GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) - A senior official for the Guantanamo Bay prison said under questioning Tuesday that the government had placed a hidden microphone inside a meeting room but that he was assured it was not used to monitor the private conversations that prisoners have with their lawyers and the Red Cross.
Navy Capt. Thomas Welsh, the senior legal adviser to the commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison, conceded the microphone appeared to be intended to resemble a smoke detector in the ceiling of a meeting room for men labeled "high-value" detainees by the Pentagon and held in a special top security camp at the U.S. base in Cuba.
"I agree with your point that it was not recognizable, it was not readily identifiable," Welsh said under questioning by David Nevin, a lawyer for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The admission came during a pretrial hearing. Lawyers for the five men charged with planning and aiding the attacks have asked the judge presiding over the military tribunal to immediately halt the proceedings in the long-stalled case over fears that authorities have been monitoring their private conversations in violation of attorney-client privilege.
Military officials have said they conduct only video monitoring for security purposes of attorney-client meetings in the complex known as Echo 2 so that guards can quickly respond to an emergency. But Welsh said he learned in January 2012 that authorities had the capability for audio monitoring when he saw a law enforcement agent listening while a prisoner, his lawyer and prosecutors discussed a possible plea deal to war crimes charges.
Welsh said he went to the officer in charge of prison security to make sure no one was listening to private meetings the prisoner have with their lawyers or with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross who make periodic visits to Guantanamo. He testified that he was assured no such monitoring was taking place and the hidden microphone was disabled. It was not clear from the testimony whether there were listening devices in other meeting rooms at Echo 2 or elsewhere in the prison camps.
Prosecutor Clay Trivett sought under cross-examination to suggest that lawyers could have examined the listening device closely and determined it was not a smoke detector. Earlier, the chief prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, had said there was no evidence of any eavesdropping.
Defense lawyers have long suspected they were being monitored in Guantanamo. But the issue emerged in the Sept. 11 case during a Jan. 28 pretrial hearing when the sound system in the courtroom was suddenly cut, to the surprise of even the judge. The judge later revealed that a government official, from an agency that the military has refused to disclose, was following the proceedings from outside the courtroom and intervened to prevent the potential release of classified information.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, later said the information was not classified and he ordered the undisclosed government agency to disconnect any equipment that could unilaterally cut the sound. He also released a transcript of the censored remarks.