Strong reaction to Guantanamo deaths
There has been strong reaction from governments and human rights groups to the suicides of three prisoners at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.

A senior US government official described the suicides of the Yemeni man and two Saudis as a 'publicity stunt'.

Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, said the men's deaths were aimed at focusing attention on their own agenda.

The commanding officer at Guantanamo Bay said the suicides amounted to an act of war, waged against the United States. 

Zachary Katznelson, of the human rights organisation Reprieve, said the deaths came about not through a co-ordinated plan but because of hopelessness.

Reprieve represents 36 people held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Britain, Germany and Denmark have also joined rights groups in condemning the treatment of detainees.

The deaths, which came amid a prisoner hunger strike, were the first fatalities after a total of 41 suicide attempts by inmates in the camp.

The number of prisoners now on hunger strike at Guantanamo has fallen to 18, from a peak of 89. Prisoners on hunger strike have been force fed by authorities at the facility.

Some 460 prisoners are being held at the prison. Only ten have been formally charged since the camp opened in early 2002.

The US Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on the legitimacy of special military tribunals set up to try those charged with war crimes, and to clarify what rights the prisoners have in US courts.

US Guantanamo remarks 'inhumane'
THE Greens have accused US military officials of being inhumane for describing the suicide of three Guantanamo Bay detainees as a public relations stunt.

A Yemeni and two Saudi inmates at the US military base in Cuba for terrorist suspects hanged themselves with clothing and bedsheet at the weekend.

Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the Guantanamo taskforce, described the deceased detainees as "smart", "creative" and "committed".

"They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of ... warfare waged against us," he said.

Greens leader Bob Brown today said the comments were "inappropriate and inhumane" and could fuel global terrorist sentiment.

"References to the three men and their suicides as `smart', `creative' and `a good PR move' will be counterproductive in America and around the world," Senator Brown said.

"In the absence of convictions of the three men, and in the wake of hundreds of others who have been released from Guantanamo without charge or conviction, the comments may fuel, rather than reduce, the threat of terrorism."

Senator Brown said he would introduce a motion to the Senate tomorrow calling on Parliament to support calls for Guantanamo Bay to be closed.

Criticism of Guantanamo rises; Pentagon IDs 3 who killed selves
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff - June 12, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The suicides of three Guantanamo Bay prisoners placed more scrutiny on the Bush administration's detention policies yesterday as details emerged about the identities of the three men who killed themselves after being held without charges for four years.

The Pentagon yesterday identified the three detainees who hanged themselves in their cells early Saturday as a 28-year-old Yemeni accused of ties to senior Al Qaeda leaders, a 21-year-old Saudi accused of fighting with the Taliban, and a 30-year-old Saudi accused of being a member of a militant missionary group that allegedly recruits for Al Qaeda.

The Pentagon released the information hours after Saudi Arabia had separately identified its two citizens and said it wanted their bodies repatriated for burial.

Reaction rippled around the world to the suicides, the first reported deaths at the military prison since it opened at a US Navy base in Cuba more than four years ago.

Officials in Germany, Sweden, and Britain renewed calls for the United States to close the prison and give the prisoners trials. A Saudi Arabian human rights agency called for an outside investigation of the deaths, questioning whether the men had been tortured.

And in the United States, two senators also sharply criticized the operation yesterday. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects for years without trial a ``grave problem."

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on CNN that the United States should put prisoners at Guantanamo on trial. He also said that the military has brought many detainees to Guantanamo on evidence that may be too weak to produce a conviction.

``Where we have evidence, they ought to be tried. . . . As to a great many others, there is not evidence which could be brought into a court of law," Specter said.

Also speaking on CNN, Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said the administration should try to close the prison ``as quickly as possible." Reed said the administration needed to put in place fair procedures to determine ``who in fact is a terrorist" and who is not, something, he asserted , that has not been done.

``We should recognize that as long as Guantanamo exists, it's a source of international attention and concern," Reed said. ``These types of incidents -- these suicides -- will only provoke further condemnation around the world."

The military said that guards discovered the three prisoners -- all of whom lived in the same maximum-security cellblock -- hanging in their cells shortly after midnight Saturday. Efforts to revive them failed.

There had been dozens of suicide attempts and widespread hunger strikes at the base since it first opened in January 2002, but no previous attempt had succeeded. Seeking to understand why the three detainees were able to succeed, investigators focused yesterday on ruses used by the prisoners to prevent guards from seeing that they had put nooses around their necks.

Quoting a base official, The New York Times reported today that investigators have concluded that at least one of the prisoners hanged himself behind laundry drying from the ceiling of his cell, and that he had arranged his bed to make it look as if he were still sleeping.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the US Southern Command in Miami, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Marshall, said he had received no reports of additional suicide attempts. The military said it was moving to tighten its procedures to prevent suicides.

On Saturday, the prison commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, characterized the suicides as a manipulative act of warfare by fanatics. ``I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather was an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us," he said.

But lawyers for some detainees rejected that characterization, saying that the detainees are sinking under a sense of despair and hopelessness as their imprisonment has dragged on for years with no end in sight.

Yesterday, the Pentagon named the three as two Saudi Arabians -- Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi, 30, and Yassar Talal Al-Zahrani, 21 -- and Yemeni Ali Abdullah Ahmed, 28.

The military said Utaybi -- whom it accused of ties to Jama'at Al Tablighi, a militant missionary group -- had been cleared to be released from the base into the custody of another country, probably Saudi Arabia, for continued detention. Officials did not say whether Utaybi knew about the transfer recommendation.

