This text was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Heart on Disaster Reporting.
WASHINGTON — In a bid to revive some entry to Guantánamo’s remoted detainees, prosecutors within the trial over the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults are proposing weekly video conferences between the 5 defendants and their legal professionals, which might require each side to work round social distancing protocols mandated by the coronavirus.
Legal professionals for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the lead defendant in the death penalty case, had asked the trial judge to let him speak with his lead lawyer, Gary D. Sowards, who is in self-quarantine in Manhattan. In making the request, they agreed that the conversation could be monitored.
In response, prosecutors proposed hourlong video conferences, a far more complicated and risky endeavor. That would require guards moving the defendants across the base to the courtroom to speak to their lawyers one by one through a secure video link to war court headquarters in Alexandria, Va.
To accomplish that, Mr. Sowards would need to obtain a waiver from the Defense Department to travel from New York City, a coronavirus hot zone, to the Pentagon. At 70, he is considered at higher risk for the illness and has been working from home under government guidelines.
The court has been closed since Feb. 25 and judges in the two capital cases have canceled hearings because the prison, in an effort to limit the virus’s spread, has imposed strict restrictions on entry to the detainees. One rule requires listening to contributors, who commute to the court docket from america by a Pentagon air constitution, to reach two weeks early and stay of their quarters to see in the event that they change into symptomatic.
The Worldwide Committee of the Crimson Cross disclosed this week that it had canceled its quarterly go to to the jail, which was scheduled for Could 22 to June 5, due to the virus. The group, which helps households join with prisoners all over the world, has been assembly the Guantánamo detainees and jail management at the least 4 instances a 12 months because the jail opened in 2002.
A spokeswoman for the Worldwide Committee of the Crimson Cross, Elizabeth G. Shaw, stated it had canceled a quarterly go to solely as soon as earlier than, in 2012, for administrative causes, and a go to in late August is scheduled.
At Guantánamo, 26 prisoners have been allowed to name their legal professionals for years. However those that had been held at secret C.I.A. prisons abroad earlier than arriving on the base, notably Mr. Mohammed and the opposite males accused of conspiring in assaults orchestrated by Al Qaeda, are allowed to speak solely by way of in-person conferences and authorized mail.
Per week in the past, the navy decide within the Sept. 11 case, Col. W. Shane Cohen, ordered prosecutors to discover the potential for providing defendants “some kind of telephonic or different entry by audio or video means to their counsel.” The coronavirus had induced the case to stall and affected communications between the defendants and their legal professionals, he stated.
It was Colonel Cohen’s final order within the case. He’s retiring from the Air Pressure.
On Friday, the chief decide of navy commissions, Col. Douglas K. Watkins of the Army, quickly assigned himself to the case for so long as the journey and work restrictions are in impact.
A lawyer for the defendant Ramzi bin al-Shibh since 2012, James P. Harrington, who’s leaving the case this summer time for well being causes, stated the video-link plan was problematic as a result of there have been no assurances that the C.I.A. or different individuals wouldn’t be listening.
He additionally stated transferring defendants outside the prison carried risks. “These guys are in a very vulnerable position,” Mr. Harrington said. “If one of them gets it, these guys are in a lot of trouble.”
James G. Connell III, a lawyer for Mr. Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi, said the proposed video chats would be more of a “health and welfare check” than a working lawyer-client meeting.
Under Pentagon policy, the lawyers would be required to wear masks. It was unclear what protection the prisoners would wear. The military declined to say this week whether the detainees at Guantánamo had been issued masks. None of the prisoners had been tested for the virus because they did not meet federal guidelines to merit one, the military said.
Mr. Connell predicted that because coordinating and making arrangements would be necessary, the first video chat could take place in the last week of May, after Ramadan, when the court has typically recessed.
The military disclosed on April 7 that one person on the 1,800-member military and civilian prison task force tested positive for the virus, but refused to provide additional details. Prevention measures devised by america Southern Command, which oversees the jail, instruct it to “decrease incidental contact with detainees and/or their residing/leisure areas.”