U.S.: 3 Gitmo inmates hanged themselves
By ANDREW SELSKY and JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writers 17 minutes ago
Three Guantanamo Bay detainees hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes, the commander of the detention center said Saturday.
They were the first reported deaths among the hundreds of men held at the base in Cuba — some of them for up to 4 1/2 years and without charge.
Two men from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen were found "unresponsive and not breathing in their cells" early Saturday, according to a statement from the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, which has jurisdiction over the prison. Attempts were made to revive the prisoners, but they failed.
"They hung themselves with fabricated nooses made out of clothes and bed sheets," Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris told reporters in a conference call from the U.S. base in southeastern Cuba.
Pentagon officials said the three men were in Camp 1, the highest maximum security prison at Guantanamo, and that none of them had tried to commit suicide before.
That camp was also the location where two detainees tried to commit suicide in mid-May, when a riot broke out at the facility. The two men, who took overdoses of an anti-anxiety medication they hoarded, were found and received medical treatment and were recovering.
The United States is holding about 460 men on suspicion of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban at Guantanamo Bay, which has become a sore subject between President Bush and U.S. allies who otherwise are staunch supporters of his policies.
The Pentagon also postponed the military tribunal of Binyam Muhammad, an Ethiopian detainee, originally scheduled for next week. Muhammad is charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders to attack civilians and commit other crimes.
Bush, who was spending the weekend at Camp David, was notified of the incident. The State Department was consulting with the governments of the home countries of the three prisoners, whose names were not released.
The military said in its statement that "all lifesaving measures had been exhausted" in the attempt to revive the detainees. The remains were being treated "with the utmost respect," an issue important to Muslims. A cultural adviser was assisting the military.
Though the military termed the deaths suicides, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating to establish the official cause and manner of death.
A U.N. panel said May 19 that holding detainees indefinitely at Guantanamo violated the world's ban on torture. The panel said the United States should close the detention center.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are among those who also recently have urged the United States to close the prison.
On Friday, after the prison came up during a meeting with Fogh Rasmussen at Camp David, Bush said his goal is to do just that. A total of 759 detainees have been held there, with about 300 released or transferred.
"We would like to end the Guantanamo — we'd like it to be empty," Bush said. But he added: "There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And, therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States."
Bush said his administration was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule whether he overstepped his authority in ordering the detainees to be tried by U.S. military tribunals.
Josh Colangelo-Bryan of the Center for Constitutional Rights discovered one of his clients attempting to hang himself last year when he visited Guantanamo, and said he feared there would be more suicides.
Colangelo-Bryan said one detainee recently told him: "I would simply rather die than live here forever without rights."
The military's statement defended the prison, saying detainees pose a danger to the United States and its allies.
"They have expressed a commitment to kill Americans and our friends if released," the statement said. "These are not common criminals. They are enemy combatants being detained because they have waged war against our nation and they continue to pose a threat."
Moazzam Begg, 37, a British Muslim who spent three years in U.S. detention, including two years at Guantanamo before being released in 2005, told The Associated Press: "We all expected something like this but were not prepared. It's just awful. I hope the Bush administration will finally see this is wrong."
There have been increasing displays of defiance from Guantanamo Bay prisoners, with many claiming their innocence.
Until now, Guantanamo officials have said there have been 41 suicide attempts by 25 detainees and no deaths since the U.S. began taking prisoners to the base in January 2002. Defense lawyers contend the number of suicide attempts is higher.
Those held at Guantanamo "have this incredible level of despair that they will never get justice. And now they're gone. And they died without ever having seen a court," Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a telephone interview from New York. Her group represents about 300 Guantanamo detainees.
She appealed to the Bush administration "for immediate action to do the right thing. They should be taken to court or released. I don't think this country wants the stain of injustice on it for many years to come."
James Yee, a former Army chaplain at Guantanamo Bay who was arrested in 2003 an espionage probe and later cleared, said he had developed the detention center's policy for dealing with a Muslim death because authorities there had long feared that a detainee might die from suicide or some other cause.
Yee attributed the suicides to detainee desperation over their long confinement with no end in sight.
"It was only a matter of time," Yee said in a phone interview from Olympia, Wash.
On May 18, in one of the prison's most violent incidents, a detainee staged a suicide attempt to lure guards into a cellblock where they were attacked by prisoners armed with makeshift weapons, the military said. Earlier that day, two detainees overdosed on antidepressants they collected from other detainees and hoarded in their cells. The men have since recovered.
There also has been a hunger strike among detainees since August. The number of inmates refusing food dropped to 18 by last weekend from a high of 131. The military has at times used aggressive force-feeding methods, including a restraint chair.
Associated Press reporters Paisley Dodds in London and Jennifer Loven and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report..