Authorities accused Zahrani, who was 17 when captured, of fighting with the Taliban and facilitating weapons purchases. It said he was at the Mazer-e-Sharif prison uprising in November 2001, when CIA officer Johnny ``Mike" Spann was killed.

The Defense Department said Ahmed had ties to Al Qaeda leaders, and that he was a long-term hunger striker in 2005 and 2006.

Meanwhile, international criticism of the administration's detention policy at Guantanamo mounted yesterday.

In Britain, Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, said on BBC that ``either [the prison] should be moved to America and then they can hold those people under the American justice system, or it should be closed."

In Germany, Peter Struck, a parliamentary leader for the governing Social Democratic Party, told the Bild newspaper that the suicides reinforced longstanding beliefs in Europe that ``the USA should shut Guantanamo and transfer the detainees to proper court proceedings."

And Sweden's foreign minister, Jan Eliasson, called the deaths a ``tragic development" that ``shows the importance of letting the Guantanamo prisoners free or giving them a statutory trial." Eliasson said the European Union has urged that the prison be closed.

Reaction in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally in the Middle East, was particularly harsh. The daily Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh quoted Mufleh al-Qahtani, deputy president of the Saudi National Assembly for Human Rights, as voicing skepticism about the military's account that the men committed suicide.

``The detention camp is out of reach for neutral monitors, therefore, it is easy to accuse the prisoners [of suicide]. It is possible that these doomed [inmates] had been tortured," Qahtani was quoted as saying.

And Katib al-Shimary, lawyer for Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, echoed those suspicions, to Saudi-owned satellite television Al Arabiya, according to Reuters.

``The detainees' deaths reveals the mistreatment at Guantanamo and the extent human rights are breached," he said.

President Bush said on Friday that he would like to empty Guantanamo, transferring some of the prisoners to their home countries and giving others trials.

The US government recently charged 10 of the 460 Guantanamo prisoners with conspiracy to commit war crimes. It is attempting to prosecute them before a special military commission.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the administration's commissions -- which give defendants far fewer rights than an ordinary trial -- are constitutional.

The court's decision is expected by the end of June.

Material from news services was included in this report.

Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Saudi suspicion over Guantanamo deaths
Souhail Karam

RIYADH — A lawyer for Saudi nationals imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay said yesterday that he held US authorities responsible for the deaths of Saudi prisoners. He implied the inmates were tortured to death.

The UK’s constitutional affairs minister joined calls for the jail camp to be shut down.

Three inmates, a Yemeni and two Saudis, allegedly hanged themselves in their cells at the base on Saturday night, according to the US army.

A Saudi official disputed allegations of suicide, hinting that inmates might have been tortured. Saudi Arabia, a staunch US ally, said it was stepping up efforts to repatriate all nationals held at the base in Cuba.

“We are doing all we can to bring the bodies of the two victims home,” a Saudi interior ministry spokesman said. He declined to say if Riyadh would ask for an investigation into the deaths.

The three men, who allegedly hanged themselves with clothes and bedsheets, were the first prisoners to die at the base since the US began holding “terrorism” suspects there in 2002.

“Our priority now is to repatriate the bodies of the victims and to step up our efforts to bring back all Saudis detained there,” the interior ministry spokesman said. “Each Saudi has to be brought home where he can face up to charges he is accused of based on our laws and regulations.”

The US military says 23 inmates have attempted suicide, and that there has been a total of 41 attempts since the camp opened.

British Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman told BBC television yesterday that the camp should either be moved to the US or closed down.

“If it is perfectly legal and there is nothing going wrong there, why don’t they have it in America?” she said. “It is in a legal no man’s land. Either it should be moved to America and then they can hold those people under the American justice system, or it should be closed.”

The British government’s top legal adviser, attorney-general Peter Goldsmith, said last month that the camp should be closed.

A British man held for two-and-a-half years at the Guantanamo prison camp said yesterday he was shocked that three inmates had hanged themselves but that the treatment of prisoners made suicide attempts “inevitable”.

Shafiq Rasul, who was held at the Guantanamo camp after being arrested in Afghanistan, said that while he was there inmates, who were subjected to constant beatings and interrogations, had attempted to take their own lives.

“I was shocked, but at the same time it is inevitable that something like that would happen,” he told Sky Television.

The detainees’ deaths brought renewed criticism of the base, which many human rights groups say should be closed.

“The detainees’ deaths reveal the mistreatment at Guantanamo and the extent that human rights are breached,” said Katib al-Shimary, lawyer for Saudi detainees at Guantanamo. “Their suicide, that is if they did commit suicide, is a response to the oppression and injustice they lived in.”

“I hold the US authorities responsible for their deaths,” Shimary told Saudi-owned satellite television Al Arabiya.

The US military said guards at the camp found the three Arab men not breathing, in their cells, shortly after midnight. Attempts to resuscitate them failed.

The three detainees had taken part previously in extended hunger strikes and had been force-fed by the military. They all left suicide notes but no details were made public.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the September 11 2001 attacks on US cities were from Saudi Arabia, as is al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban said yesterday that the three Muslims would not have violated Islam by taking their own lives. They must have been killed by their US captors,

“We can’t accept that they have committed suicide,” a purported spokesman for the Islamist Taliban movement in Afghanistan, Mohammad Hanif, said yesterday.

“No Muslim, no mujahid (holy warrior), can commit suicide. It’s banned under Islamic sharia law”. With Sapa-AFP

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