9/11 Defense Attorneys Say Legal Documents Were “Ransacked”

February 13, 2013
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In this pool photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Defense, the self-proclaimed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, right, reviews court documents with his lawyers during the pre-trial hearing of the death penalty case against the five Sept. 11 attack suspects at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Welsh, a senior official for the Guantanamo Bay prison said under questioning Tuesday that the government had placed a hidden microphone inside a meeting room but that he was assured it was not used to monitor the private conversations that prisoners have with their lawyers and the Red Cross. (AP Photo/Janet Hamlin, Pool) (AP Photo/Janet Hamlin, Pool)

Defense lawyers for three of the accused in the military commission hearings for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants claimed that their clients’ legal materials had been “ransacked” while they were in the courtroom yesterday, and that some confidential legal materials were missing.

Cheryl Bormann, lead attorney for defendant Walid bin Attash, made the claim just as court was wrapping around 5 p.m. today, after a discussion of scheduling for tomorrow’s session.  Bormann told the judge that a member of her team had been informed of “some sort of emergency,” and had gone to the camp where their client was being held.  She was handed a note indicating that after bin Attash returned from court yesterday, his legal materials had been “ransacked,” and that “several legal documents that had been properly stamped” — meaning cleared by security officials — “were missing.” 

David Nevin, lead counsel for Khalid Shekh Mohammed, and James Harrington, lead counsel for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, then told the judge that their clients had experienced a similar intrusion, but provided no details.

Earlier in the day, the very subject of inappropriate intrusions into the accused’s legal materials was before the court.  Lt. Alexander Homme, a lawyer who had worked for the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) at Guantanamo, took the stand in the morning to discuss how he had screened materials sent to the accused when he worked here in late 2011.  Homme had written in a post on the US Navy JAG Force blog that the SJA faced, “immense pressure from multiple directions including those interests of defense bars, JTF Commanders, and political influences.”  Among the materials he refused to allow through to bin Attash was the former FBI agent Ali Soufan’s book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War against Al Qaeda, which contains specific references to bin Attash.

Bormann asked the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to order Joint Task Force Guantanamo to provide the missing materials in court tomorrow without reviewing it or turning it over to the prosecution.  Lead Prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins expressed some concerns about reacting to hearsay evidence in the moment, but stated he “wanted to get the facts on it and … do the appropriate thing.”

The judge ordered an existing classification review team to obtain the missing documents, and, with more solid details about what actually happened in hand, the court will take on the latest controversy tomorrow morning.

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