No apologies for beauty queens' tour of Guantanamo

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Guantanamo's prison camps commander said Thursday he would continue to allow celebrity visits despite a simmering controversy over a visit last month by Miss Universe and Miss USA.

"They were on tour to say 'hello and thank you' to the guard force,'' said Navy Rear Adm. David M. Thomas Jr., sweeping aside a claim that letting celebrities see war-on-terror detainees violated Geneva Convention protections.

The USO, the group that sent comedian Bob Hope to Vietnam, sponsored the visit March 21-24 by Crystle Stewart, Miss USA, and Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza, a 22-year-old model from Venezuela, who posted a glowing description of this remote Caribbean outpost on her Web site.

''The water in Guantánamo Bay is soooo beautiful!'' gushed Mendoza, who was crowned Miss Universe 2008 in Vietnam.

She also made passing mention of meeting military dogs and her visit to the prison camps, ''the jails, where they shower, how they recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books,'' she said. "It was very interesting.''

Guantanamo guards said the beauty queens were dressed conservatively and drew no particular attention from detainees when they stood at the same spot where journalists typically watch captives living in a communal-style compound called Camp 4.

A provision of the Third Geneva Conventions forbids the parade of POWs for ''public curiosity'' -- a rule that the Pentagon has interpreted to mean that news photographers can take only pictures that blur the identities of the captives.

Thomas noted that ''the press sees the same stuff'' in its visits to the camps as did Mendoza and Stewart. "We certainly are very scrupulous in our adherence to the Geneva Conventions.''

But Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier, a defense lawyer whose client, a Sudanese captive, lives in Camp 4, said that U.S. reporters have a First Amendment right to visit the place.

''What exactly was she reporting on?'' said Lachelier, referring to Mendoza's blog posting. "The suntan she got in Guantánamo?''

In a statement posted on the Miss Universe Web site, Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, said Mendoza's blog comments "were in reference to the hospitality she received while meeting the members of the U.S. military and their families who are stationed in Guantanamo.''

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