GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- At no time did a copy of al Qaida’s fiery Inspire magazine reach a captive or a cell at the prison camps, the detention commander said in a press conference Wednesday night, six weeks after a Navy prosecutor made headlines by informing the chief Guantánamo judge that it had.
“We caught it before it went into the camps,” Rear Adm. David B. Woods said, adding that Guantánamo prison camp staff intercepted a copy of the now defunct glossy English-language publication in a routine incoming mail scan.
The circumstances are bizarre because on Jan. 18, a war court prosecutor used the discover of the magazine to justify Woods’ new policy of having contractors scan the privileged legal mail of Military Commission attorneys. “There was material getting in, like Inspire magazine,” said Cmdr. Andrea Lockhart.
The supposed security breach went viral on the Internet in part because it was at odds with the Pentagon’s portrayal of its showcase detention center as extremely secure, with a staff of 1,850 keeping watch over 171 captives. Plus, before Inspire magazine went out of business after a U.S. drone strike killed its editor in September, it included propaganda about ex-Guantánamo captive militants, as well as feature stories like, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
The context of Lockhart’s comments suggested that the magazine was sent by a U.S. defense attorney working on habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantánamo detainees suing for their release in federal court. But a coordinator of the legal defenders, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, responded that if any such magazine had actually reached a captive it was more likely provided by a U.S. interrogator seeking to question a captive about it, or to curry favor.
“Detainees have in the past received books, truck magazines, chewing tobacco, personal electronics and fancy underwear as perks of cooperating with interrogators,” Kadidal said.
Curiously, Woods said he did not know precisely when the episode happened.
But he said he was certain it did not occur during his nearly six-month tenure as prison camps commander.
Moreover, he said, the sender’s identity was on the package and that person was “counseled” against sending “that kind of information.” The sender was still having contact with the camps after what the admiral called an “attitude adjustment of what is informational contraband.”
It is not known who is allowed to send mail to the captives besides lawyers and family members. But Woods steadfastly refused to describe even generically the person who was “counseled,” except to say in response to repeated questioning that it was not an interrogator or a member of the Joint Task Force of troops, agents and contractors who work at the detention center.
He would only say that the magazine was not marked as “privileged” attorney-client mail, and that it was caught in a routine mail scan.
Woods, who took command of the prison camps in August, stirred controversy in October by having his staff conduct a surprise search of correspondence between Pentagon-approved defense attorneys and former CIA captives likely to face war crimes tribunals. The goal of the search was to make sure that the prisoners’ legal mail was appropriately marked, and to weed out contraband, according to the prison camps lawyer, Cmdr. Thomas Welsh. No forbidden material was found.
Woods then instituted a legal mail review system that the Chief Military Commission Defense Counsel, Marine Col. Jeffrey Colwell, declared to be in violation of defense attorneys’ ethical obligations because it allowed Woods, effectively the warden of the prison, to review privileged attorney-client communications.
Several reporters had been asking for weeks about the alleged Inspire magazine security breach — in emails, phone calls and eventually Freedom of Information Act filings to Woods’ press aide, Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, the Pentagon’s Guantánamo issues spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, and Southcom spokesman Col. Scott Malcom.
Woods said he only sought to set the record straight Wednesday, bringing it up in a press briefing before taking questions from reporters, because, “Quite frankly, I wasn’t asked.”
He also used the briefing to defend detention under his command as “safe, transparent, humane, lawful care and custody” just days after 12 Pentagon defense counsel for six high-value captives wrote a senior policy official at the Defense Department that conditions had eroded at a secret part of the facility for ex-CIA captives since President Barack Obama dispatched the Navy’s Vice Admiral to Guantánamo in 2009 to review the prison camps’ compliance with The Geneva Conventions.