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For two detainees who told what they knew, Guantanamo becomes a gilded cage

Eight years after his arrival, though, Bosnian authorities came under U.S. pressure to force out former mujaheddin, largely because several had been linked to the millennium plot in Los Angeles. Sawah left the country.

Battle-hardened by the Balkan war, he was a prized recruit in Afghanistan. The U.S. military charges that Sawah trained under an al-Qaeda explosives expert and, after displaying a certain aptitude, was sent for further training at an al-Qaeda compound in Kandahar.

At some point, according to a military document, Sawah designed a shoe-bomb prototype, which "technically matches the design of the shoe bomb" used by Richard C. Reid, the infamous British bomber. He also penned a 400-page bombmaking manual, according to the military.

At Guantanamo, after some officials expressed skepticism about Sawah's master-bombmaker claims, he proved what he could do, showing off some drawings. Among those drawings, according to a former military official, was one of a device that he said could be attached underwater to the hull of a ship.

The official said the Navy built the device and tested it. It worked.

"He clearly knew what he was doing," the official said. "But it always seemed more like an occupation than a calling with Sawah."

Indeed, a 2008 military document said Sawah's disillusionment with his old life was so profound that "he has denounced Islam and is now an atheist."

When congressional delegations visiting Guantanamo were shown a detainee being questioned, it was sometimes Sawah -- a willing participant -- who was placed in front of them, according to a former military official. The overweight Egyptian was enticed with takeout from the Subway franchise on the base.

Witness protection?

Nearly eight years after their arrival at Guantanamo, Slahi and Sawah have all but exhausted their use as informants.

The capital case against Slahi collapsed when a military prosecutor refused to proceed because, he said, evidence had been obtained through torture. The detainee's fate is now on hold, as the Justice Department reviews the court ruling to set him free.

In 2008, Sawah was charged with conspiracy and material support for terrorism. He, too, has challenged his detention in a habeas proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington. His lawyer declined to comment.

A Justice Department-led review of the cases of all detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which recently wrapped up, decided that Sawah and Slahi are owed no special treatment. An administration official, speaking before the federal court ruling on Slahi, said the government wants either to prosecute them or to hold them in some form of indefinite detention without charge.

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