By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The warden of the Guantanamo prison camp testified on Wednesday that he had forbidden military guards from listening to attorney-client conversations but did not know that the rooms where the meetings took place had been bugged by intelligence agents.
Army Colonel John Bogdan has been the commander of the joint detention group at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Navy base since June 2012. He testified in a hearing to determine whether the government had been monitoring defense attorneys' private conversations with five prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Bogdan said he had been in the huts where those meetings took place five or six times but only learned earlier this month that what appeared to be smoke detectors on the ceilings were actually microphones. They had been installed long before his arrival and were part of an audio monitoring system maintained by "J2," the detention camp's intelligence component, Bogdan said.
He said he knew there were cameras in the meeting huts and that guards monitored the video to ensure no one was being harmed. But he said he reminded the guards on his arrival of the long-standing policy that "there was to be no audio monitoring of attorney-client meetings."
Prosecutors have insisted that no part of the government is listening to or recording attorney-client conversations, something that would be a serious ethical breach.
But if no one was listening, the defense lawyers asked, why was the audio system in the meeting huts repaired after workers cut the wires during a recent refurbishment? Bogdan said that had been done without his knowledge by an intelligence officer who apparently felt a responsibility to fix any equipment that got broken.
Bogdan also said he had not been told that defense lawyers sent a letter to the detention camp's top lawyer in October, alleging that their conversations were being monitored and demanding it stop.
"He (Bogdan) quite frankly has not been apprised by various agencies of what's going on in his own command," said Cheryl Bormann, a lawyer for defendant Walid bin Attash.
Bogdan said he had since removed the power supplies from the audio system and locked them in a safe to make sure no one could listen in.
Prosecutors said the microphones were in plain view and there had been no attempt to hide them. But when the judge asked if they were arguing that the defense lawyers should have realized they were listening devices, prosecutor Ed Ryan acknowledged, "It looks like a smoke detector."
The defendants in the case include the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other prisoners accused of making financial, travel and training arrangements for the hijackers. They could face the death penalty if convicted of charges that include murdering 2,976 people. None of them showed up for Wednesday's hearing, which focused on the eavesdropping issue.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)