Guantanamo judge rejects 9/11 defense conflict of interest claim

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 26, 2015 11:35 AM

By Ian Simpson

FORT MEADE, Md. - A Guantanamo Bay judge on Monday rejected claims by lawyers for a Yemeni Sept. 11 suspect that a U.S. government investigation of the attorneys had created an ethical conflict of interest for them.

But the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, said the defense team would be given access to documents involving the 18-month investigation. Defense lawyers can file a motion if they believe the documents show there is a conflict that could compromise their representation, he said.

The pre-trial hearing stemmed from claims by lawyers for Sept. 11 suspect Ramzi bin al Shibh. They said the defense team was burdened by an ethical conflict resulting from the probe of things the lawyers did for their Yemeni client.

The secret investigation started after defense attorneys allowed a Guantanamo detainee to relay a five-minute personal message through a translator’s telephone call to his family. It concerns whether the lawyers violated national security laws that forbid defendants' communications with unauthorized people.

The investigation was closed last month without criminal charges. The dispute in a military court had threatened further delays in trials for the alleged conspirators, which have dragged on for nine years.

Bin al Shibh is charged with hijacking, terrorism and mass murder, accused of conspiring with the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers who hijacked airliners and slammed them into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks.

Pohl had previously described the investigation as a routine procedure that could be targeted at many government employees and contractors.

In a separate motion by another Sept. 11 suspect, Walid bin Attash, that he represent himself in the case, defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann said she needed more time to explain the issue to him.

Bin Attash told Pohl he was ready to discuss self-representation with him. "I don't need any more discussion with my attorney," he said.

Pohl recessed the hearing until Wednesday to allow Bormann to meet with bin Attash.

The hearing at the U.S. Navy prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was carried over closed-circuit television to a media center at Fort Meade, outside Washington.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Doina Chiacu)