FORT MEADE, Md. – The commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison on Tuesday defended his order to require a security review of legal mail to prisoners facing charges for war crimes. He said it balances the need for defense attorneys to communicate with their clients with demands for security and safety on the base.
Rear Adm. David Woods testified at a pre-trial hearing in a case against a Saudi man charged with orchestrating the deadly attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 47, is considered one of the most senior al-Qaida leaders. He has been held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2006.
Al-Nashiri's attorneys said Woods' order would violate attorney-client privilege. They are asking a military judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to overturn the rule, setting up a potentially contentious situation between Pohl and Woods. More testimony on the order is scheduled for Wednesday.
"I'm trying to please all parties in this case," Woods said.
Pohl rejected a motion by Al-Nashiri's attorneys to allow him to be unshackled when he attends meetings with his lawyers at the U.S. base in Cuba. The judge said the defense was asking that he substitute his judgment for that of the military guards at Guantanamo.
Rick Kammen, one of the Al-Nashiri's lawyers, said that the government could adequately secure Al-Nashiri and protect the rest of the population at Guantanamo by locking the door of the meeting room.
Al-Nashiri was captured in 2002 in Dubai and was held by the CIA in a series of secret prisons before being moved to Guantanamo.
Al-Nashiri was one of the prisoners subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He also was threatened with a gun and a power drill because interrogators believed he was withholding information about possible attacks against the U.S., according to a report from the CIA inspector general.
Al-Nashiri was "very severely traumatized" by his treatment, Kammen said, and keeping him shackled at Guantanamo reinforced a sense of helplessness in his client.
The lead U.S. prosecutor, Anthony Mattivi, urged Pohl to reject the defense's motion. "This is not the defense's call," he said. "It is the commander's call."
The Associated Press and other news organizations viewed the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay on a closed circuit telecast shown in a small theater at Fort Meade, a military base located between Washington and Baltimore.
Due to the angle of the camera in the courtroom at Guantanamo, Al-Nashiri could be seen only intermittently during Tuesday's proceedings. He was wearing a white prison uniform and sitting next to his defense team. Al-Nashiri was not shackled during his hearing.