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Constitutional Law

Judge Holds US in Contempt for Not Videotaping Gitmo Detainee Testimony

Posted Dec 10, 2009 6:16 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., held the U.S. Department of Defense in civil contempt of court today for disobeying a prior court order that required "the appropriate agency" to preserve a videotape of a detainee's testimony in a closed-door habeas corpus hearing.

Although Mohammed al-Adahi couldn't appear in open court because of national security concerns, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler had ordered the government to videotape his testimony so it could be made available to the press and public after appropriate redactions, reports the Washington Post.

The 47-year-old Yemeni had testified on camera at the June 23 habeas hearing in Washington, D.C., from the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kessler subsequently ordered the detainee's release, but he remains at Gitmo while the government appeals that ruling.

The Defense Department blamed the "inadvertent" failure to create a videotape, which it brought to the court's attention, on miscommunication.

In a nine-page written opinion (PDF) today that grants in part the detainee's motion for sanctions, Kessler says a transcript of the June 23 testimony must be posted on the Internet and requires the Pentagon to provide a written explanation of how it will avoid such mistakes in the future.

However, she denied Mohammed al-Adahi's request for an additional sanction: That he be brought in chains (just as he says he was at the on-camera hearing) to testify in open court without giving the government a chance to cross-examine him.

Because of the lack of a videotape, the opportunity for the press and public to see his testimony is now lost and cannot be remedied, she writes, and bringing the detainee to Washington, D.C., would create logistical and security problems.

Hat tip: Jurist—Paper Chase.

Additional coverage:

CNN: "Pentagon held in contempt for failing to tape Guantanamo detainee's testimony"

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