By Tom Ramstack
FORT MEADE Md. - Attorneys for five Guantanamo prisoners accused in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks asked a military judge on Monday to order a hearing into what they called FBI intrusions into their confidential communications with their clients.
The defense attorneys say the FBI secretly questioned at least four members of their support staff. They are threatening to withdraw from the case, saying the FBI might have impaired their ability to represent their clients without a conflict of interest.
“Basically, we have had a spy in our team for a number of months,” said James Harrington, attorney for Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of wiring money to Sept. 11 hijackers and passing information to al Qaeda. “It obviously is very troubling to us.”
He asked the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, for a hearing to question FBI agents and former members of his own staff about the extent of the FBI’s actions.
Defense attorneys said FBI agents also questioned at least one of their private investigators and an Arabic interpreter. They believe the FBI agents asked their support staff not to tell anyone.
Prosecutors say the FBI questioned only an evidence technician about possible mishandling of evidence.
They say any relevant information about the FBI investigation has been disclosed to the court and defense attorneys.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez said the FBI had done nothing to create a conflict of interest that might require another hearing or for defense attorneys to withdraw from the case.
Cheryl Bormann, attorney for Walid bin Attash, said the FBI’s actions had a “chilling effect” on the defense team’s ability to represent its clients.
The Defense Department accuses bin Attash of training Sept. 11 hijackers and of being a bodyguard for late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The attacks using hijacked airliners killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Pohl scheduled a two-day hearing this week after defense attorneys alleged in April the FBI tried to turn one of their experts into an informant.
The defendants face possible death penalties if they are convicted on the charges.
The hearing was held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base prison in Cuba but monitored over closed-circuit television at a Fort Meade press room.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)