The case of the Guantanamo lawyer, the detainees and the illegal pairs of pants
Published 14/09/2007 | 09:06
For more than five years lawyers representing terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay have been pressing the American government to disclose the evidence against their clients.
Well now they have. And it doesn't make pleasant reading.
Commanders at the US naval base in Cuba have written to lawyers for two of the inmates accusing their clients of wearing contraband underpants and Speedo swimming trunks which they claim have been illegally smuggled into the high-security compound.
In a bizarre development that would be laughable if it did not have such serious implications, the US prison's staff judge advocate has now launched an official inquiry to discover who is behind the smuggling operation. The judge has named the prisoners' lawyers as the two prime suspects.
These allegations are the latest in a series of increasingly desperate attempts by the Guantanamo authorities to undermine the relationship between human rights lawyers and their clients. Muslim prisoners have also been told that their legal representatives are practising Jews or confirmed homosexuals.
Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of human rights group Reprieve, and another Reprieve lawyer, are both accused of threatening the personal safety of the prison guards by smuggling in the unauthorised clothing. Under US law it is a criminal offence to bring any illicit item into a prison.
In a letter written last month the judge advocate says: "Your client Shaker Aamer, detainee ISN 239, was recently discovered to be wearing Under Armor briefs and a Speedo bathing suit. Neither item was issued to the detainee by JTF-Guantanamo personnel, nor did they enter the camp through regular mail."
He adds: "We are investigating this matter to determine the origins of the above contraband and ensure that parties who may have been involved understand the seriousness of the transgression."
Mr Stafford Smith has written back dismissing the allegations as ridiculous, saying that the case smacks of the growing sense of desperation inside the camp. He says the letter he received is the "most extraordinary" he has ever received in his career as a human rights lawyer.
Mr Stafford Smith tells the judge: "I hope you understand my frustration at yet another unfounded accusation against lawyers who are simply trying to do their job – a job that involves legal briefs, not the other sort."
On the allegation regarding Speedo swimming trunks Mr Stafford Smith writes: "I cannot imagine who would want to give my client Speedos or why. Mr Aamer is hardly in a position to go swimming, since the only available water is the toilet in his cell."
Mr Aamer, 38, was captured in December 2001. The Americans claim he was fighting with the Taliban. Reprieve maintains that he was sold by villagers to the Northern Alliance who in turn sold him on to the Americans.
Mr Aamer's family fear he is is slowly dying – he has shed half his 17-stone body weight since his imprisonment five and half years ago.
He recently joined a hunger strike in protest at his detention without trial and was being tube-fed.
In one of his last, heavily censored, letters home Mr Aamer, a Saudi Arabian passport holder who has been living in Britain since 1996, asks for the right to die.
In May his wife and four children, who live in South London, feared he had died when it was reported that an anonymous Saudi national had been found dead at the base in Cuba.
The second detainee accused of wearing the contraband underwear is a juvenile named Mohammed El Gharani, a Chad national, who was just 14 years old when he was seized by the Pakistani authorities and sold to the US military.
Reprieve say there is no evidence that Mohammed ever travelled to Afghanistan, nor that he intended to do so. Nevertheless, he is now one of 20 juveniles Reprieve has identified as being held in Guantanamo Bay.
In interviews with his lawyers he claims he has been terribly abused, including having a cigarette stubbed out on his arm by an interrogator. He states that much of the abuse stems from his vocal objection to being called a "nigger" by US military personnel.
There are 355 prisoners, including Mr Aamer and Mohammed El Gharani, who are still being held at Guantanamo without charge or trial under a system that has been widely condemned for the treatment of the inmates and abuse of human rights law.
Last month the UK government asked the Americans to release five of the remaining British residents, including Mr Aamer. But there has been no firm sign that the Americans will comply. None of the men have ever been charged with any crime. This latest allegation, say the lawyers, smacks of desperation, perhaps signalling the endgame in the five year life of the unlawful detention camp.