WAR COURT

Mecca photo, FBI agent’s book, pen refill seized in Guantánamo search of 9/11 plotters’ cells

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

While the 9/11 accused were in court, prison camp guards seized from their cells a banned copy of a former FBI agent’s memoirs, toilet paper with English words scrawled on it and a pen refill hidden inside the binding of a book belonging to alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a prison camps lawyer testified Thursday.

Guards also seized bins full of legal documents that will be returned shortly, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. George Massucco, the prison camps lawyer. These actions capped a week of testimony about whether the government has violated the confidentiality of the alleged terrorists’ communications with their lawyers — from the courthouse to meeting rooms and now inside the prison itself.

Massucco, just weeks ago mobilized from Puerto Rico, made clear in his testimony that this is a time of churning change inside Camp 7, the secret prison for Guantánamo’s 16 former CIA captives. Soldiers replacing sailors on the cell blocks wanted to reexamine the prisoners’ written materials, even previously cleared documents and kept materials they found “disturbing to them.”

Or, as Judge James Pohl, put it: The 11-year-old prison has an “ever-changing” document-approval policy “and the review of it is ever changing.”

“What’s OK in October is not OK in February,” the judge said. “While not excusing it, I can understand that.”

The prison has banned Black Banners, written by ex-FBI agent Ali Soufan, Massucco told the judge. So that book, seized from the cell of prisoner Ramzi bin al Shibh, will not be returned. In it, the agent criticized waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” as counterproductive to rapport-building interrogations.

Bin al Shibh, 35, and Mohammed, 47, would get their legal papers back, even the toilet paper on which Bin al Shibh had jotted notes.

But the pen refill was contraband. Prison guards kept it as evidence that Mohammed, the self-described former al-Qaida operations chief, broke the rules. Massucco did not name the book in which it was hidden.

Left unclear was whether Bin al Shibh was entitled to get back his copy of The 9/11 Commission Report, regularly seen inside the war court, or Terry McDermott’s Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It.

Bin al Shibh, is accused, among other crimes, of organizing the Hamburg cell of hijackers that started the slaughter of Sept. 11, 2001, by crashing American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center. He and his four alleged co-conspirators are accused of orchestrating and assisting the 19 hijackers that killed 2,976 people that day.

Also seized was a photograph of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from the cell of alleged 9/ll plot deputy Walid bin Attash, who opened Thursday’s court session by refusing to sit down in court in protest over the seizure.

“In the name of God … ” said Bin Attash, 35, before the judge cut him off.

“Sit down,” said the judge, threatening to have the Yemeni removed from the court.

Bin Attash, who lost a leg in battle in Afghanistan in 1997, and typically kicks off his prosthesis in court, stood silently at the defense table in a traditional white gown throughout a heated exchange between his lawyer and the judge, before settling into his seat.

“Mr. Bin Attash did not break any rules,” his attorney, Cheryl Bormann, told the judge hours later, after the prison camps lawyer agreed to return his paperwork. She acknowledged the need for security checks but asked the judge to “order that they not seize properly marked mail” and also “not a picture of Mecca.”

The war court is in recess until April. This week’s testimony focused on whether intelligence agencies or troops have been disrupting confidential attorney-client communications in the death-penalty case, and the lawyers are still gathering evidence. In recent weeks, defense lawyers have discovered hidden microphones in their meeting room at the prison and a secret censor who until recently could mute what spectators could hear from the war court.

Besides Mohammed, a Pakistani man whom the CIA waterboarded 183 times before he ever got to Guantánamo, the others facing charges who came to court Thursday were: His Pakistani nephew, Ammar al Baluchi, 35, who had no documents seized from his cell, and Saudi Mustafa al Hawsawi, 44, whose lawyer said had a legal pad of attorney-client notes seized.

Most of the morning was dominated by one defense lawyer’s questioning by video feed of the Pentagon’s top official responsible for the Guantánamo war court, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, who’s title is “convening authority for military commissions.”

MacDonald, who divides his work time among Washington state, Washington, D.C., and Guantánamo, cleared the Sept. 11 conspiracy case for arraignment on May 5 over defense teams’ objections. The defense lawyers argued they had insufficient time or resources to present a proper file arguing that the men’s mistreatment in CIA custody before they got to Guantánamo meant it should not go forward as a death-penalty case.

MacDonald at one point began shouting at Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, defense lawyer for Hawsawi, as the two men disagreed over whether Ruiz was provided with a proper translator to speak with the Saudi captive.

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