Testimony: Searches of 9/11 defendants' Gitmo cells turned up al-Qaida material
The (Hamburg, Germany) Deutsche Presse-Agentur
FORT MEADE, Md. — Military officials seized material that contained private communications between 9/11 plotters and their lawyers, but they also confiscated al-Qaida-related material during searches of the defendants' cells at Guantanamo Bay, according to a witness who testified Thursday at a pretrial hearing.
The al-Qaida material was found in the prison cell of the self-described mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to the witness, Commander George Massucco, a prison lawyer and member of the judge advocate's staff.
One item was emblazoned with an al-Qaida symbol and photo of coffins draped in the American flag against a backdrop of the burning World Trade Center, Massucco said.
The judge, Colonel James Pohl, said the seized material was not relevant to the issue and he would give "little weight, if any" to the material.
"I've heard all I want to hear about how unmarked and mismarked mail is handled," said Pohl, making no effort to hide his irritation.
This week's hearings are part of a series of court sessions leading up to the actual trial, which could begin in 2014.
The other four suspects, hailing from Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, are Walid bin Attash, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Mustafa al-Hawsawi and Ramzi Binalshibh. Some have been detained for more than ten years awaiting trial, all face the death penalty.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and in the plane crash in Pennsylvania.
During nearly five hours of testimony, Massucco said that guards also found 87 pages of unauthorized blog entries in a search of Mohammed's cell on October 2. The material included copies of posts to the blog Gitmo Watch.
"The only way these could have been presented in camp is through court or an attorney meeting," Massucco said.
Librarians, asked by Mohammed to attach the pages using plastic strips known as zip ties, found the material disturbing, prosecutor Jeff Groharing said. The zip ties themselves were confiscated from Mohammed's cell, Groharing said, because they can be used as handcuffs or garrots.
Had the written materials been presented for screening, they might have been approved, Massucco said. But he said defence lawyers have refused to submit to standard screening. Massucco said hundreds of pages of material come into the camp and sometimes guards are not able to distinguish what material is a private legal communication and what is not.
Massucco said any attorney-client communication found during the screening is marked as such and passed on without being read. Searches are conducted daily, Massucco added.
Pohl said the frequency and meticulous nature of the searches were not improper for a detention facility.
Groharing, a Marine Corps major, confirmed that privileged attorney-client documents were seized from the cells during a search in February, but rejected the notion that the search was conducted improperly.
Defence attorney Walter Ruiz attempted to dig into who ordered the February search, suggesting it could have been ordered by an intelligence officer and the materials could have been photo copied. Some documents were especially sensitive because they contained details about the defence strategy, Ruiz said.
Massucco said that when he recognized that the guards had seized private attorney-client communications, he returned them.
But Ruiz, who represents al-Hawsawi, also wanted to know why the particular documents were seized.
"These documents were unbeknownst (to) Commander Massucco taken for a period of time," Ruiz said. "I want to know where they were and who had access to them."
Over the past year, defence lawyers have focussed on procedural and privacy issues, and insisted they cannot mount a proper defence without allowing their clients to testify about alleged abuse and torture during interrogations. The proceedings were broadcast internally to Fort Meade, Maryland, for media who were not in Cuba.