(MintPress) – Trials for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and four co-defendants believed to have organized the 9/11 attacks were delayed this week after testimony revealed illegal listening devices installed at Guantanamo Bay may have allowed authorities to hear private conversations that Muhammad and others had with their attorneys.
In testimony before a military court this week, commander of the Guantánamo prison, Colonel John Bogdan admitted that secret listening devices disguised as smoke detectors were placed inside cells where detainees met their clients. If proven true, the revelation would delay the contentious trial until 2014 and could be a serious blow to the credibility of the prosecution.
In a pretrial hearing this week Bodgan said he reported the issue to Colonel Donnie Thomas, then warden of the prison after discovering the devices last year. Thomas assured his colleague that there was no foul play and that the room would be free of surveillance equipment in the future.
Bodgan stopped short of suggesting that the bugs were used to illegally obtain information from detainees speaking privately to attorneys, saying, “We understood that any listening to an attorney-client meeting is prohibited.”
The defense has questioned this account, claiming that microphones at in the courtroom have unusually high sensitivity, capable of picking up talk between attorneys and their clients. Maurice Elkins, the director of technology for the hearings at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, said more than 20 microphones had been spread around the courtroom, until changes were made last week.
Muhammad and the other defendants are wanted for their role in plotting the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. If convicted on all counts, they could be face execution. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, known as “KSM” is one of just a few detainees with known ties to terrorist groups.
Since 2002, 779 prisoners have been held at the unconstitutional detention facility, many of them later released free of charge after months at Guantanamo. Detainees have included Mohammed Sadiq, an 89-year-old Afghan man suffering from acute dementia and boys as young as 15. Omar Khadr, a 15 year old detainee was repatriated to his home in Canada in 2012.
International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International have petitioned the Obama administration to close the prison and release the remaining 166 detainees, or try them for crimes in civilian courts.
Allegations of torture surfaced from former detainees complaining that authorities had subjected them to sleep deprivation and waterboarding, an “enhanced interrogation technique” terrorizes victims, making them feel as if they are drowning.
Securing basic legal representation for Guantanamo detainees has been an arduous task. Lawyers are required to be American citizens and must clear a rigorous security screening before seeing their clients.
Conversations between attorneys and their clients are strictly confidential. Rooted in English common law, the principle attorney-client privilege has been upheld in Supreme Court rulings, affirming the right of a client to speak to his attorney without interference from police, or any other individual.
This means that authorities cannot monitor conversations between attorneys and clients because clients have the right to speak openly about all topics, including those that may be incriminating.
This is not the first time that the U.S. military has limited the ability of detainees to speak free with lawyers.
A 2007 report revealed that Guantanamo detainees have frequently refused to speak with attorneys after prison guards told prisoners that they were more likely to be released if they did not talk to lawyers.
Lawyers also reported that detainees are often confused about the role lawyers play, unsure whether they can fully trust them during confidential conversations.
The U.S. Department of Defense denied these allegations, saying they were “unfounded.” “It is our policy to in no way interfere with legal counsel,” said a Department of Defense spokesperson in a public statement.