FBI hid microphones in Guantanamo, prison commander testifies
The Miami Herald
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — The Army officer in charge of the prison for war-on-terror captives testified Wednesday that he was unaware that the FBI had hidden microphones inside his compound where lawyers meet prisoners, did not know that Navy engineers had disconnected the bugs during renovations in October, and that an intelligence unit had reconnected them in December, on his watch.
Nonetheless, Army Col. John V. Bogdan testified that he had total control of the compound called Camp Echo II, where his guards are under verbal orders not to listen in on confidential conversations between prisoners and their lawyers.
“We understood that any listening to an attorney-client meeting is prohibited,” said Bogdan, who is effectively the warden in charge of the 166 detainees here.
At issue is whether anyone has been listening in on lawyers, both military and civilian, charged with defending alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four accused plotters of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Defense lawyers discovered the hidden microphones last week while preparing an emergency motion to halt pretrial hearings — after an undisclosed intelligence agent reached into the courtroom Jan. 28 and muted the audio of Mohammed’s lawyer during a discussion of the CIA’s secret prison network.
The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, ordered all outside audio kill switches disconnected. Now he’s letting the defense lawyers investigate, as he put it in court Wednesday: “Was there eavesdropping on the conversations?”
There’s been no precise proof, but the lawyers did uncover secret microphones inside devices that both troops and civilians thought were smoke detectors.
Tuesday, the prison’s staff attorney, Navy Capt. Thomas Welsh, testified that he discovered the eavesdropping capacity of the camp where captives consult their lawyers in January 2012 — six months before Bogdan took over. Welsh saw an agent in a headset sitting in a control center listening as a detainee and his lawyers discussed a plea deal — a meeting that carried no confidentiality.
But the Navy lawyer was so surprised by what he saw, that he sought out the warden prior to Bogdan, Army Col. Donnie Thomas, to get assurances that no one was listening in on confidential conversations. Thomas left in June. Bogdan testified Wednesday that no one told him about the bugs.
Echo II is used exclusively by attorneys and the 16 former CIA prisoners at Guantanamo. They are segregated from the other 150 captives so no word can get out of where they were held, or what the agents did to them beyond leaked reports that described waterboarding, mock executions, sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation.
Echo II is an old Caribbean seafront compound of eight huts with 16 cells inside. And it’s adjacent to Bogdan’s headquarters.
Once eavesdropping became an issue, Bogdan said he did some research on the lawyers’ meeting place and learned that the FBI had control of it until 2008. The Army got it with the bugs already installed. Bogdan’s guard force controls access, and keeps watch on prisoners brought there. The prison’s intelligence unit, called the J-2, controls and manages the technology.
But until last week, Bogdan said, he had never noticed that each cell had a microphone in a device that resembled a smoke detector. Backtracking, he discovered that the bugs worked when he took charge — but he wasn’t told about them. Then, in October, he approved renovations of the huts — but nobody told him that Navy engineers working there snipped the audio wires.
Nor did the intelligence unit tell him that it reconnected the microphones in December.
Rather, the colonel said, he authorized entry for intelligence contractors to upgrade video cameras that are plainly visible in each cell. His troops don’t listen in, Bogdan said, but they do use video monitors in a control center at Camp Echo II to watch lawyers meet with clients strictly for security reasons. They zoom in on a prisoner’s hands, he said, and watch for contraband, but never to read privileged legal papers.
The eavesdropping investigation is not over. But while defense teams continue to look for evidence, Pohl agreed to hear other pretrial motions this week on legal arguments that could underpin the actual trial, including defense allegations of a flawed charging process.
The Pentagon’s senior official for military commissions, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, is to undergo questioning by defense attorneys Thursday morning by video-teleconference from Washington, D.C. At issue in that testimony is whether there was political influence on his decision to go forward with the complex conspiracy military prosecution of the five men accused of orchestrating, funding and providing training for the terror attack that killed 2,976 people on Sept. 11, 2001.