Guantanamo

The Guantanamo Defense Lawyers Quit Because They Found Microphones in Their Office Walls

The USS Cole defense team came to believe their meetings with their client were being bugged.

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Nashiri at his military arraignment at Guantanamo in 2011
Janet Hamlin/TNS/Newscom

The team of lawyers defending the accused USS Cole bomber resigned because they discovered their client meeting room was bugged, according to a report yesterday in The Miami Herald.

Attorneys for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the Saudi man charged with orchestrating the 2000 attack on the U.S. Navy destroyer, quit the case in protest back in October and have refused multiple orders from the presiding judge to return to the commission. Up to now, the exact motivation for their departure has been unclear, beyond that it was related to a dispute over attorney-client confidentiality.

But a prosecution filing obtained by Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, the only journalist continuing to cover the trial's proceedings, gives a fuller account of the events that have sent the 17-year-old effort to try the case grinding to a halt.

Those events began last August, when the defense team discovered that there were a number of microphones built into the walls of the room designated for them to meet with al Nashiri, who is being held in Guantanamo's mysterious Camp 7 under undisclosed conditions of confinement.

The defense team asked to raise the issue of the microphones before the judge presiding over the military commission, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath. They also wanted to get discovery regarding whether anyone had listened in on their meetings. But Spath wouldn't even allow them to specify their complaint in open court, and he denied the discovery motions. The three civilian attorneys then resigned, arguing that Spath had made ethical representation impossible.

Those resignations set off a bitter feud between Spath and the defense team as he attempted to get them to return to the case. When the Marine general in charge of the defense team refused to order their attendance at the commission, Spath held him in contempt and sentenced him to home confinement before being overruled by officials at the Department of Defense.

Then, apparently in a moment of intense frustration, Spath instructed the military prosecutors to draw up arrest warrants for the recalcitrant attorneys—even as he observed that their arrest would probably impede the proceedings even further by jeopardizing their security clearances, and thus their ability to keep representing al Nashiri.

Spath later thought better of his order, declining to arrest the lawyers but suspending the proceedings entirely instead.

In a lengthy monologue that betrayed intense emotional distress, Spath said from the bench that the case had caused him to consider retiring from the military. The stress and uncertainty had made him unable to sleep, the judge said, and he had resorted to running on the treadmill all night. Without instructions from a higher court, he couldn't keep hearing the case.

"We're done until a superior court tells me to keep going," he said. "We are in abatement. We're out."

Prosecutors are now asking the U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review, the intermediate appellate court for court-martial proceedings, to order Spath to resume the case. They claim the microphones were left over from previous unrelated interrogations conducted in the room, and that they were never turned on during al Nashiri's meetings with the defense.

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  1. “Carol Rosenberg, the only journalist continuing to cover the trial’s proceedings”

    Seriously?

    I suppose the media cut its substantive reporting budget the bone, and/or they’re too busy covering lifestyle stories and Twitter fights to do real journalism.

    1. Remember when high-profile trials were like a magnet for the media?

      And if the proceedings were closed it just got them all the more interested?

      1. It’s because no one gives a shit about Guantanamo that can actually do anything about it.

        1. This is a 17 year old case about an unsympathetic defendant that everyone wants executed.

          No one cares how long the trial takes.

  2. Someone please remind me why these cases “MUST” be handled via military tribunal instead of civilian criminal court because from where I sit this looks like a circus under a different name.

    1. Yeah, this isn’t really an advertisement for the vaunted superiority and speedy justice of military tribunals vis-a-vis the delays and shenanigans of civilian trials – a point which some of the tough-guy neocons used to focus on.

      1. I mean, reading about this story here, this is so damn Soviet sounding. We can be better than this. We need to not just give carte blanche to the military as if they are free of all sin.

        1. In Soviet Union, kangaroo courts you!

    2. It’s bullshit. It’s just a way to technically allow for indefinite detention without having to actually pursue charges.

      1. Worse than that, the legal premise behind Gitmo is that federal agents and officers are not subject to the constraints on treating civilians specified in the Bill of Rights if they are outside the U.S., or declare it an issue of national security, or whatever else they want to claim to elude these restrictions.

    3. Politicians don’t want to let people they’ve claimed are dangerous terrorists get acquitted because of egregious violations of their civil rights?

      1. Now if only you thought and wrote so clearly elsetimes.

        1. I am usually right about most things. It would serve you well to consider that.

  3. They claim the microphones were left over from previous unrelated interrogations conducted in the room, and that they were never turned on during al Nashiri’s meetings with the defense.

    And they said that with a straight face. The defense attorneys laughed, the bailiffs laughed, the lamp and the clock both laughed, but the prosecutors never cracked a smile.


  4. Prosecutors are now asking the U.S. Court of Military Commissions Review, the intermediate appellate court for court-martial proceedings, to order Spath to resume the case. They claim the microphones were left over from previous unrelated interrogations conducted in the room, and that they were never turned on during al Nashiri’s meetings with the defense.

    The Court of course then broke out into laugher and backslaps, and several exaggerated winks towards each other.

  5. Nothing pisses me off more than law and order assholes violating the Constitution.

  6. The descriptions of Colonel Spath’s conduct underscore the point that we need to find a way to attract a better class of person to our military and to law enforcement..

  7. I always figured that Spath was an incompetent nutjob, but now I’m beginning to think he is getting orders from above that are making his life very difficult.

    I can’t imagine that he would resign over this if he were the one driving the clown car.

    1. I tend to agree. It sounds to me like he’s getting pressure from above to bury this, but if that was true it’s odd that they didn’t trot out the ‘oh, those microphones? Those are uhh…just left over from something else. They’re not even, like, on man.’ excuse a bit sooner than they did.

      Sure, it’s a shitty excuse but it could be true and a shitty excuse is better than no excuse whatsoever if you’re into covering your ass.

      1. They opposed discovery on that issue, which should tell you all you need to know about whether the excuse is true.

      2. I agree, too. This sounds like rot that goes deep into the DoD.

  8. We must eliminate terrorism and live in complete peace
    The theme of expressing the homeland

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