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Kafka alive and well at the CIA

Gitmo is back in the news and, again, for all the wrong reasons.   Leave aside that the "T" word - torture! - is seemingly verboten in trials being conducted in relation to Gitmo detainees, Kafka-like tactics and positions pervade the entire so-called trial process.

"CIA agents have written books about it. Former President George W. Bush has explained why he thought it was necessary and legal. Yet the al Qaeda suspects who were subjected to so-called harsh interrogation techniques, and the lawyers charged with defending them at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, are not allowed to talk about the treatment they consider torture.

Defense attorneys say that and other Kafkaesque legal restrictions on what they can discuss with their clients and raise in the courtroom undermine their ability to mount a proper defense on charges that could lead to the death penalty.

Those restrictions will be the focus of a pretrial hearing that convenes this week.

Prosecutors say every utterance of the alleged al Qaeda murderers, and what their lawyers in turn pass on to the court, must be strictly monitored precisely because of the defendants' intimate personal knowledge of highly classified CIA interrogation methods they endured in the agency's clandestine overseas prisons.

Defense attorneys called that view extreme.

"Everything is presumptively top secret. So if my client had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I couldn't tell you that," Cheryl Bormann, who represents defendant Walid bin Attash, said after the May arraignment of the men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

At one point in the arraignment, another of bin Attash's attorneys, Air Force Captain Michael Schwartz, was explaining why his client refused to cooperate. Just when things got interesting, a security officer cut the audio feed to the media and others observing the proceedings from behind a soundproof glass wall with a 40-second audio delay.

"The reason for that is the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big-boy pants down at the CIA, it makes it impossible ...," Schwartz said during the blocked portion of the arraignment, according to a partial transcript later declassified.

Prosecutors have said in court filings that any revelations about the defendants' interrogations could cause "exceptionally grave damage."

Civil libertarians argue that if those interrogation methods really are top secret, then the CIA had no business revealing them to al Qaeda suspects.

Defense attorneys will challenge the secrecy rules at the pretrial hearing that begins on Wednesday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.

Prosecutors have about 75,000 pages of evidence to turn over to defense attorneys in the 9/11 case, but they won't do it until the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, issues protective orders aimed at safeguarding the material."

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