Share This Page

Listening device confirmed at 9/11 hearing

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The military had a hidden microphone in a room where defense attorneys met detainees awaiting death penalty trials, a senior prison official disclosed at the war court on Tuesday.

But, eavesdropping equipment aside, nobody was using it to listen in on the confidential conversations prisoners have with their lawyers or the Red Cross, Navy Capt. Thomas Welsh, the prison camps' chief staff attorney testified.

Welsh said he discovered the eavesdropping capability in January 2012, after eight months on the job at Guantanamo, by spotting a “law enforcement official” listening in on a meeting between a detainee, prosecutor and defense lawyers. They were discussing a possible plea deal inside Camp Echo, a compound of huts. The microphone was inside a device that looked like a smoke detector. Welsh was called to testify by defense attorneys in the 9/11 trial hearings who are trying to uncover what intelligence agencies, if any, are capable of listening in on their confidential meetings, either at the court or the prison camps as they prepare to defend alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of orchestrating the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Welsh is a career Navy attorney bound by the same ethics practices as civilian lawyers.

He said he was so struck by the discovery of the capability eight months into his job as prison camps lawyer that he sought out the chief of the guard force, Army Col. Donnie Thomas, to gain assurances that nobody at Guantanamo was turning on the microphones to listen in on privileged attorney-client meetings.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, enabled the defense investigation last month when a hidden-hand censor, listening in on a secret channel, reached into Pohl's court, and clicked off the audio feed to the public.

Defense attorneys then discovered the dummy smoke detector in their meeting rooms. “It looks like a smoke detector,” Welsh agreed under questioning by Mohammed's attorney, David Nevin. “I agree with your point it was not recognizable, was not readily identifiable” as a listening device.

Neither Welsh nor Thomas apparently bothered to notify a boss, however, about the eavesdropping capability.

On March 6, 2012, the prison camps commander, Navy Rear Adm. David Woods, wrote Southern Command that at the place where lawyers meet accused in his prison camps “no microphones are installed to ensure privacy between the attorney and client is maintained.”

Defense lawyers got the email from Welsh, moments before he testified Tuesday, as part of a discovery order issued by the judge.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.