For the first time, defense lawyers have been allowed to see a section of the Guantanamo prison that is so restricted, even its location on the U.S. base is secret.
Two military lawyers for Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks, were granted 90 minutes on Tuesday evening to view Camp 7, a section for "high value" detainees that has been shrouded in mystery since it opened two years ago.
The attorneys are trying to determine if their client is mentally competent to stand trial and to gauge the effects of the prison-within-a-prison on a man who, according to court documents, is so unstable that he believes his bed shakes and noxious odors are pumped into his cell.
Both lawyers, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier and Lt. Richard Federico, said they were barred from revealing what they saw on the tour.
Few details revealed about 'Camp 7'
"It was helpful. It was worthwhile," Lachelier told The Associated Press in one of the few comments she could make about the visit.
In a phone interview Wednesday from Guantanamo, Lachelier said she and co-counsel Lt. Richard Federico viewed the cell of Binalshibh, the adjacent cells, medical facilities and a room where detainees can watch movies.
They were taken to the camp in the same type of closed van used for prisoners, to conceal their route.
Binalshibh, who is from Yemen, was captured in September 2002 after a shootout in Pakistan, has been in Camp 7 since September 2006 when the U.S. transferred a group of alleged terrorists to Guantanamo from secret locations overseas.
They have been held separately from other prisoners to prevent disclosure of national security information, and have received visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
In recently filed court papers, military prosecutors say Binalshibh has complained of the bed shaking and strange smells. They also say he claims guards manipulate the cell temperature to make him uncomfortable and make noises to keep him awake.
The prosecutors, without providing details about the camp, deny Binalshibh's allegations and say he is not subjected to "prolonged" isolation.
"He has available to him outdoor recreation, socialization with a recreation partner, the ability to exercise, access to library books twice a week, the privilege of watching movies and may meet with his attorneys upon request should he so choose," prosecutors wrote in a motion opposing the defense request to see his conditions.
Binalshibh and four other Guantanamo detainees have been charged in the attacks that killed 2,973 people, the bloodiest terrorist strikes ever on U.S. soil. The charges carry a possible death sentence.
A judge has ruled there are enough questions about Binalshibh's mental health to require a competency hearing to determine if he can stand trial. Military doctors have evaluated him but their findings are secret.
His lawyers have previously said he has been given medicine used to treat schizophrenia but have not disclosed his exact mental condition. A hearing on his competency has not yet been scheduled.
The U.S. holds about 250 men at Guantanamo, including 16 men in Camp 7. The military has said it intends to prosecute about 70 prisoners in war crimes trials.