FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - A U.S. military hearing for five men accused of conspiring in the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington concluded early on Thursday after defense attorneys raised concerns they were being spied on by the FBI.
Progress on the pretrial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba ground to a halt this week after lawyers for the five men, described by the U.S. military as “high-value detainees” said they could not go forward because of possible Federal Bureau of Investigation involvement.
Jim Harrington, an attorney for Ramzi Bin al Shibh, a Yemeni citizen accused of wiring money to the 9/11 hijackers, on Monday disclosed that two FBI agents had approached a defense officer and asked him “to sign an agreement.”
The presiding military judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, has begun laying the groundwork for an inquiry into whether the alleged FBI investigation poses a conflict of interest for defense attorneys.
“Right now it appears, from the state of the current record, there is some type of investigation by the FBI” into the defense teams of Bin al Shibh and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Pohl said in court on Thursday.
“I‘m not making any finding at this time whether there is a conflict of interest for any defense team,” Pohl added. He said that Bin al Shibh and Mohammed, the admitted planner of the September 11 attacks, may need new attorneys.
Following Thursday’s session, Harrington told reporters the judge’s decision to stop the hearing “indicates the seriousness” of the situation.
The defense suggested the two FBI agents and the officer be called to testify, but U.S. military attorneys said it was unlikely the agents would disclose information about an ongoing investigation.
“There has been no waning in the effort under way to get this case to trial,” Chief Prosecutor Mark Martins said in a statement.
Prosecutors have asked for jury selection on the trial to begin in January 2015. Defense attorney James Connell said he foresees the trial could be delayed until 2017.
“I feel sad there’s not a speedy resolution,” said Claudia Jacobs, whose brother died in the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center. “It does, in some ways, prolong our pain.”
Jacobs was among a handful of victims’ family members who traveled to Guantanamo for the hearing.
Reuters monitored the hearing over a closed-circuit broadcast at the Fort Meade, Maryland, Army base.
The five defendants, who were captured in 2002 and 2003, could be put to death if convicted of key roles in the 9/11 attacks, which killed about 3,000 people.
Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson