Guantanamo News: 9/11 Case Delayed

Yesterday, officials at Guantanamo Bay announced that United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al. a.k.a the 9/11 trials, will be delayed until at least April. The case has been at a standstill since December when the presiding judge, Army Col. James Pohl, decided to adjourn to determine the mental status of one of the detainees on trial. Continue reading

Declassification of KSM Manifesto Provides a Platform for Extremism

As I discussed at length last week, high-value detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”) recently drafted a manifesto, which was turned over to GTMO officials in October and declassified earlier this month by Judge Pohl. It is my personal opinion, however, that this “manifesto” should not have been released at all, in any form. Continue reading

Dispatch from Guantanamo Bay: US v. Mohammed

“It’s a Mixture of Kafka, Machiavelli, Catch 22, and George Orwell’s 1984.  It just depends on the day” – Major Jason Wright Defense Counsel for K.S.M.

            Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Guantanamo from October 22nd through 25th to observe the Military Commission proceedings for United States v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed et. al. Perhaps the most appropriate word to describe my observations is frustration.  Regularly during the week, the observable liberties afforded to each of the accused, including prayer time in the courtroom, freedom of attire, and remaining unshackled were only contradicted by the accusations of intentional sleep deprivation, confiscated attorney-client privileged material, and force-feeding. Furthermore, the interpretation of the Military Commissions’ rules and their applications were consistently debated, particularly with regards to how they should be implemented when other laws, such as international laws, hold inconsistent stances. Continue reading

Lietzau Condemns Guantanamo & Detainee Status

A few days ago, a story came out in which William Lietzau, the Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Detainee Affairs and point-man on Guantanamo Bay, admitted that he would argue against building Guantanamo.  This came following Lietzau’s announcement that he would be leaving his post to continue his career in the private sector.  He also gave President Obama a pointer on how to close Guantanamo; announce that the so-called war against al-Qaeda has come to an end.  Lietzau, who was key in getting Guantanamo built in the first place, was quoted as saying, “[a]rguably, if the war aim of diminishing Al Qaeda’s ability to mount a certain level of attack has been achieved, we could declare an end to hostilities and return to dealing with the threat as a law enforcement matter.” Continue reading

Inside the SJC’s Guantanamo Debate

Last week, we wrote about the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on Guantanamo Bay.  The debate, entitled “Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications,” brought together members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including Chairman Dick Durbin (D, IL); Chairman of the Full Committee Patrick Leahy (D, VT); Ranking-Member Ted Cruz (R, TX); and Rep. Mike Pompeio (R, KS-4), among others.  Testifying were top-ranking members of our armed forces and members of international human rights organizations, including Major General Paul Eaton, U.S. Army (Ret.); Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis, M.D., U.S. Army (Ret.); Lieutenant Joshua Fryday, Judge Advocate General’s Corps., U.S. Navy; Frank Gaffney, Founder and President, Center for Security Policy; and Elisa Massimino, President and Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights First.

Most of the usual Guantanamo-related topics were discussed, including arguments for and against the closure of Gitmo, what that closure might mean for American national security, and how we might go about transferring current detainees to domestic prisons or foreign countries for continued detention or release.  As we’ve come to expect, testimony from Congressional representatives was fairly predictable based on party membership.  Chairman Durbin opened the hearing by calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, stated that Gitmo had become an “international eyesore” and that “the Administration could be doing more to close (GTMO)…, [but] the President’s authority has been limited by Congress.”  Nothing too groundbreaking there, but it’s always nice to see someone in a position of authority acknowledging that this isn’t all President Obama’s fault.  Like I’ve said before, this isn’t a unilateral decision for the President to make.  It’s going to take a level of bipartisan cooperation that’s been completely absent in Congress in recent history.

But even if President Obama can’t single-handedly close Guantanamo, Chairman Durbin noted that through the FY14 Defense Bill, passed by the House Armed Services Committee in early June, he has an expanded ability to dispose of prisoners (calm down, disposing means releasing or transferring in this context) as he sees fit.  But we’ve seen problems with this as well.  First, where do we release or transfer these detainees?  Just a few days ago we saw Senator Saxby Chambliss voice concerns about releasing detainees to their home countries where they may attempt to join or re-join al-Qaeda.  Our European allies have a history of rejecting transfers of Guantanamo detainees.  And we certainly aren’t going to give them asylum here.  So even if the President’s powers to release or transfer detainees have been expanded, it’s still a delicate situation.

Ranking-Member Cruz was one of the few speakers to advocate for keeping Guantanamo Bay open, bashing the Obama administration for it’s policy and saying that we “continue to apologize for continuing the policy.”  Senator Cruz’s main argument was that we can’t embrace a “utopian fiction” where released detainees embrace global peace and pledge not to take up arms against the United States.  I could understand that concern if we were talking about releasing KSM.  I can understand that concern if we’re talking about releasing any detainee that we know was involved in attacks against the United States.  But I’m pretty sure nobody is calling for those detainees to be released.  So what about the detainees with no formal charges or evidence against them?  Are we going to hold them for the rest of their lives just because there’s a chance they could join al-Qaeda if we release them?  Apparently Senator Cruz would say yes.

Major General Eaton and Brigadier General Xenakis also testified in front of the panel, both advocating for the closure of the detention center.  Major General Eaton stated clearly that “[t]here is no national security reason to keep Guantanamo open,” and even went so far as to say the keeping it open this long has undermined national security by damaging our “moral leadership, political leadership, military power and economic power.”  Brigadier General Xenakis attacked the much-covered force-feeding policy, stating that it violates not only the basic ethics of the medical field, but also the Geneva Convention.

Rep. Pompeio joined Senator Cruz’s position, making the bold claim that “there are no human rights violations occurring at [GTMO].”  He also voiced concerns that foreign nations would torture detainees if we were to transfer them.  Now, I’m not saying I can’t see any reason behind the force-feeding policy.  I get that we don’t want upwards of 40 detainees dying of malnutrition on our watch.  But to say shoving a rubber tube through the nose and into the stomach of a fully conscious human being in an extremely painful fashion is not a human rights violation is borderline ludicrous.

The way I see it, the only semi-logical argument for keeping Guantanamo Bay open came from Mr. Gaffney.  Mr. Gaffney argued that Gitmo should remain open until a safe and effective alternative is pinpointed.  That much I can get on board with.  I already pointed out that there are some holes in the current plan.  But Mr. Gaffney’s seems to be worried about detainees escaping from super-max prisons on U.S. soil and rejoining al-Qaeda or remaining in the U.S. to plan attacks.  Is this what we’re really concerned about?  We already trust maximum security penitentiaries to hold our most notorious murderers, so why does it matter what their nationality is?  According to documents from the New York State Department of Corrections, there were a total of 10 escapes from detention facilities of any kind between 2006 and 2010.  That equates to a rate of .03 escapes per 1,000 inmates during that time period, and includes statistics from ALL New York state penitentiaries.  I, for one, am no too worried about detainees, who will probably have additional monitoring in place, escaping from super-max prisons.  Again, I agree that we need a rock-solid plan in place before we close Guantanamo, but the concerns cited by Mr. Gaffney are simply not realistic.

That’s probably a good thing since the plan proposed by Democrats involved transferring detainees to the same super-max facilities that Mr. Gaffney is so worried about.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) pointed out that it will cost tax payers roughly $551 million to operate Guantanamo Bay in 2013, and roughly $2.1 million per detainee.  According to her estimates, it would cost only $287,000 to house a detainee in a super-max facility here in the U.S.  Especially since the sequester hit the federal government, this would obviously be a much more cost-effective model.  So on top of potentially eradicating human rights violations, we might be able to take a step towards a balanced defense budget.

All in all, we are still in a stalemate.  The hearing was essentially a summary of all the arguments we’ve heard about Guantanamo Bay over the past 5 years.  Democrats and members of the military are still pushing for its closure while Republicans are standing firm on keeping it open.  I don’t know that we’re any closer to actually closing Gitmo after the hearing, but it’s good to see that we haven’t given up the fight.

***Special thanks to Mr. Rick Erkel for reporting on the hearing

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

KSM, Co-Defendants’ Legal Mail Ransacked And Seized

2L student Josh Wirtschafter is in GTMO this week observing the military commission hearings.  His observations from Wednesday’s hearings are printed below.

Wednesday’s pre-hearings in,United States v. Mohammed, et al., ended in soap opera-esqe drama. The last motion of the day was postponed until Thursday morning when it was announced that the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and two of his co-defendants, had returned to their cells after yesterday’s session to find their attorney-client mail ransacked— and much of it seized.

The news of the ransacking and seizure of attorney-client mail was apropos, given the morning testimony of Lieutenant Alexander Homme, who detailed the attorney-client mail screening process. Pursuant to a Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) Order, it was Homme’s job to screen mail both to and from detainees in their cells as well as in Echo II, the attorney-client meeting room. In short, Homme explained that non-legal mail would be separated from the legal mail, which was vaguely defined as any hand-written or typed documents that were prepared by the attorney, and that legal mail was allowed to pass, non-legal mail was subjected to seizure and further review. Eventually, however, it became clear that legal mail had a somewhat narrow definition, as even exhibits attached to an amicus brief, for example, are not guaranteed to be construed as “legal” for these purposes and thereby pass to a detainee.

Rejected non-legal mail would be seized and delivered to J2, the intelligence agency of Joint Task Force (JTF) at Guantanamo Bay, for inspection. Ms. Bormann, Counsel for Mr. bin ‘Attash, evidenced the difficulty of this process as she recounted, and Homme confirmed, four occasions where he rejected her attempt to deliver legally relevant documents to her client (an Arabic translation of the screening order, the book “Black Banners” that contained a chapter specific to her client’s charges in this case, a NAVY JAG Instruction on JAG ethics, and an amicusbrief from the al-Nashiri case that dealt with the same kind of seizure of attorney-client privileged material happening here).

Various defense attorneys noted the problematic nature of the screening process. First, the Order’s vague definition of legal mail makes it tremendously difficult to pass legal documents from attorney to client, and vice versa: what may be considered highly relevant to the defense as  part of effective legal, can be construed by the government as non-legal mail and subject to seizure. And second, even if the defense wants to exchange non-legal mail, all of it must first be screened by J2, a process by which it could take months to be cleared and delivered, and still, there is no guarantee that all of the documents will ultimately be delivered.

The reported ransacking and seizure of the accused’s legal mail seemed almost icing on the cake for defense counsel.

J2 Just Might Visit a Local Radio Shack

Next on the stand was Colonel John Vincent Bogdan, Joint Task Guard (JTG) Commander, who is responsible for controlling the attorney-client meeting room at Echo II. Lead by the compelling cross-examination of Mr. Nevin, Learned Counsel for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Bogdan revealed that although he began his commission as JTG Commander in June 2012, it was not until January 31, 2013—two weeks ago—that Bogdan learned of Echo II’s audio capabilities from Captain Welsh. He represented to the court that he had no knowledge of Echo II’s audio capabilities until that point, and assured the court that “they do not audio monitor in Echo II.” After learning of these audio monitoring capabilities, Bogdan issued a verbal order, not a written order, “that there was to be no audio monitoring of attorney-client meetings.”

In a quick witted response, Mr. Nevin asked: “But since you understood there was no audio — excuse me — audio monitoring capability, there was really no reason to order that there be no audio monitoring, right?” Why issue an order to not do something that is already not done? Bogdan said it was necessary to cement the policy.

Thereafter, Mr. Nevin sought answers from Bogdan as to how he took measures to assure that his verbal order would be obeyed. Bogdan confirmed that his guards dismantled the audio monitoring system. They did not remove the system altogether, however, and instead they “disconnect[ed] all the power supplies and secure[d] all the power supply so the system couldn’t be inadvertently turned on.” In other words, he had the electrical cord removed from the wall.

Bogdan also confirmed that J2 owned all of the audio and video technology in Echo II—the cameras, the microphones, and the wires connecting those pieces to the video and audio systems. This past weekend the defense were permitted to enter and observe the audio monitoring system in the control hut for Echo II. The audio system is called Louroe AP-4. It is a non-recording system, but it has an audio output jack in the back of it where one could simply plug-in a digital recording device—try Radio Shack.

