FORT MEADE, Maryland: The United States was capable of eavesdropping on what were thought to be private conversations in court between the suspected plotters of 9/11 and their lawyers, a witness testified yesterday.
Maurice Elkins, director of courtroom technology at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay on the southeastern tip of Cuba, said 32 microphones had monitored such legal hearings, until changes were made on Monday.
Even whispered conversations, spoken in “a very, very low tone,” could be picked up on an unfiltered audio feed being handled by a government agency, he said, confirming defence lawyers’ worst fears.
Their contention that client-attorney privilege could have been breached by such arrangements dominated the second day of the latest pre-trial hearing.
Elkins’s admission came during questioning from James Connell, the attorney for one of the five men accused of orchestrating the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and led to US-backed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The unfiltered circuit was controlled by computer software that recorded everything said in court, Elkins said, unlike the “filtered circuit” relied on by journalists who cover the proceedings from behind a glass screen.
Censorship and how proceedings against the five men accused of the airliner plot have been conducted have been a focus of recent hearings.
A military judge overseeing the case ruled last month that the US government had censored a discussion regarding secret CIA prisons, preventing it from being heard outside the courtroom, and ordered such censorship to stop.
The suspected plotters of the attacks against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and involving another airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania face the death penalty if convicted.
Three of the accused heard yesterday’s legal arguments, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11 who with the judge’s permission was allowed to wear a camouflage jacket in the courtroom.