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Hearing for Accused 9/11 Plotters Weighs Alleged Government Meddling

FILE - Sketch of five Sept. 11 defendants, back row from left, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ammar al Baluchi, Ramzi Binalshibh, Walid bin Attash and the self-proclaimed terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, attend a hearing on pretrial motions in their death penalty case at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.

A U.S. military court on Wednesday tried to assess whether government agents interfered with the trial of five men charged with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by spying on defense attorneys and their clients.

The judge halted the pre-trial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison on Monday after one of the defendants said his interpreter had worked at a secret CIA prison.

When the hearing resumed on Wednesday, defense attorneys contended the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency had planted Arabic interpreters on the defense team, bugged conversations between the attorneys and their clients and questioned their support staff.

Defense attorneys told Army Colonel Judge James Pohl the apparent spying interfered with the defendants' constitutional rights to a fair trial in the slow-moving death penalty cases.

“We're in the realm of a Sixth Amendment violation here,” said David Nevin, attorney for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes a right to a fair trial and representation by counsel.

Pohl halted the trial after Ramzi Binalshibh, a 42-year-old Yemeni, said he recognized defense team interpreter Louay Al-Nazer from his time in a secret CIA prison.

A second detainee also identified the interpreter from a secret prison.

The hearing is the first in the case since the December release of a U.S. Senate committee report detailing torture methods used under a secret U.S. detention and interrogation program.

Defense attorneys claimed in April that FBI agents bugged rooms where lawyers met with clients. They also said agents questioned support staff about the defense attorneys and investigated at least one of the lawyers.

Pohl stopped that hearing and ordered a Justice Department investigation. Monday's session was a resumption of the April hearing.

It was intended to focus on whether Binalshibh should be tried separately. His defense team appears to have been a main FBI target.

The Guantanamo hearing was monitored by media over a closed-circuit broadcast at Fort Meade.