BY CAROL ROSENBERG
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Two Navy defense lawyers upended a prison camps taboo Tuesday and toured a top-secret detention facility that houses the alleged elite of al Qaeda, called Camp 7.
''We weren't hooded,'' said Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, Pentagon-appointed defense attorney for alleged 9/11 conspirator Ramzi bin al Shibh. She declined to provide details of the special prison camp whose exact location on this 45-square mile Navy base is considered a national security secret.
Pentagon officials will only say that the facility segregates some 16 former CIA-held captives from the 235 or so other war-on-terror detainees.
Among those sequestered there are alleged al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an Indonesian terror captive called Hambali and alleged arch-terrorist known as Abu Zubaydah, two of whom the CIA has confirmed waterboarding during overseas detention before President Bush ordered their transfer here for war court prosecution in September 2006.
Until Tuesday, only the Red Cross and unidentified prison camp personnel had seen Camp 7, a site so clandestine prison camp officials won't identify the commander of the secret detention center unit known as Task Force Platinum.
But a military judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, issued an order in October permitting Lachelier and her co-counsel, Navy Lt. Rich Federico, to inspect the portion of the prison complex where Bin al Shibh is held. The order covered a visit to his cell, two adjacent cells, a so-called recreation room, medical room and media room -- providing a glimpse of the facilities of the clandestine prison camp on Tuesday night.
Their purpose was to evaluate the circumstances of his confinement as part of ongoing hearings of whether he is mentally competent to serve as his own defense counsel at any future death-penalty trial.
Prosecutors have charged Bin al Shibh and four other former CIA captives, among them alleged 911 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a complex conspiracy case. They allegedly trained, advised and financed the 19 hijackers who commandeered American airlines on Sept. 11, 2001, and then crashed them into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing 2,973 people.
Bin al Shibh's attorneys have said in court filings that the Yemeni is being administered psychotropic drugs by U.S. military medical staff, which may hamper his ability to defend himself at trial. Under the terms of their access, Federico and Lachelier said, they could describe little about their 90-minute Tuesday night tour.
"We accomplished everything that the judge ordered," the commander said.
Pentagon officials consider Camp 7 such closely guarded secret that they consistently refuse to say how much money was spent on its construction -- in contrast to public disclosure of contracts for the other prison camps that sprawl across a bluff at Guantánamo overlooking the Caribbean.
In ordering the unprecedented access in October, judge Kohlmann noted that both Navy lawyers have top secret security clearances -- and volunteered to be blindfolded, if need be, as a condition of transport to the special prison camp.