GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A military judge was deciding on Tuesday how much access defense lawyers should have to a secret section of the Guantanamo Bay prison where five men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks have been held in near-total secrecy for more than six years.
Lawyers for the prisoners say they need to spend time inside Camp 7 to evaluate conditions to defend clients charged with aiding and planning the attacks as well as to prepare for any eventual penalty phase in the death penalty case.
Prosecutors told a judge at a pretrial hearing they do not oppose allowing the defense lawyers to see the inside of Camp 7, but want to limit the number of visitors and oppose a defense request to spend 48 continuous hours inside a facility so shrouded in secrecy that its precise location on the U.S. base in Cuba is secret.
Army Maj. Robert McGovern, a member of the prosecution team, said an extended visit could compromise security and he asked the military judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to impose restrictions on the visit.
"We don't think it is appropriate to be able to just walk around the confinement facility and just tap people on the shoulder," McGovern told the judge during a four-day pretrial hearing in the case.
The five defendants, who include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, were transferred to Camp 7 in September 2006 from clandestine CIA prisons.
David Nevin, a lawyer for Mohammed, said the defense needs 48 hours of continuous observation to "document exactly what life in these camps is like."
The military allowed two defense lawyers to take a brief tour of the facility in 2008 but otherwise kept it off-limits.
Judge Pohl did not issue an immediate ruling laying out the exact terms of their access. It was one of about two dozen motions he considering this week. The five face charges that include murder and terrorism for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Their trial is at least a year away.