Wider public viewing of terrorism trial proposed

MIAMI — Pentagon prosecutors have filed a sealed motion with the Guantanamo war court that apparently proposes allowing the general public to watch military proceedings against an alleged al-Qaida terrorist.

The filing for now is secret because intelligence experts from the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies have 15 business days to scrub it of classified information.

But the heading of the motion, "public access to this Military Commission via transmission of open court proceedings to remote locations for victim and media viewing," suggests it's a push to allow the public to view proceedings in the case of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi-born Guantanamo captive accused of masterminding al-Qaida's October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at Guantanamo in the case. Nashiri is charged with murder in the deaths of 17 American sailors in the attack on the warship off Yemen. Nashiri could be sentenced to death.

The hearing will be Nashiri's first appearance before the war court and will include a reading of the charges against him. It will be the first time he's been seen in public since his 2002 capture in the Arabian Gulf region and disappearance into a network of secret CIA prisons. A congressional inquiry found that he was waterboarded and interrogated while agents loaded a gun and revved a drill near his head.

The Navy has arranged a closed-circuit television feed so relatives of the victims can watch the proceedings at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. The Pentagon separately has set up a 100-seat viewing center 200 miles away at Fort Meade, Md., for reporters covering the proceedings. Only 20 reporters have signed up, however, leaving at least 80 seats vacant at Fort Meade that could be used by members of the public. How many additional spots might be available at Norfolk was uncertain.

One of Nashiri's lawyers said Saturday that the defense team would study the request, but in principle they want the American people to see the proceedings.

"I think it would be useful for the public to see exactly how haphazard the system is," said Indianapolis death penalty defender Rick Kammen, part of the Saudi captive's four-lawyer Pentagon-paid defense team.

"I think the more the public sees this system the more they will understand that it really is the kind of secretive expedient justice that we're afraid of."

A trial date has yet to be set.