Legal Ethics

Is CIA listening to talk between lawyers and clients in Guantanamo death-penalty case?

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Claims by defense counsel that the CIA could be eavesdropping on confidential attorney-client communications in a death-penalty terrorism case at Guantanamo Bay, if true, would raise a serious ethical issue, a military judge said Monday.

However, while Army Col. James Pohl granted a three-hour recess to allow the defense attorneys to seek guidance from superiors and bar associations about whether they can ethically proceed under the circumstances, he refused to halt the trial until technicians could explain exactly how the sound system at the Guantanamo Bay military court works, Reuters reports.

Lawyers for Saudi captive Abd al Rahim al Nashiri apparently had their suspicions raised about such CIA monitoring after an incident last week in which the live video feed for a pretrial hearing in another military case at the U.S. military base in Cuba was briefly cut. Pohl was furious when it became apparent that someone outside the courtroom had the power to shut off video to public viewing areas, and the exterior switch was reportedly disabled over the weekend.

Although it isn’t publicly known who was monitoring the proceedings, all the defendants had been held in overseas CIA prisons, Reuters reports.

Defense lawyers are concerned that those monitoring the Nashiri case could be listening electronically to whispered courtroom consultations or monitoring attorney-client conversations in holding cells. But Pohl said the lawyers are only speculating that such eavesdropping could be occurring.

Nashiri is accused of orchestrating a 2000 suicide bomb attack on the USS Cole off of Yemen in which 17 sailors were killed and many more were wounded.

Testimony on Tuesday focused on now best to determine whether Nashiri is competent to stand trial. His lawyers say his treatment in custody by the CIA—which included waterboarding and having a revolving drill held to his hooded head after he was captured in 2002—has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, the Miami Herald reports.

Related coverage: “A Gitmo mystery: Who cut the video feed for reporters?”

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