Lawyers for a Guantanamo Bay detainee will be allowed to question — in writing — accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a federal judge has ruled.
The decision is a setback for government lawyers who had sought to limit the scope of detainee lawyers' challenges to the detention and prosecution of terror suspects.
In a written ruling, Judge Ricardo Urbina says lawyers for detainee Abdul Raheem Ghulam Rabbani can submit written questions about their client to Mohammed. Prosecutors say he worked for Mohammed, but Rabbani's lawyers contend he was just a menial servant, not a part of any terror network.
The ruling says prosecutors may review the answers before delivering them to Rabbani's lawyers to remove any national security information.
Government lawyers had unsuccessfully sought to convince the judge that any questioning of Mohammed by Rabbani's lawyers would risk exposing details of sensitive intelligence programs.
Urbina's 15-page decision says Mohammed may have information that could help Rabbani's case, and allows Rabbani's lawyers to submit "a list of narrowly tailored" questions for Mohammed.
Mohammed has boasted of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks, and he is the most high-profile detainee of the 229 terror suspects held at the detention facility at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
His possible testimony was a contentious issue in another terrorism case, the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The court ruled in that case that a description of some of Mohammed's statements to investigators could be introduced, but not all.
After he was captured in 2002, Rabbani claims he was taken to a "Dark Prison" where he says that for a period of about seven months he was kept in the dark, deprived of food, chained to a wall, and threatened with hanging.
The detainee claims he falsely confessed to knowing Osama bin Laden as a result of this treatment.
Urbina's ruling comes in a civil court challenge to Rabbani's detention, but if it is upheld it could have broader implications as the government prepares to bring detainees to trial in federal criminal courts and military commissions.
President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison closed by January 2010.
Urbina's ruling is dated July 22, and was made public earlier this week. Parts of it are redacted, including a section describing what alleged terror work the government alleges he did for Mohammed.