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In the months since the New Statesman first broke the Case of the Contraband Underpants, there have been significant developments in the story. Readers may recall that intrepid US military investigators in Guantanamo Bay thought they had uncovered a plot going to the heart of the war on terror – it was alleged that Reprieve lawyers had smuggled in a pair of Under Armour underpants and some Speedo swimming trunks to a prisoner, Shaker Aamer. Shaker is a British resident from south London who has now endured six years in Guantanamo, denied the fundamental right to microfibre, moisture-wicking undergarments (in addition to the right to be charged, to a trial, to see his family, and so forth).
Heated exchanges followed. The US military (by now renamed the Pantygon around here) levelled the initial allegation. At Reprieve, we insisted the charge was below the belt, noting that Speedos were rather surplus to requirements when the only water that Shaker had access to was in a steel toilet bowl. But it was clear the military deemed underpants to be a major concern in the war on terror. Perhaps they were right. Indeed, underpants have been creeping to the top of the national agenda on other fronts. Recently, Newsnight‘s Jeremy Paxman found that offerings from Marks & Spencer were no longer up to the job, a subject he described as one of “great concern to the men of Britain”.
At Reprieve we felt the need to offer Paxo some support. Along with our allies at the lingerie designers Agent Provocateur, we developed a line of intimate apparel in Guantanamo orange, with “Fair Trial My Arse” emblazoned across the derrière. Turning from the BBC to Downing Street, we suspect that Gordon Brown’s popularity will soar after he tries on his Valentine’s Day present from Reprieve: his own pair of Fair Trial My Arse pants, discreetly delivered to No 10 . . .
Of course, bad taste aside, Fair Trial My Arse bears a serious message, particularly given this past week’s announcement that the US military plans death-penalty trials in Guantanamo Bay. The main objections to tribunals have been well summarised by Colonel Morris Davis, the former chief military prosecutor. In October, he resigned from his post making three allegations: that the politicians had taken over the process with little concern for fairness, that evidence extracted under duress would be admissible, and that there would still be secret proceedings.
No matter what the Bush administration spin, this will indeed be a case of Fair Trial My Arse. We hope the slogan will become a rallying cry for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and the secret prisons that proliferate around the world. At the very least, perhaps it will inspire the Prime Minister to help us shame the United States authorities into providing a fair process for Shaker Aamer and Binyam Moha med. They are, after all, British residents who could tell you from first-hand experience that Guantanamo Bay is, indeed, pants.
Clive Stafford Smith is director of Reprieve, a UK charity that provides free front-line investigation and legal representation to prisoners denied justice by powerful governments across the world. For information or to donate, log on to www.reprieve.org.uk, or contact Reprieve, PO Box 52742, London EC4P 4WS. Tel: 020 7353 4640
Agent Provocateur stores across the UK and US are showcasing the Fair Trial My Arse initiative in their window displays this month. The FTMA bikini briefs are priced at £35