The defense “tag-team” made the point, and Bogdan admitted, that as easy as it was to conceal from Bogdan the fact that Echo II has audio monitoring capabilities for over a year into his commission, J2 could also have just as easily purchased tiny microphones from Radio Shack and put them in Echo II without him knowing.

Balancing Competing Interests: National Security v. Protecting Attorney-Client Privileged Communications

Easy to lose in the drama and vagaries of another day in GTMO, the day’s pre-hearings were an emergency interlocutory motion to investigate into intrusions on attorney-client and attorney-attorney privileged communications.

JTF-GTMO wants security in Echo II for national and camp security reasons. The defense teams want to be relieved of the reasonable fear that they are being listened to in the courtroom and in Echo II. All seemingly reasonable concerns.

Ms. Bormann suggested a remedy—that the audio system be completely removed (maybe destroyed and trashed) and the guards instructed to monitor the attorney-client meetings in Echo II from chairs outside the room, leaving the door open but having them sit far enough away so that they cannot hear the conversations inside. The court seemed skeptical, and I suspect both prosecution and defense will continue to be so as well.

Josh Wirtshafter is a fellow at the Center for Policy and Research at Seton Hall University School of Law student. He is a member of the Class of 2014 and is a 2011 graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, where he majored in Religious Studies.

Only the Judge is in Control, Except When He Isn’t

2L student Adam Kirchner is currently observing the KSM hearings in Guantanamo.  This article, describing his experiences as an observer, was featured in “The Public Record” today:  

The Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Hearing, United States v. Mohammed, et al., resumed on Tuesday after adjourning on Monday. As expected, all of the accused waived their right to appear at their own hearings, with co-defendant Walid bin Attash’s criticism of the trial’s process still echoing from the day before. Bin Attash had described the process, given the detainees’ inability to communicate with their attorneys without the government listening in, as undermining  the establishment of trust in the  attorney-client relationship— and the legitimacy of the hearing itself. . Bin Attash, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and three other co-defendants, are charged with violations of the Military Commission Act of 2009 for their alleged roles in the preparation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Only the Judge is in Control, Except on Monday

Immediately following the issue of the non-present defendants, Presiding Judge James Pohl addressed the pressing question of who, exactly, is in control of his courtroom. In Monday’s hearing, all but the prosecution were surprised when the audio feed to the gallery of press, NGOs and the families of 9/11 victims suddenly halted when defense counsel for KSM uttered the title of a motion pertaining to his client’s detention at a CIA sponsored black-site prison— a matter of public record. Judge Pohl reaffirmed that, even though a court security officer has instructions about what topics are to be censored, only the presiding judge has the authority to close (i.e., censor) the courtroom. Furthermore, Judge Pohl noted that the comment that resulted in the censorship “is not a valid basis for the court to have been closed.”

Judge Pohl then attempted to resolve— on the record— the defense’s concern  regarding who has access to audio feeds from the courtroom. He explained that there are two audio feeds. One feed never is censored and is transmitted only to the court reporter. The other feed – the feed in question during Monday’s prolonged censorship – is buffered with a 40-second delay, which allows the aforementioned court security officer time to sever the feed before it reaches the gallery or remote-viewing locations. “The purpose of the 40-second delay,” in Judge Pohl’s words is, “to prevent spillage of classified information.”

It Was Not A 40-Second Delay

James Harrington, Learned Counsel for co-defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, quickly brought to the commission’s attention that Monday’s actual events seem inconsistent with characterizing the censorship episode as an accidental 40-second delay glitch. “[T]here was a little bit of a delay; it wasn’t a 40-second delay,” Mr. Harrington said. “That is not what happened. The light went off in a time much shorter than 40 seconds.”

Judge Pohl stopped Mr. Harrington’s line of argument at that point, out of concern that it risked “sliding into an area we shouldn’t talk [about] in open court.” Counsel for both parties and Judge Pohl had discussed these issues in a closed session Monday afternoon. Elsewhere, Judge Pohl identified the crux of this and similar debates about the process of the hearings and access to information: “we are getting into a line between what is public and what is security.”

