In a letter to US President Barack Obama made public on Friday, the lawyers argue that the secrecy surrounding the CIA's interrogation program is being used cover up evidence of torture and is therefore preventing their clients from receiving a fair trial.
The CIA's Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program, also known as RDI, was authorized by President George W. Bush following the attacks on New York and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001.
"Quite simply, the classification of the RDI program is suppressing evidence, suppressing the truth, and ultimately will suppress any real justice," said the lawyers of the five defendants, who are on trial for hijacking, terrorism and the murder of nearly 3,000 people.
Under the RDI program, people suspected of having links to al Qaeda were kidnapped and transported to overseas prisons, where they were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" including sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and a simulated drowning method called waterboarding. The entire process would happen without any judicial review.
Obama banned the use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques shortly after he assumed the presidency in 2009, calling them "torture."
'Concealment of war crimes'
"The existing classification restrictions surrounding the RDI program only facilitate further concealment of war crimes committed by agents of our government," the lawyers wrote.
The defense attorneys say evidence would show that the US violated the international Convention Against Torture, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994. Military officials, meanwhile, have said that information about the program is classified and offering it as evidence in the trial would harm national security.
At pretrial hearings Friday at a military court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, presiding judge Colonel James Pohl approved the use of photographs showing the defendants' wrists and ankles, presumably to show scars of abuse. However, the photos must be submitted to a review panel to determine if they are classified.
The trial had been slated to begin September 14. However, on Friday, it was pushed to 2015, with issues such as treatment of the defendants and complaints of attorney-client privilege violations delaying proceedings.
The defendants include Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, who was waterboarded 183 times while in the custody of the CIA.
The letter to Obama Friday was signed by 14 military and civilian lawyers representing clients implicated in the September 11 attacks.
The White House would not comment on the defense attorneys' letter, nor would chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins at a press conference in Guantanamo after proceedings finished Friday.
dr/ch (Reuters, AP, dpa)