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Erotic novel causes stir at Gitmo war court

Attorney says guard gave prisoner copy of '50 Shades of Grey'

Aug. 22, 2013 - 10:05AM   |  
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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA — A lawyer for a Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged in the Sept. 11 terror attack said Wednesday that guards gave his client a contraband copy of the erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” apparently as a joke or an attempt to discredit him.

The allegation came weeks after a U.S. congressman returned from visiting the prison and said officials told him the book was a favorite among men in Camp Seven, the highest-security section of Guantanamo. It was a surprising comment since the military tightly restricts what prisoners can read and the novel isn’t in the main detainee library.

Attorney James Connell said his client, prisoner Ammar al-Baluchi, had never heard of the book until they discussed an article about the congressman’s assertion Monday. That night, guards in Camp 7 appeared with a copy of it, he said.

The lawyer said al-Baluchi turned the book over to him, unread.

“He says, ‘No thank you.’ He does not want the book,” Connell said. “It’s in my safe and as soon as I am able I will return it to Joint Task Force Guantanamo.”

The book does not have the mail stamp required for any material sent to prisoners from the outside, nor does it have a label from the detainee library, the lawyer said.

He said guards presented the book to al-Baluchi, who has been attending pretrial hearings this week in his death penalty war crimes case, as either a joke or “an attempt to plant something.” Connell said he did not plan to file a formal complaint, but added: “If this is a practical joke it has gone too far.”

Connell disclosed the discovery of the book during a break in a weeklong hearing on procedural motions for the five prisoners facing charges that include terrorism and murder for their alleged roles aiding and planning the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Al-Baluchi is a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Guantanamo prisoner who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the plot.

In July, Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, told The Huffington Post after a visit to Guantanamo that he was told about the popularity of “Fifty Shades” during a tour that included senior prison officials. He said it confirmed that the terrorism suspects held in secretive Camp Seven are not deeply religious Muslims as they have been portrayed.

At the time, the military refused to comment, even though the revelation seemed to contradict previous statements about allowed reading material.

Defense lawyers were skeptical, saying they had never seen the book in the prison or heard it mentioned. They said it would be out of character for their clients to read a book that has been banned in some public libraries in the United States because of the racy content.

Attorney James Harrington, who represents Ramzi bin al Shibh, another defendant in the Sept. 11 case, said his client had also not read the book and expressed suspicions about the motivation behind the original report.

“I don’t know where it’s coming from,” Harrington said. “It’s something that clearly was planted with this congressman who comes back to Washington and makes a big deal about it, all of which is designed to paint a picture of our clients and the other detainees here which is just not accurate.”

A Defense Department spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Todd Breasseale, declined to comment on the attorney’s allegations that guards gave the book to the prisoner.

He said he didn’t know how “Fifty Shades” would have made it into the camp. “I wouldn’t hazard a guess.”

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