The Growing Culture of Secrecy at Guantánamo Bay

By Defense Department regulation, court filings are to be released to the public within 15 business days. But they undergo a censorship scrub first, with representatives of a series of security agencies like the C.I.A., F.B.I., Guantánamo prison and the Pentagon’s United States Southern Command having a say on what portions of the filing are classified.

But delays are common. It took 10 months from filing until the public could read a legal motion from May 2019 asking the Army judge in that case to hold a hearing on the question of granting time served credit for the torture endured by Majid Khan, who pleaded guilty to being a courier for Al Qaeda.

Before Mr. Khan was brought to Guantánamo in 2006, the C.I.A. held him for three years in isolation and incognito in the C.I.A.’s secret prison network, the black sites. There, members of the medical staff “infused” a puréed meal into his rectum after he had gone on a hunger strike, an episode that itself was kept secret at the court until it was included in a declassified portion of a Senate study of the interrogation program.

It is a matter of not only concealing information that is classified — for example the countries that hosted the black sites — but also blacking out words that the intelligence agencies say could create a mosaic of information that could let people discern government secrets. So a continent that was the location of a black site is also classified.

Transcripts of public court sessions are also censored, with at times perplexing results.

On Jan. 27, a defense lawyer questioning James E. Mitchell, the C.I.A. contractor who waterboarded prisoners in 2002 and 2003, read aloud a sentence from Dr. Mitchell’s 2016 memoir, “Enhanced Interrogation,” which was released with approval of the agency.

In it, Dr. Mitchell, a psychologist, described the staffing of a black site this way: “There were also computer and communications geeks, analysts, targeters, subject matter experts, many, many agency police officers to act as security guards, two psychologists (counting me), nurses, and a physician.”

The transcript, released two weeks later, blacked out the words “agency police,” as though the C.I.A. had, on reconsideration, not wanted the world to know it used its own police force in the clandestine prison system.

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