Judge in Sept. 11 Case Rejects Conflict Accusation After Paralegal Questioned, But Medical Issue Ends Session

By John RyanJanuary 29, 2019Guantanamo Bay, News & Features

Defense attorney James Harrington appeared in court this week in a session cut short by a medical issue affecting the judge.
Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba – Longtime defense attorney James Harrington paraphrased the oft-quoted line by Joseph Heller in “Catch-22” to make his point to the new military judge on the Sept. 11 case: Just because the five defense teams in the courtroom might sound paranoid, that doesn’t mean the government isn’t after them.
“There’s a real basis for our paranoia,” Harrington, the lead defense attorney for Ramzi bin al Shibh, argued on Monday near the start of the case’s 33rd pretrial session.
Harrington and other defense lawyers tried to convince Marine Col. Keith Parrella to delay this week’s hearings until the government provided more information about the FBI’s recent interrogation of a former paralegal from one of the defense teams. Lawyers said they needed the details to determine if they were operating under a conflict of interest and assailed what they said was another attempt by the government to disrupt their work through criminal investigations, intrusions and harassment.
Harrington himself was the target of an FBI investigation earlier in the case. His discovery in April 2014 that the FBI had turned one of his team members into an informant ended up derailing the Sept. 11 case for nearly 18 months.
“We have reasons to distrust the law enforcement agencies involved in this case,” Harrington said.
But Parrella was persuaded by information he received from Justice Department lawyers with knowledge of the ongoing national security investigation that no current members of any of the five teams were implicated. He said the defense teams’ fears and assumptions about the investigation should not delay progress in the case.
The session moved forward on Tuesday with oral arguments on whether a witness planned for Wednesday would testify in open or closed court. The witness worked as an interpreter for the CIA and then mysteriously appeared in court on Harrington’s team in February 2015; bin al Shibh and other defendants said they recognized him from CIA black sites, where they suffered years of abuse before their arrival at Guantanamo Bay in September 2006. The bizarre incident sparked years of litigation and is part of the long list of government intrusions regularly cited by defense teams.
Parrella sided with the government late Tuesday that the testimony would be completely closed. Hours later, however, the military commission announced that the rest of the session was cancelled because the judge had a serious medical issue and had to be evacuated off the island.
A spokesman for the commissions said the health issue was not life-threatening. Pretrial hearings are scheduled to resume with a two-week session starting March 18th.