MIAMI - A U.S. military judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. government to turn over confidential reports compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross on conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison, a disclosure the ICRC argued could compromise its global mission.
Army Col. James Pohl, presiding over the trial of five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, said he would review the documents to see if any material might be useful to the defense lawyers preparing for a trial at the U.S. base in Cuba.
The judge, who held a hearing on the issue in June, issued a written order that rejected prosecutors who said they should be able to see the material first as well as the argument from the Red Cross that the files must remain confidential.
Lawyers for the five prisoners accused of planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States had said the Red Cross records on the men's conditions of confinement inside a secret section of Guantanamo known as Camp 7 could be relevant to their defense or, if they are convicted, in the penalty phase of the trial.
"It's a huge, legally significant finding," said Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, the court-appointed lawyer for a Saudi defendant, Mustafa al-Hawsawi. "It allows us to pierce the veil of that information."
A Red Cross lawyer told the judge in June that confidentiality is fundamental to the organization's role in ensuring that humanitarian laws are followed.
The judge said in his ruling that the records are not classified and could not be withheld in a criminal case.
The conditions of confinement for the defendants could be a factor in deciding whether they get the death penalty. Lawyers for the men have argued that they have been subjected to harsh treatment that included torture during the period when they were held by the CIA, before being taken to Guantanamo in September 2006.
The five, who include the self-professed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, face charges that include terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles in the attack.