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U.S. Probes Banned Briefs Found at Gitmo

Associated Press | September 15, 2007
BEN FOX

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp found two prisoners sporting unauthorized underwear, and the U.S. military is investigating to determine how they got the contraband.

Both prisoners were caught wearing Under Armour briefs and one also had on a Speedo bathing suit, items the military said were not issued by Guantanamo personnel or sent through the regular mail, according to a Defense Department letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

Army Lt. Col. Ed Bush, a spokesman at the jail holding some 340 men on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, said more was involved than just an uproar over skivvies.

He said the appearance of contraband raised serious concerns about the potential for smuggling other items that could be used by detainees to harm themselves or staff.

"There is no room for error when working in a dangerous environment, and constant vigilance is of the utmost importance," Bush said.

Detainees are given cotton briefs similar to those issued to U.S. soldiers in basic training, he said.

The letter, sent last month by the Office of the Navy Judge Advocate General to a lawyer for one of the prisoners involved noted both detainees are represented by the British human rights group Reprieve and suggested attorneys might have "surreptitiously" provided the garments.

"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 this transgression," said the letter, which was provided to AP by one of the attorneys, Clive Stafford Smith.

Stafford Smith called the suggestion that he or the other lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, smuggled underwear to prisoners "patently absurd."

"Neither I, nor Mr. Katznelson, nor anyone else associated with us has had anything to do with smuggling 'unmentionables' into these men, nor would we ever do so," he wrote in response the letter.

Stafford Smith noted lawyers are searched when they enter the detention center and a camera monitors them while they visit clients.

"The idea that we could smuggle in underwear is farfetched," he wrote in his reply.

He said Under Armour briefs are popular with members of the military and suggested investigators check to see if the offending underwear was purchased at the U.S. Navy base where the prison is housed.

One of the detainees -- the one with the Speedo and Under Armour -- is Shaker Aamer, a Saudi Arabian nicknamed "the professor" by Guantanamo guards who is considered a leader among the detainees.

A former resident of Britain, Maryland and Georgia, Aamer has been accused by the U.S. of once sharing an apartment with convicted terror plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and receiving a stipend directly from Osama bin Laden. He denies the allegations, and the British government has called for his release.

The other detainee was identified in the letter as Muhammed al-Qareni, who military records show was born in Saudi Arabia but is a citizen of Chad. He has been accused of being an al-Qaida fighter in Afghanistan, an allegation he has denied.

Both have been held at Guantanamo for more than five years.

At the time the letter was received, Aamer had not seen his lawyer for a year and al-Qareni had not been visited by Katznelson for four months, Stafford Smith said.

Stafford Smith has previously accused the military of attempting to falsely link him to the June 2006 suicides of three prisoners at Guantanamo, saying at least one of his clients reported being questioned about whether the lawyer had any role in the incident.

U.S. officials did not comment on the claim but the former commander has said in court papers that he had asked investigators to try to determine whether the suicides were "encouraged, ordered or assisted by other detainees or third persons."

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