Controversial prisoner exchange spurs unusual interest in the reclusive Guantánamo outpost


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From the victim liaison:

Sent: 6/11/2014 1:14:56 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

Subj: Military Commissions Update

Dear 9/11 Families,

The Military Judge issued a Docketing Order on 4 June 2014 clarifying the issues that will be heard during our next session in Guantanamo Bay (see attached). First, he shortened the week of hearings to two days only (16 and 17 June) and also ordered that the only argument he will hear relates to AE292, the Defense Emergency Motion to Abate the Proceedings to Allow the Military Judge to Conduct a Thorough Inquiry to Assess a Potential Conflict of Interest Between the Accused and the Defense Counsel Because of a Separate Criminal Investigation.

During the April hearings, the Chief Prosecutor detailed a special prosecutor to represent the United States on the above motion, and in May he detailed four additional special prosecutors to assist in that representation. See AE003C (attached). Due to the possibility that defense attorney-client privileged information and or work product may be discussed and at issue during this hearing, the entire 9/11 Prosecution Team has been "walled off" from participation in any matter that relates to AE292. The special prosecutors will travel to GTMO to litigate this motion on behalf of the United States next week. Consequently, due to the privileged nature of the information that may arise during this litigation, it is likely that some, if not all, of the hearing next week will be conducted in camera and the public will be excluded from the hearing.

Knowing how difficult it is for our families to make this trip to GTMO, and with the likelihood that the families may get an hour or two in court at most, we decided not to bring families to GTMO in June. Those families that had already been selected and planned to travel will be offered the next available opportunity to attend, which is currently scheduled for 11-15 August 2014.

Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the litigation, the CCTV sites will remain open, although it is uncertain how much (if any) of the proceedings will actually be transmitted due to the potentially privileged information that may be at issue. VWAP personnel will travel to our four CCTV sites and open them for the 16 June session. Depending on how the Military Judge decides to conduct the hearing, however, the proceedings may be transmitted only for a short time. We also do not know, yet, if the site will be open on 17 June.

With Respect,

Karen Loftus

Director, VWAP and VFM CCTV Programs

Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Military Commissions

The Pentagon airlifted special prosecutors and an unusually large contingent of reporters to the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Saturday, in a trip that departed from the typical in several respects.

First, the Defense Department mounted the trip using a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane rather than a routine commercial charter flight — optics that underscored surging interest in the Caribbean outpost two weeks after the Pentagon used the same mode of transport to fly five long-held Taliban captives from the base in a prison exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from five years captivity in Afghanistan.

Also, while the reason for the trip was a pretrial hearing at the Guantánamo war court in the Sept. 11 death-penalty case, the judge Army Col. James Pohl, called it to tackle a single issue that has stymied progress: Whether an FBI investigation that questioned a contract classification specialist on the team of accused 9/11 plot deputy Ramzi bin al Shibh created a conflict of interest.

So rather than hear arguments from the case prosecutors themselves, the Pentagon was bringing in four special civilian prosecutors from the Department of Justice to answer the judge’s questions. Also, unusually, prosecutors chose not to bring Sept. 11 victims to watch the proceedings.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins III couldn’t say how much, if anything, the military was saving by substituting a U.S. Air Force four-engine cargo plane for its more typical $80,000 commercial charter plane to the war court.

But he said the trip included an unusually large contingent of media — 15 journalists — for the hearing and arraignment Wednesday of a suspected al-Qaida commander at a time of surging interest in the reclusive outpost in the aftermath of the prisoner exchange that has stirred protest on Capitol Hill.

“The past week we’ve had a clear spike in the American and international media attention related to all things Guantánamo, likely as a result of the swap,” Caggins said. “It’s for everything — it’s for detention camp tours, for military commissions, for Periodic Review Boards in Arlington (Va.,). The Defense Department is committed to transparency throughout these processes.”

Monday’s were to be the first time in 10 rounds of hearings since the five accused Sept. 11 conspirators were arraigned two years ago with no 9/11 victim family member watching the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, at Guantánamo’s maximum-security court through soundproof glass.

In an email to the families, the Pentagon’s victims’ liaison wrote that the coming week’s court arguments might rely on “privileged” information making it “likely that some, if not all” of the proceedings would be “conducted in camera and the public will be excluded from the hearing.”

She noted that the case’s usual prosecutors led by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins had excluded themselves from the issue — what the FBI was investigating and how many 9/11 defense team members agents questioned.

Families chosen for this June trip would watch at the next Guantánamo hearings, she said, scheduled for Aug. 11-15.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to provide professional biographies for the five-member special prosecution team who’ve been assigned to the Sept. 11 case by the general in charge.

They included two assistant U.S. attorneys for the District of Columbia Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez and Maia Miller; two trial attorneys at the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division Kevin Driscoll and Heidi Boutros-Gesch and Vijay Shanker, a deputy chief at the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section.

Shanker did not travel to the war court for Monday’s hearing, but the other four joined the judge, defense lawyers, reporters and observers inside the cavernous cargo plane for the three-hour flight Saturday from Andrews Air Force Base.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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