A federal judge overseeing cases against dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees said Wednesday that he fears the public — and the detainees themselves — will be locked out of the courtroom when evidence in the case is scrutinized for the first time.
Hundreds of detainees are awaiting hearings in a Washington federal court in the coming months to determine whether they were properly labeled enemy combatants and imprisoned without being charged.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who has said he wants to resolve the 24 cases assigned to him before the next president is sworn in, urged President Bush's administration to find a way for at least part of those cases to be held in public.
"If it can't be done, I have great concern that these hearings will be virtually or exclusively classified, closed to the public and, I might add, to the detainees," Leon said.
Leon said he would try to run a secure phone line from the military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to his courtroom so the detainees can listen to the hearing. Because prisoners are prohibited from hearing classified information, however, that effort would be useless if the entire hearing were classified.