Judge Pohl: The United States Must Comply With Its Own Regulation

While it may seem that Judge Pohl shifted quickly from preserving access to information during the  hearings, to cautioning defense counsel about divulging information to which the public wants access, the issue resurfaced later during Tuesday’s proceedings. Judge Pohl ultimately held in favor of some procedural transparency, granting the defense’s motion to release redacted versions of classified pleadings.

James Connell, Learned Counsel for co-defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, illustrated for the commission that many documents in the case have remained entirely unavailable to the public for more than three months, some approaching half a year, despite the Government’s practice of releasing sanitized versions with sensitive information redacted.

Sterling Thomas, an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and detailed defense counsel to al-Baluchi, further argued for the availability of documents, noting that the very slogan appearing on the Military Commission’s website would seem to promote intrinsic notions underlying the pursuit of justice:

“Your Honor, if you were to click on the Office of Military Commission website, you’re immediately greeted with the banner of fairness, transparency, and justice. And if one were a cynic, Your Honor, one might say that these words are merely window dressing. But yet, Your Honor, I think that it’s important to note that those words are there and that obviously the government understands that that’s an important principle…. But, Your Honor, the frustration continues to build as a result of delays in the – in having openness, in having transparence. And I think it was evident as recently as yesterday when our client made some statements about his frustration with the lack of what he sees as openness and transparence. And, Your Honor, I think that equally you could say the American people are also frustrated by a lack of openness and transparence. With those things in mind, Your Honor, I just want to emphasize that we think it’s critically important that whenever possible the pleadings, orders by the commission that are not classified, that these things be made available to the public so that they can inform themselves and educate themselves about this trial.

Against the points made by the defense counselors, Navy Lieutenant Kiersten Korczynski, assistant trial counsel for the United States, argued little more than that the defense is required by the Military Commission Rules to file documents, that are not certainly unclassified, directly to the judge rather than through the ordinary docketing process.

The relevant regulation (RTMC 17-1(c)(1)) is designed to preserve the judge’s control over the release of trial-related information. If the United States wants to prevent the defense’s documents from being released, the prosecution must petition the judge to do so. Likewise, if the defense wants to compel the release of their documents, it must petition the judge to do so.

Finding that the Military Commission Rules already provide the remedy that, if followed, would preclude the United States from indefinitely detaining unclassified information, Judge Pohl held essentially that the United States must comply with its own regulation.

The hearing adjourned until Wednesday, to determine if the defense will be prepared on Thursday to argue a number of outstanding motions to compel the production of witnesses. The United States has refused to produce many defense witnesses for the case, arguing that the defense has not explained how the witnesses are relevant or necessary to the issues.

Adam Kirchner is a dual-degree student at Seton Hall University School of Law and the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He is a Research Fellow of the Center for Policy and Research and the Transnational Justice Project at Seton Hall University School of Law

 

The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Hearings Resume: But Who Is The Man Behind The Curtain? And “Who is Controlling These Proceedings?”

2L student Adam Kirchner is currently observing the KSM hearings in Guantanamo.  This article, describing his first day as an observer, was featured in “The Public Record” on January 28th.  

The KSM Guantanamo Bay Military Commission Hearing, United States v. Mohammed, et al., reconvened on Monday for the second session of pre-trial motion hearings. The first session of these hearings, held in October, 2012, devolved into what many referred to as “a circus.” The opening session of this week’s hearings produced several tense moments, including a proverbial “Man Behind the Curtain” incident (as Presiding Judge James Pohl’s control of the proceedings was superseded by some, in his words, “external body”); the hotly contested issue of the United States obstructing defense attorneys’ access to their clients arose;  the debate over whether defense attorneys are truly free to communicate with their clients waged on; and, in their own words, the detainees offered the reasons why they choose to waive their rights to be present during the hearings.

The principal defendant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his four co-defendants are each accused of eight distinct changes under the Military Commission of 2009, for their roles in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The charges against the accused are: Conspiracy, Attacking Civilians, Attacking Civilian Objects, Intentionally Causing Serious Bodily Injury, Murder in Violation of the Law of War, Destruction of Property in Violation of the Law of War, Hijacking an Aircraft, and Terrorism.

