Guantánamo’s ridiculous underwear saga: the full correspondence

15.9.07

A selection of underwear, perhaps similar to the alleged contrabandThose with the stomach to see Guantánamo not just as a deadly serious affront to justice and human decency, but also as a dark farce, will have been entertained by the recent disclosure that the US military has accused Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of Reprieve, and his colleague Zachary Katznelson, of smuggling underwear into Guantánamo for two of their clients: Shaker Aamer, a British resident who has been held in solitary confinement since September 2005, and Mohammed El-Gharani, a Saudi resident, whose parents were born in Chad, who was just 14 years old when he was seized in a random raid on a mosque in Pakistan.

In the hope of revealing the extent to which the administration at Guantánamo is both paranoid and utterly devoid of humour, I reproduce below the complete text of the recent correspondence between the Navy Commander at Guantánamo who was charged with making a complaint to Stafford Smith, and the lawyer’s lengthy and hilarious reply:

August 12, 2007

Re: Discovery of Contraband Clothing in the Cases of Shaker Aamer, Detainee ISN 239, and Muhammed Hamid al-Qareni, Detainee ISN 269

Dear Mr. Stafford Smith.

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-Guantánamo personnel, nor did they enter the camp through regular mail. Coincidentally, Muhammed al-Qareni, detainee ISN 269, who is represented by Mr. Katznelson of Reprieve, was also recently discovered to be wearing Under Armor briefs. As with detainee ISN 239, the briefs were not issued by JTF-Guantánamo personnel, nor did they enter the camp through regular mail.

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. As I am sure you understand, we cannot tolerate contraband being surreptitiously brought into the camp. Such activities threaten the safety of the JTF-Guantánamo staff, the detainees, and visiting counsel.

In furtherance of our investigation, we would like to know whether the contraband material, or any portion thereof, was provided by you, or anyone else on your legal team, or anyone associated with Reprieve. We are compelled to ask these questions in light of the coincidence that two detainees represented by counsel associated with Reprieve were found wearing the same contraband underwear.

Thank you as always for your cooperation and assistance,

Sincerely,

[Name redacted]
Commander, JAGC, US Navy
Staff Judge Advocate

*****

29th August, 2007

Re: The Issue of Underwear (“Discovery of ‘Contraband Clothing’ in the Cases of Shaker Aamer (ISN 239) and Mohammed el-Gharani (ISN 269)”)

Dear Cmdr. [redacted]:

Thank you very much for your letter dated August 12, 2007, which I received yesterday. In it, you discuss the fact that Mr. Aamer was apparently wearing ‘Under Armor briefs’ and some Speedo swimming trunks and that, by coincidence, Mr. el-Gharani was also sporting ‘Under Armor briefs’.

I will confess that I have never received such an extraordinary letter in my entire career. Knowing you as I do, I hope you understand that I do not attribute this allegation to you personally. Obviously, however, I take accusations that I may have committed a criminal act very seriously. In this case, I hope you understand how patently absurd it is, and how easily it could be disproven by the records in your possession. I also 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.

Let me briefly respond: First, neither I, nor Mr. Katznelson, nor anyone else associated with us has had anything to do with smuggling ‘unmentionables’ in to these men, nor would we ever do so.

Second, the idea that we could smuggle in underwear is far-fetched. As you know, anything we take in is searched and there is a camera in the room when we visit the client. Does someone seriously suggest that Mr. Katznelson or I have been stripping off to deliver underwear to our clients?

Third, your own records prove that nobody associated with my office has seen Mr. Aamer for a full year. Thus, it is physically impossible for us to have delivered anything to him that recently surfaced on his person. Surely you do not suggest that in your maximum security prison, where Mr. Aamer has been held in solitary confinement almost continuously since September 24, 2005, and where he has been more closely monitored than virtually any prisoner on the Base, your staff have missed the fact that he has been wearing both Speedos and ‘Under Armor’ for 12 months?

Since your records independently establish that neither I nor Mr. Katznelson could not have been the one who delivered such undergarments to Mr. Aamer, this eliminates any ‘coincidence’ in the parallel underwear sported by Mr. el-Gharani. Your letter implies, however, that Mr. Katznelson might have something to do with Mr. el-Gharani’s underthings. Mr. Katznelson has not seen Mr. el-Gharani for four months. As you know, Mr. el-Gharani has been forced to strip naked in front of a number of military personnel on more than one occasion, and presumably someone would have noticed his apparel then.

Without bringing this up with me, it was therefore patently clear that my office had nothing to do with this question of lingerie. However, I am unwilling to allow the issue of underwear to drop there: It seems obvious that the same people delivered these items to both men, and it does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that members of your staff (either the military or the interrogators) did it. Getting to the bottom of this would help ensure that in future there is no shadow of suspicion cast on the lawyers who are simply trying to do their job, so I have done a little research to help you in your investigations.

