Guantánamo Defendants’ Private Conversations with Lawyers Could Have Been Monitored via Hidden Microphones

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Guantanamo prisoner Ramzi Binalshibh, right, with a translator (drawing by Janet_Hamlin, AP)

Attorneys representing detainees at Guantánamo Bay have had their worst fears confirmed about the possibility of government eavesdropping on their conversations with clients facing military tribunals.


Two military sources at the U.S. naval base have publicly said that hidden microphones were planted in rooms where defense lawyers meet with detainees.


Navy Captain Thomas J. Welsh, Guantánamo’s staff judge advocate, told The Washington Post that the microphones were placed inside devices that look like smoke detectors in rooms where attorney-client meetings take place.


In addition, Maurice Elkins, director of courtroom technology at the base, testified that 32 mikes were used to monitor legal hearings even when public microphones were muted.


Welsh insisted that, during his watch, the government did not use the listening devices to spy on attorney-client communications. He said a base commander assured him that the audio system is turned off when lawyers meet with their clients.


The mikes are so sensitive that even whispered conversations can be picked up by those listening on the other end.


Concerns over government eavesdropping at Guantánamo first arose during a pretrial hearing of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others accused of plotting the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


During the hearing, an unknown government agency, believed to be the Central Intelligence Agency, turned off the audio feed from the courtroom for a short period.


The revelation that an audio “kill switch” existed caught the military judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, by surprise. Pohl later ordered that only he could cut the audio during future proceedings.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

At Guantanamo, Microphones Hidden in Attorney-Client Meeting Rooms (by Peter Finn, Washington Post)

Officials Able to Eavesdrop on Private Conversations between 9/11 Suspects and Their Lawyers in Court: Expert Witness (Agence France-Presse)

Unexplained Blackout of Discussion of CIA Interrogation Centers at 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearing (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Guantánamo Military Lawyers Protest Harsh Limits Imposed by Pentagon (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Military Judge Orders Guantánamo Prisoners not to Talk in Court about being Tortured (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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