9/11 trial lawyer criticizes conditions at secret prison

The defense attorney for the nephew of the alleged Sept. 11 attack mastermind got a first look at a mysterious prison where former CIA captives are kept here, and Sunday declared conditions at odds with the Geneva Convention governing how prisoners are treated.

Pentagon defense lawyer James Connell said he spent 12 hours on Thursday with his client Ammar al Baluchi inside the compound called Camp 7, a secret camp where captives who were waterboarded overseas and others are kept incommunicado.

He took “hundreds of photos,” he said, all now in the hands of intelligence officials, and has objections to raise, first with the prison commander. If the commander doesn’t fix it, Connell said, he would file a motion with the chief war court judge.

Connell said the circumstances of his access did not allow him to specify the issues but said broadly, “preventative detention requires a number of things, essentially elements of communal living, a number of things that concerned us.”

Camp 7 is Guantánamo’s most secret maximum-security lockup, so secretive that military officials on base describe it as a classified site.

Spokesmen for the prison, whose motto is “safe, humane, legal, transparent” detention say they are not allowed to discuss it.

Monday morning, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, offered a generalized defense of “conditions at all of our detention facilities,” saying they “meet or exceed the minimum standards set forth in Common Article 3” of the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. government, he said, “takes very seriously its obligation to provide humane care and custody of detainees.”

The chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, wouldn’t comment on whether potential problems at the secret lockup could complicate his proposal to hold the 9/11 conspiracy trial in September 2014. “We take very seriously humane standards,” he said, adding, “I’m not responsible for the facility.”

Martins ducked a question of whether the CIA ran Camp 7, saying only, “It’s a law-of-armed-conflict facility.”

Martins also called the 2014 trial date “a mark on the wall” but noted that only the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, makes the final decision.

Officials at the U.S. Southern Command, which supervises the prison, wants $49 million from Congress to build a new Camp 7. In Miami, Army Col. Greg Julian, for Southcom, said of Camp 7: “The structure’s foundation is shifting and heaving, making it more cost effective to replace than repair.”

In his lone reference to Camp 7, Breasseale added: “Structural issues at the High Value Detainee facility do not constitute inhumane conditions of confinement.”

Lawyers for the alleged mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the other three men accused in the case are still negotiating with commanders to spend time at the prison, in compliance with Pohl’s order granting them access in February.

Camp 7 is also the place where commanders told a congressional delegation recently that the erotic book Fifty Shades of Grey was in circulation among the detainees — even though the prison camp’s library says it is prohibited. Connell said he was skeptical about the claim, saying it was unlikely reading at the camp housing the five men awaiting a death-penalty trial as alleged conspirators in the 9/11 plot.

Connell said he thought Camp 7 commanders told members of Congress about the book as “a joke or some kind of disinformation.”

The Pentagon-paid lawyer raised questions about Camp 7’s compliance on the eve of a week of pretrial hearings in the Sept. 11 case charging terrorism, conspiracy and 2,976 counts of murder that are expected to mostly focus on legal arguments and procedural issues, including how much secrecy will surround the trial before a panel of U.S. military officers.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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