The Case of the Contraband Underpants

Who was smuggling illegal underwear to my client in Guantanamo? I would have to investigate

I am beginning to wonder whether someone has a sense of humour down in Guantanamo Bay. I was visiting the base recently and noticed a sign that announced the Task Force "value of the week": it was compassion. And then came the case of the contraband underpants.

I received a letter from an officer at the base suggesting that I might have smuggled some underwear in to my client, the British resident Shaker Aamer. Apparently Shaker had been "recently discovered to be wearing Under Armour briefs and a Speedo bathing suit". It seems he was wearing both contraband items in his cell at Camp Echo, where he has been in total isolation almost continuously since 24 September 2005, with only the flush of his steel toilet for company.

Initially, I wondered whether someone was pulling my leg. I was not sure what Under Armour underpants were, but Google filled me in: and Shaker pulling on his Speedos over some kind of form-fitting, moisture-wicking, performance apparel presented an improbable image. The authorities' records must reflect that I have not seen Shaker for more than a year; besides, there is a camera permanently focused on him in his cell that can hardly have missed such a splendid vision for so long. It was patently absurd that I would forsake my usual task - issuing legal briefs - for the business of supplying microfibre ones.

Although I was not the smuggler of this unique contraband, I felt an obligation to help solve the case. My investigation revealed the Under Armour brand to be popular with the US military. Indeed, the internet tells us that this "specialty clothing-maker is winning over soldiers and cashing in on war". The company has come out with a special line called Tactical Under Armour, so a soldier can be kitted out in camouflage green in the field even when he is caught with his trousers down. In one advertising image, a soldier is posed in his Under Armour 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-coloured fabric. He's a picture of soldierliness. And he's totally dry.

For a moment, it seemed that this alternative case for the prosecution was cut and dried as well - a soldier must have supplied Shaker with the offending undergarment. But then I came across the US amateur powerlifting association's website, and I learned that the unmentionables were mentioned there as well.

"I was wondering what the rule on Under Armour is?" queried the lifter Andy Obermann. "I wear the briefs with my squat suit - it makes it soooo much easier to get over my thighs. My first meet is coming up and I wanted to get that squared away before I show up. Thanks."

Perhaps some powerlifter had somehow slipped the smalls to Shaker? It seemed unlikely.

The swimming trunks posed a different dilemma: presumably the prosecution would theorise that Shaker wore his Speedos while paddling in his privy, that being the only water available to him. How to prevent such an outrage? I remembered a sign at a neighbour's pool in my youth and felt that if it reversed its admonition, it might prove helpful under the circumstances. The military could erect prohibitory signs in each prison cell: "We don't pee in your swimming pool, so please don't swim in our toilet."

When I started talking to people about the case of the contraband underpants, I was inundated with suggestions. Various folk queried whether I stood accused of "material support for terrorism". Fearing that the prisoners were dAf(c)shabillAf(c)s, an underwear distributor volunteered 2,000 free pairs of boxer shorts. Others suggested that we donate to each prisoner a pair in Guantanamo orange, stamped across the rear "Fair Trial My Arse". We were told that we must add proper care instructions - "Not suitable for waterboarding".

I am told the investigation is now closed, but my name has not been cleared: the authorities apparently prefer to keep the source of the contraband smalls a secret.

Clive Stafford Smith is legal director of Reprieve, a UK charity that provides front-line investigation and legal representation to prisoners denied justice by powerful governments across the world. The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Boy is published by Nation Books. He writes this column monthly. Contact him at Reprieve: or PO Box 52742, London EC4P 4WS

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