The man accused of masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, won a key battle at Guantanamo on Wednesday — a judge said he could meet with his lawyers without having to wear restraints.
The ruling might seem like a small thing, but the judge's decision allows the government to avoid possibly having some things discussed in open court that it doesn't want revealed. Al-Nashiri's defense team had planned to put him on the stand to testify about why he feels the shackles are such a problem. Before he came to Guantanamo, Al-Nashiri had been held in CIA black sites for four years. He is one of three men the U.S. has admitted it waterboarded. Al-Nashiri, a 47-year-old Saudi, says being shackled is traumatic today because he was restrained in the same way when he was in CIA custody years ago.
The mere possibility of al-Nashiri's testimony set off a maelstrom. The prosecution immediately demanded that the testimony be heard in secret because he could reveal classified information. Critics of the military commissions system said a closed session flew in the face of the transparency and openness the leaders of the commissions had promised when they reformed the system. A lawyer representing a roster of news organizations, including NPR, discussed the importance of keeping the proceedings open with the presiding judge.
In the end, the judge's ruling has made all the to-ing and fro-ing moot — for now. Al-Nashiri's first hand account of CIA interrogations will have to wait for another day. Because his treatment by the CIA is a centerpiece of his trial at Guantanamo, the subject is bound to come up again.
As we reported Wednesday, Al-Nashiri's actual trial doesn't start until November.
[Dina Temple-Raston is an NPR counterterrorism correspondent.)