9/11 hearings halted over privilege

Feb. 12, 2013 at 9:22 AM
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GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. military judge in the Sept. 11, 2001, conspiracy case granted a defense request to halt pretrial hearings over concern about attorney-client privilege.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, also ordered three top prison officials at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to testify Tuesday before he rules whether the military proceedings of the five men suspected of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States should go forward, Tribune Newspapers reported.

"I've been practicing law for 25 years," defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann told the judge Monday. "And never have I been put in the position where I have to ask the following: 'Am I being listened in as I talk to my client?"'

Defense lawyers filed an emergency motion in which they argue that unidentified intelligence agencies can listen in on privileged attorney-client conversations in the case, The Miami Herald reported.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the lead prosecutor, tried to defuse the matter by pledging no eavesdropping was being conducted.

"My staff and I spent a full week diligently running every rumor to ground," he said in a statement Sunday, "and I can say unequivocally 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."

Bormann, defending Walid bin Attash, accused of training some of the hijackers, and Jay Connell, defending Ammar al-Baluchi, the nephew of alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, disagreed, the Herald said.

In one instance, Bormann said, a guard at the prison's lockup told her and her client "a smoke detector in a visiting cell was not a listening device" -- something a defense investigation proved false.

"Guess what, judge? It's a listening device!"

The attorney-client relationship has been a source of several delays in the pretrial hearings. This latest round was sparked by the discovery two weeks ago that outside agents had a switch at their disposal outside of the courtroom and could mute testimony, preventing the public from hearing it.

Pentagon officials haven't revealed who the censor is, which agency the censor represents or whether the censor is at Guantanamo Bay or on U.S. soil.

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