I had never heard of ‘Under Armor briefs’ until you mentioned them, and my internet research has advanced my knowledge in two ways –- first, Under Armour apparently sports a ‘U’ in its name, which is significant only because it helps with the research.

Second, and rather more important, this line of underpants are very popular among the military. One article referred to the fact that “A specialty clothing maker is winning over soldiers and cashing in on war.” See here (emphasis in original). The article goes on to say:

In August [2005], a Baltimore-based clothier popular among military service members got in on the trend. * * * Founded in 1996, Under Armour makes a line of tops, pants, shorts, underwear and other “performance apparel” designed for a simple purpose: to keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

This stuff is obviously good for the men and women stationed in the sweaty climate of Guantánamo, as we could all attest.

It would be worth checking whether this lingerie was purchased from the NEX there in GTMO, since the internet again leads one to suspect that the NEX would be purveyors of Under Armour:

Tom Byrne, Under Armour’s director of new business development, told Army Times that “The product has done very well in PXes across the country and in the Middle East, and we have seen an increasing demand month after month. There is clearly a need for a better alternative than the standard-issue cotton T-shirt.”

There must be other clues as to the provenance of these underpants. Perhaps you might check the label to see whether these are ‘tactical’ underwear, as this is apparently something Under Armour has created specially for the military.

Under Armour has a line of apparel called Tactical that’s modified for soldiers. It features the same styles as civilian tops and bottoms — LooseGear for all purpose conditions, HeatGear and ColdGear, meant for hot and cold weather, as well as a line for women. But Tactical items are offered in army brown, olive drab, midnight navy and traditional black and white. Also, the Tactical section of the Under Armour Web site features military models, not athletes. In one image, a soldier poised on one knee wears a LooseGear shirt, looking as if he’d just as soon take a hill as take off on a run. His muscular arms protrude from the tight, olive-colored fabric. He’s a picture of soldierliness. And he’s totally dry.

I don’t know the color of the underpants sported by Messrs. Aamer and el-Gharani, but that might give you a few tips. Indeed, I feel sure your staff would be able to give you better information on this than I could (though I have done my best) as this Under Armour stuff apparently provokes rave reviews from your colleagues:

Soldier testimonials are effusive. On Amazon.com, a convenient place to buy Under Armour online, a customer who calls himself Spc. Sublett says he’s stationed in Afghanistan. Although his identity cannot be verified, Sublett does note the Tactical line’s less apparent benefits. “Sometimes I have to go long times in hot weather without showers. Under Armour prevents some of the nasty side effects of these extreme conditions. All of my buddies out here use the same thing. They’re soldier-essential equipment. The only thing that would make them better is if the Army would issue them.”

I don’t mean to say that it is an open and shut case proving that your military provided the underwear, as I understand that other people use Under Armour. One group I noticed on the web were the amateur weight lifters, who seem confused as to whether Under Armour gave them a competitive advantage. See, e.g. here (“I was wondering what the rule on Under Armour is? I wear the briefs with my squat suit –- it makes it soooo much easier to get over my thighs. My first USAPL meet is coming up and I wanted to get that squared away before I show up –- Thanks, [name removed]”).

However, in the grand scheme of things, I would like to think we can all agree that the interrogators or military officers are more likely to have access to Messrs. Aamer and el-Gharani than the US Amateur Power Lifting Association.

On the issue of the Speedo swimming trunks, my research really does not help very much. 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.

I should say that your letter brought to mind a sign in the changing room of a local swimming pool, which showed someone diving into a lavatory, with the caption, “We don’t swim in your toilet, so please don’t pee in our pool”. I presume that nobody thinks that Mr. Aamer wears Speedos while paddling in his privy.

Please assure me that you are satisfied that neither I nor my colleagues had anything to do with this. In light of the fact that you felt it necessary to question whether we had violated the rules, I look forward to hearing the conclusion of your investigation.

All the best.

Yours sincerely,

Clive A. Stafford Smith

Note: anyone in doubt that allegations against lawyers sometimes take on a graver hue should consult a recent article I wrote here. For more on the background to Shaker Aamer’s story, see here, and for information on Mohammed El-Gharani’s case, see here. In addition, both prisoners are discussed in my book, The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

4 Responses

  1. Stephanie says...

    Oh my goodness how stupid is that. A pair of cool looking underwear being consider contraban!!! That is beyond stupid and total waste of paper and a stamp. I just can not believe they are going to waste time and money investigating such a thing!

  2. Stephanie says...

    Also, I do have to say that all of the underwear is very nice and really cool looking. I am definitely going to look into getting a pair for my fiance. Nice post, I look forward to sharing this ridiculous allegation to my friends they will surely get a thrill out of it!

  3. Alice says...

    Guantanamo is such an awful thing that USA does, I hope Obama will solve it soon.

  4. Guantánamo And The Courts Part One: Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] laws never prevented lawyers from visiting their clients in Guantánamo (although the Pentagon did all it could to be obstructive), but they did freeze the habeas cases, leaving the men to stew in a legal limbo that became all [...]

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