The Pentagon denied Friday that military prosecutors saw the contents of confidential emails of lawyers defending the five detainees at Guantanamo accused of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Defense lawyers have asked for a delay in an upcoming April 22 pre-trial hearing after learning that their email communications with their clients had been compromised.
Judge James Pohl, who is presiding over the military commission trying the Guantanamo suspects, had already delayed a hearing for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, for the same reason.
Colonel Karen Mayberry, the military's chief defense counsel at Guantanamo, ordered lawyers representing detainees to stop exchanging confidential emails over the Pentagon's network.
Her order followed the discovery that defense emails and computer files in another case had been turned over to prosecutors by military personnel in charge of information security.
Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale, however, denied that prosecutors saw the contents of the defense emails, calling it "the biggest myth."
He admitted that a prosecutor and another Pentagon attorney did see one piece of confidential email but insisted they had not seen the contents of the communication, only the address line.
He also disputed a defense assertion that over 500,000 confidential defense emails had been seized, saying that prosecutors had no access to them and it was unknown how many were defense emails because they had not been reviewed.
While insisting that prosecutors had acted properly, Breasseale recounted a series of mistakes that suggested sloppy handling of confidential materials.
He said the prosecution received the confidential defense communications by mistake after it made a request through security channels for a search of emails between the prosecution and the defense.
"The representative from OMC (Office of Military Commissions)-Security miscommunicated the search parameters, which we assess is the likely reason it caused OMC-P (prosecution) to receive the privileged communications which, again, were never read by the prosecutors," Breasseale said in a statement.
The Pentagon spokesman also disclosed that there had been a "nearly catastrophic server crash" that had resulted in seven gigabytes of data unaccounted for, but said all sides were affected, not just the defense.
During the last 9/11 hearing, it was revealed that all conversations, including those whispered, between the accused and their lawyers could be heard by government monitors, whether they took place in the courtroom or in offices where they meet behind closed doors.