In a briefing on Sunday, Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins addressed the suggestion that the recent detainee victory in Hamdan II from the D.C. Circuit would nullify the Conspiracy charges in this case as well. Prosecutor Martins stated that he would proceed in this case, assuming that he will be directed to push forward and argue the merits of the Conspiracy charge, despite the decision in Hamdan II. The strategy would make sense in the event the Hamdan II decision is appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the case at hand, the decisions made by the Judge,  Colonel James Pohl, in this phase of the commission  will ultimately affect the evidence that can be discussed, and the procedure of the commision on the merits once all pre-trial motion hearings have been concluded.

The Prosecution alleges that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the “architect of the 9/11 concept” in its motion designed to exclude from the trial information that it asserts could compromise the United States’ national security. See Government Motion to Protect Against Disclosure of National Security Information, AE013, page 3. Elaborating on the claim that Mohammed was the “architect of the 9/11 concept,” the Prosecution charges that he conceived of and oversaw the preparation for the 9/11 attacks. Co-defendant Walid bin Attash’s alleged role in the 9/11 attacks was developing the method by which the hijackers smuggled weapons aboard the airplanes, in addition to training the hijackers in hand-to-hand combat. Following co-defendant Ramzi Binalshibh’s denied entry into the United States, his alleged role in the 9/11 attacks was to be the liaison between the chief hijackers and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Co-defendant Ammar al-Baluchi’s alleged role in the 9/11 attacks included financial coordination of the hijackers, in addition to procuring a cockpit operations video and flight simulator for the hijackers’ training. Co-defendant Mustafa al-Hawsawi’s alleged role in the 9/11 attacks was financial coordination of the hijackers. Al-Hawsawi’s actions allegedly included draining the hijackers’ bank accounts on the day of the attacks.

Who is the Man Behind the Curtain?

Static filled the gallery’s speakers, and the large video screens which displayed the 40-second-delayed proceedings went blank— to prevent lip-reading— while a red light flashed at the right-hand side of Judge Pohl’s desk. Observation of the hearing was shut down.

As soon as the audio and visual feeds resumed and the flashing light shut off, Judge Pohl expressed two immediate question/concerns: Who ordered the audio/visual feeds to be censored, because it was not on his authority and why were the feeds censored when Learned Counsel for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, David Nevin, had been discussing theunclassified portion of the Joint Defense Motion to Preserve Evidence of Any Existing Detention Facility? After resuming control of what information would appear on the record, Judge Pohl emphasized his concern that an “external body” is superseding his authority, remarking that it was if “if some external body is turning the commission off.”

Nevin, on behalf of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, echoed Judge Pohl’s concerns and asked: “Who is controlling these proceedings?”

Learned Counsel for Walid bin Attash, Cheryl Bormann, emphasized  that the mere mention of a motion that contained some classified information seemed to trigger the censorship..

Defense Counsel for Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, raised an even more worrisome implication:  If an external body above Judge Pohl’s authority is censoring the audio/visual feeds, that same external body might also be eavesdropping on the defense teams’ communication during the proceedings even when they are not addressing the court. After all, the courtroom is filled with microphones.

Only the Prosecution did not look surprised when the curtain of silence fell upon the courtroom, and they would not discuss what they knew in public.

Counsel discussed these issues in a closed session Monday afternoon, originally slated to deliberate the Military Commission’s Rule 505, which states that an established attorney-client relationship can only be severed for good cause, by the request of the accused, or upon application for withdrawal by counsel. Rule 505 became a pressing issue early in Monday’s session because former-Detailed Defense Counsel for Walid bin Attash, Marine Major William Hennessey, suddenly withdrew from representing his client. Bormann expressed bin Attash’s wish to sever the relationship. However, Judge Pohl stressed the importance of clients themselves, not their counsel or proxies, controlling the severance of an attorney-client relationship when good cause has not been shown, as is the instant issue.

A Case in Point: Denial of Attorney Access to Clients

Before Judge Pohl heard any motions for the day, Ms. Bormann addressed a prevailing issue throughout her representation of Walid bin Attash during the past year: the United States, she argued, obstructs defense counsels’ access to their clients. Bormann and her co-counsel for bin Attash attempted to meet with their client in private at around 8:15, shortly before the proceedings. Bin Attash was present; however, Bormann and her co-counsel were denied any access to their client until he was brought to the courtroom under guard. Bormann argued that today’s barrier to accessing her client was a case in point, following along the lines of other instances of impeded attorney-client access.

