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With Changes To Guantanamo Trials, A New Feel To Proceedings


From the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath. Back in April of 2012, I saw the self-proclaimed architect of the 9/11 attacks as he was arraigned before a military commission in Guantanamo. It was the start of the government's third attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. After the military commissions under Pres. Bush were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Pres. Obama's effort to try Mohammed in a federal court in New York City fell apart. The Obama administration reformed the military commissions and restarted the prosecution, but it is moving very slowly. The actual trial still hasn't started as the court works to resolve big issues like the admissibility of evidence from the CIA black sites where Mohammed was water boarded. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald just returned from the latest hearings at Guantanamo. She says it was a strange week.

CAROL ROSENBERG: In a way it feels less and less like it's about the 9/11 trial and the events of 9/11 than it did during the arraignment two years ago. No mention of what happened on September 11 in this very short half hour hearing. And this time they didn't even bring down 9/11 victims because they knew it was going to be pretty much in the weeds of this latest conflict question over whether the FBI approaching detainees' legal teams was compromising the defense's ability to do the case.

RATH: While the 9/11 hearings drag on, a brand-new military commission was started this week to try Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi on war crimes charges. He's an Iraqi who went to Afghanistan and fought with the Taliban and has been in U.S. custody since 2006. Rosenberg says this new trial marks a change in approach for the Guantanamo prosecutors.

ROSENBERG: They're looking at it as more like traditional war crimes. It seems like they want to expand the reach of the military commissions beyond what they had seen sort of terrorism. And he's the first one in that they're not trying to do a death penalty trial for - if convicted, he gets life.

RATH: Also in Guantanamo this week, reporters got their first look at the prison after a 200 day media blackout that coincided with a the hunger strike at the facility. But Rosenberg says there have been language and procedural changes that reflect, what she calls, a new survivalist mentality. Guards now refer to prisoners as the enemy, even though more than half of the 149 men held there have been cleared for release.

ROSENBERG: They've renamed a security post a fighting position. They've got the Seaside Galley they're now calling Camp America. We're like more than a year-plus into a hunger strike and now they're calling it long-term nonreligious fast days. The idea is to portray it all as in the past and not happening. Effectively, it's been working with the exception of last week, right? Because after the release of the Taliban Five, all the reporters came running down and started asking the same questions all over again.

RATH: Carol Rosenberg reports on Guantanamo for the Miami Herald Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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