GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Attorney James Connell has visited his client inside the secret Guantanamo prison complex known as Camp 7 only once, taken in a van with covered windows on a circuitous trek to disguise the route on the scrub brush-and-cactus covered military base.
Connell is allowed to say virtually nothing about what he saw in the secret camp where the most notorious terror suspects in U.S. custody are held except that it is unlike any detention facility he's encountered.
"It's much more isolating than any other facility that I have known," the lawyer says. "I've done cases from the Virginia death row and Texas death row and these pretrial conditions are much more isolating."
The Camp 7 prison unit is so shrouded in secrecy that its location on the U.S. base in Cuba is classified and officials refuse to discuss it. Now, two separate but related events are forcing it into the limelight.
In Washington, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on April 3 to declassify a portion of a review of the U.S. detention and interrogation program in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attack. The report, the release of which is opposed by the CIA, is expected to be sharply critical of the treatment of prisoners, including some now held in Camp 7.
And on Monday, a judge in Guantanamo will open a hearing into the sanity of one of those prisoners, Ramzi Binalshibh, whose courtroom outbursts about alleged mistreatment in Camp 7 have halted the already bogged-down effort to try five men in the Sept. 11 attacks, all of whom are held there.
Both issues are deeply intertwined. Binalshibh has accused the government of making noises and vibrations inside Camp 7 to deliberately keep him awake, reminiscent of the intentional sleep deprivation, along with other forms of abuse, that his lawyers say he endured at the hands of the CIA from the time he was captured in Pakistan in September 2002 to when he was brought to Guantanamo four years later.