WAR COURT

Outside counsel to probe FBI’s action in Guantánamo 9/11 case

 
 
In this Pentagon-approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin, Sept. 11 accused conspirator Khalid Sheik Mohammad confers with defense attorney Cheryl Bormann, in black abaya prior to hearing at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Thursday April 17, 2014. A Pentagon contract security officer approved this sketch for release.
In this Pentagon-approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin, Sept. 11 accused conspirator Khalid Sheik Mohammad confers with defense attorney Cheryl Bormann, in black abaya prior to hearing at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Thursday April 17, 2014. A Pentagon contract security officer approved this sketch for release.
JANET HAMLIN / ASSOCIATED PRESS

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

A four-day hearing meant to edge legal arguments closer to an actual 9/11 trial ended in uncertainty Thursday as the war crimes prosecutor named a special outside counsel to probe for possible FBI spying on defense lawyers.

No new session is scheduled until June 16th in the case of the five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.

Meantime, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor, announced the appointment of Justice Department lawyer Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez as Special Trial Counsel, then walled himself and the rest of the prosecution team from the work of Campoamor-Sanchez.

Officials have yet to determine the scope of the investigation, but Army Col. James Pohl, the 9/11 judge, acknowledged in court Thursday that the FBI may have indeed launched an investigation of the defense team of the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

“Right now it appears from the state of the current record,” he said, “there is some type of investigation by the FBI into Mr. Mohammad's team.”

By Thursday evening he appointed two unnamed independent defense counsel to advise Mohammed and 9/11 co-defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh on whether a possible a federal probe compromised or could intimidate their defense teams.

The issue blew up a week of hearings meant to address accused 9/11 deputy bin al Shibh’s mental fitness for trial. Monday, Bin al Shibh’s civilian lawyer, Jim Harrington, disclosed that two FBI agents had clandestinely questioned the classification specialist on his team and sought to enlist the Pentagon contractor as a secret informant.

Now, the prosecutor’s special trial counsel, Campoamor-Sanchez, has until Monday to explain to the judge, in a “full factual submission,” what he’s been able to discover about what the FBI is doing. Pohl left open the possibility that he might separately appoint independent counsel to the Sept. 11 accused.

Defense lawyers also want the judge to question the two FBI agents who showed up at the door of the contract member of the Bin al Shibh team, as well as a senior FBI executive who sometimes comes to Guantánamo as a case prosecutor, Joanne Baltes, on what they know.

The developments not only stalled progress toward trial for the five men accused of training, organizing, funding, and providing travel arrangements for the Sept. 11 hijackers but put in doubt whether any actual trial preparation will resume when the sides next convene.

After just three hours of actual public hearings, the development disappointed and distressed family members brought here by the Pentagon prosecutor to watch the proceedings.

“I want justice, I hope it’s going to happen some day” said Gloria Snekszer of suburban Atlanta whose sister, Vicki Linn Yancey, was killed in the plane that struck the Pentagon.

Snekszer expressed particular resentment toward the military and civilian defense lawyers who she accused of adopting a “very discouraging tact of delay, delay, delay.”

In one instance, she cited, veteran death-penalty defender Cheryl Bormann pressed the judge to get the Guantánamo prison to return to her client, Walid bin Attash, original copies of letters he wrote his attorneys.

“Well, I want my sister back,” Snekszer said. “And that’s not going to happen.”

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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