Are Defense Attorneys Truly Free to Communicate with Their Clients?

Amidst vocal reactions from the gallery behind the glass, Ms. Bormann  told Judge Pohl, “You don’t live my life.”

Many of the families of 9/11 attack victims present did not, understandably, commiserate with Ms. Bormann. However, Bormann made her remark in the context of her ethical dilemma as an attorney whose attorney-client communication is seized for review by the United States. Ms. Bormann made the point, essentially, that she has not been truly free to communicate with her client since October 2011, thereby depriving her client of her ability to provide a fully informed defense against the charges against him.

Why the Accused Waive Their Rights to Be Present During the Hearings

Cheryl Bormann’s zealous advocacy for her client, Walid bin Attash, was matched in part by her client’s own level of engagement during the proceedings. Bin Attash, with a long, black beard, a head scarf, and a white tunic covered by a camouflage vest, spent much of the proceedings pouring over binders of information through thick, black glasses. Bin Attash made many notes and communicated often throughout the day with his co-defendants.

Anticipating that the accused would abstain from appearing in further sessions this week, Monday’s session concluded with Judge Pohl requiring the accused to answer whether they understood their right to appear at their hearings, and whether they had any questions for him about their rights. All of the accused answered in Arabic, through a translator, that they understood their right to appear at the hearings. But only Walid bin Attash took the opportunity to discuss why the accused, in their own words, waive their rights to be present during their hearings. Bin Attash, a Yemeni, explained excitedly in Arabic that the hearings’ process gives the accused no incentive to appear in court. The accused have been unable to develop trust in their attorneys despite a relationship lasting over a year. Bin Attash clarified that he and his co-defendants do not want this to be a “personal issue” with Judge Pohl. Bin Attash closed his comments by declaring that the Prosecution does not want the accused to hear or understand anything (presumably in reference to their rights and their waivers to appear at the hearings). Bin Attash:

“We have no motivation to come to court. We have been dealing with our attorneys for a year and a half, and we have not been able to build trust with them. Their hands are bound. The prosecution does not what us to hear or understand or say anything. They don’t want our attorneys to do anything.”

Adam Kirchner is a dual-degree student at Seton Hall University School of Law and the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He is a Research Fellow of the Center for Policy and Research and the Transnational Justice Project at Seton Hall University School of Law

Censorship Episode During Today’s KSM Hearings Reveal New GTMO Secret

By now, those who follow Guantanamo-related news closely are aware of today’s censorship episode during the military commission hearing for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM).

During military commission hearings, journalists and observers are seated outside of the courtroom.  They can watch the hearings as they happen, but the sound is delivered via an audiovisual feed, which has customarily had about a 60-second delay.

Today, however, an unknown government censor abruptly shut off the audiovisual feed as David Nevin, counsel to KSM, began his request for information on the case, igniting frustration in the courtroom.   Until today, no one, including Judge Pohl and the defense attorneys, knew that the feed could be cut off by someone outside of the courtroom.  The feed is usually cut off by a security officer in the court or the judge, and typically everyone in the courtroom is aware of what is happening.

The action today generated a buzz on twitter amongst journalists present at the hearing.  Charlie Savage (@Charlie_Savage) said that the switch was hit after the attorney simply read the title of his own, unclassified brief.  Many others, like John Knefel (@johnknefel) indicated the surprise of Judge Pohl, and were surprised to find that even Judge Pohl didn’t know who hit the censorship switch.  Knefel tweeted,

“Let today’s censorship episode sink in. Gov official cut feed. When it returned, judge was furious & confused abt why it happened.”

It is rumored that the censorship issue will be addressed at a press conference in the morning, but until then, it certainly brings to light some interesting questions about the secrecy surrounding Guantanamo.

Who is really in control of the courtroom, if its not Judge Pohl? Why did the government feel the need to censor Nevins’ opening statements? As it turns out, there is even more secrecy surrounding Guantanamo than even those who appear to be closest to the action could imagine.

Kelly Ann Taddonio, Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research