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Gitmo Prisoners 'Unintentionally' Overheard Talking to Their Lawyers

In this Nov. 21, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, dawn arrives at the now closed Camp X-Ray, at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
In this Nov. 21, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, dawn arrives at the now closed Camp X-Ray, at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- A Navy prosecutor said unauthorized, unidentified people "unintentionally" overheard detainees consulting with their attorneys at a special, irregular meeting site in the latest controversy over attorney-client privacy at the prison.

"Any characterization regarding an intrusion in the attorney-client relationship is misleading," said Cmdr. Douglas Short, lead prosecutor in the case of an Iraqi man accused of commanding al-Qaida's army in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. He announced the explanation during a war court hearing Thursday, reading from a page that sounded nearly identical to a subsequent U.S. Southern Command press statement.

But the submission into the court record offered an unclassified window into a June 14 letter by the chief defense counsel, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker. In it, Baker declared a "loss of confidence" in the integrity of "all potential attorney-client meeting locations" after learning some legal meetings were the victim of "intrusive monitoring." The time period spanned September 2015 and April 2017.

Short did not explain why lawyers were meeting with prisoners in place where people could listen in on their consultations. But he said none of the overheard attorney-client meetings were with captives "currently in contested military commissions trial proceedings"

He also said "no privileged attorney-client communications" were "overheard by anyone in a law enforcement or prosecution role," but did not specify who was doing the listening at the base with 41 captives and a prison staff of 1,500 troops and civilians, some with intelligence roles.

Defense lawyers have long complained about government interference into their privileged work, such as the CIA muting court audio, FBI agents trying to turn defense team members into informants, and the discovery of listening devices that looked like smoke detectors in legal meeting rooms.

A fuller explanation of what went on is classified, according to multiple military officials and attorneys who are familiar to the problem that prompted the U.S. Southern Command to order an investigation.

In response, Baker suggested the prosecution is in no place to evaluate the harm of such episodes.

"The government's suggestion this is a simple problem with a simple solution is sorely mistaken. You cannot un-ring a bell," Baker said in a statement.

"This situation, like the ones before this, do harm to the attorney-client relationships at Guantanamo. Even if unintentional, accidents and coincidences that occur in Guantanamo Bay, can have devastating consequence, and at some point, could lead a reasonable client to believe he has no ability to have private conversations with his lawyer."

Short made the statement in the first war-court hearing after Islam's holy month of Ramadan, when most Guantanamo defense lawyers don't meet with clients. So it is unclear how many of the dozens of defense lawyers for the captives are not discussing confidential topics with their clients in light of Baker's advice.

This article is written by Carol Rosenberg from Miami Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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