GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Lawyers for the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks want to know if U.S. government officials have been eavesdropping on their private conversations with the defendants.
The evidence for any such listening, the subject of a hearing that started Monday at this U.S. base in Cuba, is circumstantial.
At a hearing Jan. 28, the sound system in the Guantanamo courtroom was suddenly cut, to the surprise of even the judge. The judge later revealed that a government official, from an agency that the military has refused to disclose, was following the proceedings from outside the courtroom and intervened to prevent the potential release of classified information.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, later said the information was not classified, and he ordered the undisclosed government agency to disconnect any equipment that could unilaterally cut the sound. He also released a transcript of the censored remarks.
But since the Jan. 28 incident, lawyers for the defendants say they have become more concerned about possible additional monitoring that they say would violate attorney-client privilege and make it impossible for them to represent men charged with aiding and planning the Sept. 11 attacks. They have asked the judge to halt all proceedings until the issue is resolved.
“What happened in the courtroom [on Jan. 28] was shocking,” said Army Capt. Jason Wright, one of the lawyers for lead defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “There was a wizard behind the curtain who had the power to completely cut off the audio feed to the proceedings, to censor what was being said in court. It would be foolish for us to not consider that capability in other areas where we interact with the accused.”
One concern is the audio system inside the high-tech courtroom overlooking Guantanamo Bay. The microphones at each defense table are so sensitive that officials are apparently capable of hearing even whispered conversations between the defense lawyers and their clients, attorney James Connell said. Other lawyers said they are also worried about possible monitoring of their conversations in rooms where they meet with the defendants.
The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, said there is no evidence of any monitoring.