The message travels among Guantanamo detainees in whispers between recreation areas and shouts through slots in cell doors: Don't trust the Americans. Boycott.
Guards call it the Detainee News Network, and it is now prompting inmates to turn their backs on their war-crimes trials at this U.S. Naval station in southeast Cuba.
Six detainees currently at Guantanamo have appeared before a military judge, and five of those have joined the boycott, which is expected to spread as more suspected terrorists are arraigned. The mass action threatens to give America's first war-crimes trials since the World War II era the appearance of perfunctory proceedings and reduce the image of justice being served.
The U.S. military says it plans to eventually bring some 80 Guantanamo prisoners to trial, including those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Defense lawyers say peer pressure in the detention camps, where the United States holds about 270 men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban, is helping drive the boycott.
Under the influence
The attorney for Mohammed Jawad, a 23-year-old Afghan accused of a grenade attack that wounded two U.S. soldiers, said older inmates have heavily influenced his client.
"Many of them are advising him, 'Don't trust the Americans, don't trust the attorney, don't tell them anything, don't cooperate, boycott,'" said the Pentagon-appointed attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt.
Jawad refused to attend his hearings in March. Military guards finally had to drag him from his cell so he would appear in court.
Most prisoners spend as many as 22 hours a day alone in their cells, but they still manage to communicate.
An Associated Press reporter who visited two maximum-security "camps" at Guantanamo heard men shouting to each other. Voices carry through air conditioning ducts and through cell-door "beanholes" through which food is normally passed.
The detainees can also speak with one another through chain-link fences during recreation time. Some have tried to pass written messages by inserting them in books from the prison library.
Other camps for "compliant" detainees allow communal living, where passing messages is far easier.
Prisoners have used the Guantanamo grapevine to organize hunger strikes and other acts of resistance. Military attorneys say the Detainee News Network is now promoting boycotts of war-crimes trials.
In defiant courtroom declarations, several detainees have dismissed pretrial hearings as a sham, complained of mistreatment in U.S. captivity and pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden.
"The truth is that you set the laws because you perceive yourselves as the gods in the land, and we believe that there is only one God in heaven," said Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, an alleged al-Qaida propaganda chief, during his appearance on Wednesday. He declared a boycott.
A spokesman for the Pentagon office overseeing the tribunals, Air Force Capt. Andre Kok, said officials are dedicated to protecting the defendants' rights but it is ultimately their decision to participate or not. The rules allow proceedings to continue without them.
Pressure increasing within center
No detainee has actually been put on trial before the "military commissions" created by the Bush administration in 2006. The process has been criticized by rights groups for allowing classified evidence and statements obtained through harsh interrogation techniques. One detainee has been convicted: David Hicks, who under a plea deal served a nine-month prison sentence in his native Australia.
Omar Khadr, a Canadian accused of killing an American Delta Force commando with a grenade in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15, is the only detainee who is fully cooperating with his defense team at the military commissions.
His lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, said he believes there is pressure throughout the detention center for accused detainees to boycott.
But Kuebler, who has been pushing for Canada to demand the repatriation of Khadr, said Khadr's participation at pretrial hearings is a "signal to people he's going to play by the rules and be a decent citizen if and when he returns to Canada."