Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mystery Underwear Stymies Guantanamo Investigators

The Washington Post reports:

The U.S. military has ended an inquiry into who smuggled unauthorized underwear and a bathing suit to two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without learning the source of the contraband skivvies, an attorney said on Wednesday.

The investigators concluded more vigilance was needed to prevent contraband from entering the camp that holds 330 suspected al Qaeda operatives, said Capt. Pat McCarthy, the military's chief lawyer for the detention operation at Guantanamo.

Media reports of underwear smuggling prompted snickers when it came to light last month and McCarthy admitted, "We laughed too."

But he said it was a serious breach because the Speedo bathing suit and the athletic-style briefs were made of very strong fabric that could enable them to be used as nooses, as could the cord that cinched the waist of the bathing suit.

"(It) sounds funny until a guy is hanging at the end of a Speedo drawstring," McCarthy told journalists visiting the base.

Officials said they were also concerned by the security breaches the incident exposed.

Four prisoners have been found dead and hanging in their cells from makeshift nooses, three in June 2006 and one in May 2007. Guantanamo officials have never said what was used to make the nooses except that the fourth was "a string type of noose." Formal investigations of all four deaths are still pending.

After the first deaths, the prisoners' underwear was switched from briefs with wide elastic bands to boxers made of flimsier fabric that rips under stress.

So camp officials were alarmed when two prisoners represented by lawyers from the same firm were found with the tough, stretchy Under Armour briefs favored by athletes. One also had the bathing suit.

The items were discovered during a recent routine check of the cells.

Investigators questioned everyone who came into contact with the two captives at the isolated, high-security camp on the U.S. base in eastern Cuba. When the guards and medics were cleared, the Office of the Navy Judge Advocate General sent the lawyers a letter in August asking if they had sneaked in the underwear.

The attorneys, Clive Stafford Smith and Zachary Katznelson of the British human rights group Reprieve, sent back a letter denying it and calling the question absurd. They said they had not seen the prisoners for many months.

Stymied, the investigators closed the probe.

"The conclusion is we are unaware of how they got that matter," McCarthy said. "We will continue to be vigilant to try to avoid a repeat of that."