible for a military trial. The first of these trials is expected to begin this summer.

More than 550 combatant status review tribunals were held between July 2004 and March 2005. Press coverage was not prohibited, although some information was restricted.

Mr. Whitman said the hearings for the 14 formerly held in CIA prisons will be closed to the press in order to protect national security interests that could be compromised by detainee statements.

“Because of the nature of their capture, the fact that they are high-value detainees and based on the information that they possess and are likely to present in a combatant status review tribunal … we’re going to need an opportunity to redact things for security purposes before providing that in a public forum,” Mr. Whitman said.

He appeared to be referring to the fact that the 14 were held for an undisclosed period in a secret CIA prison network that Mr. Bush acknowledged for the first time on Sept. 6. The president said at the time that the CIA program “has been, and remains, one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists.”

In addition to Mohammed, the 14 also include Ramzi Binalshibh, who is thought by U.S. authorities to have helped plan the September 11 attacks. He was captured in September 2002 in Pakistan. Another is Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian raised in Saudi Arabia who was thought to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al Qaeda terrorist cells before he was captured in Pakistan in 2002.

The Pentagon opened the Guantanamo Bay prison in January 2002 but has put no captives on trial.

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