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Guantanamo cells have audio monitoring gear, official testifies

The prison's top security officer says the equipment has not been used, despite allegations by lawyers for Sept. 11 defendants.

February 13, 2013|By Richard A. Serrano, Washington Bureau
  • A courtroom sketch shows Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, left, conferring with his lawyer, Army Capt. Jason Wright, at a hearing at Guantanamo Bay.
A courtroom sketch shows Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, left, conferring with… (Janet Hamlin, Associated…)

FT. MEADE, Md. — The top security officer at the detainee compound on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, testified Wednesday that prison cells for high-value inmates and a special visitation room include monitoring equipment that the FBI had installed and later turned over for use by U.S. intelligence officials.

The testimony by Army Col. John Vincent Bogdan, the military police commander of the prison since June, was elicited by defense attorneys for five alleged Sept. 11 plotters to bolster their complaints that law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the FBI and CIA, have been monitoring their confidential meetings with the defendants.

The defense lawyers this week alleged that they and their clients have been spied on by prison microphones that look like smoke detectors and that prison staff have been searching confidential legal mail belonging to prisoners. They said the alleged eavesdropping seriously compromised their efforts to defend their clients.

Late in the afternoon, just moments before court closed for the day, Cheryl Bormann, an attorney for Walid bin Attash, an alleged Al Qaeda training camp steward, said that his cell was ransacked while he was in court Tuesday and that some of his legal mail was missing. Attorneys for two other defendants, alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshib, the alleged pilot cell manager, said the same had happened to their clients while they were in court Tuesday.

The chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, told Judge James L. Pohl, an Army colonel, that he would investigate the matter and report back Thursday. The testimony occurred during a pretrial hearing held at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay and simulcast at Ft. Meade.

Bogdan said that when he first arrived at Guantanamo Bay he noticed two cameras in the cells and saw no problems with that, as they were there for security reasons. He said he was surprised, however, to recently learn that the devices also contained audio monitoring equipment.

But Bogdan said he was told there had been "no audio monitoring of attorney-client meetings," a policy he said he too had adopted. "It is a key thing we want to make sure we are not doing," he said.

Bogdan said the prohibition was not included in the prison's official standard operating procedures.

He also said it was "not surprising" the FBI has had access to the prison, saying, "We have worked closely with them." He said the FBI officials "would probably get access" to the facility whenever they requested it, "for whatever it is they need to do."

And Bogdan said the CIA never contacted him about access to the Echo 2 area of the prison used by high-value detainees, such as the Sept. 11 defendants.

In cross-examination, Justice Department prosecutor Edward Ryan asked Bogdan whether he personally ever eavesdropped on the detainees and their lawyers.

"No, I did not," he said.

Has he ever authorized it?

"No, I have not," he said.

Rather, Bogdan said, "the cameras are there for force protection" to make sure no one is hurt or attempts to escape.

The other defendants are alleged Al Qaeda financiers Ammar al Baluchi, also known as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Hawsawi. All five have pleaded not guilty.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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