WASHINGTON – A defense lawyer at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba said Monday that there is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that the U.S. government is listening to privileged communications between high-value detainees accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their lawyers.
Cheryl Bormann, who represents Yemeni defendant Walid bin Attash, said devices designed to look like smoke detectors and placed in client meeting rooms are in fact audio monitors.
The issue of eavesdropping arose two weeks ago when the audio feed from the courtroom at Guantanamo Bay was mysteriously cut. To the apparent surprise of the military judge, army Col. James Pohl, it was revealed that an unnamed government agency, listening for the potential release of classified information, controlled a “kill switch” to the feed provided to the public gallery and media centers.
The agency was not identified, but a prosecutor said it was the “original classification authority” — almost certainly the CIA in the case of matters concerning defendants in the 9/11 trial. The judge ruled that in future only he will have the authority to turn off video or audio from the proceedings.
In a statement Sunday night, the chief military prosecutor, Gen. Mark Martins, said that “no entity of the United States government is listening to, monitoring or recording communications between the five accused and their counsel at any location.”
James Connell III, a lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, told the court Monday that there are two audio feeds from the courtroom — the first to the public is “gated” and filters out general noise. The second, heard by the court reporter and the “original classification authority,” is “ungated” and picks up all sounds in the courtroom.
That raises the possibility that private conversations between the lawyers and their clients could be monitored. The judge said he will allow the defense to listen to three “ungated” recordings to get a sense of what extraneous sounds might be picked up.