Three Detainees Commit Suicide at Guantanamo

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006

Three detainees at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hanged themselves in their cells yesterday morning, the first inmates to die at the remote island prison since it opened in early 2002, according to military officials.

Guards found the three men unresponsive and not breathing in their separate cells in Camp 1 shortly after midnight yesterday, according to Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, who heads the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, and Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., who commands the Guantanamo Bay prison. The detainees had apparently used their clothing and sheets to fashion makeshift nooses in what military officials believe was a coordinated suicide pact. All left suicide notes written in Arabic, the officers said.

Military officials were not releasing the names of the detainees yesterday, but said two were Saudi Arabian nationals and one was a Yemeni national. Harris described them as having close ties to terrorist organizations in the Middle East and said their suicides were "not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

State Department officials were in discussions with the two nations' governments yesterday, and the military announced that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had opened a routine investigation to determine the causes and manners of death.

The deaths come amid ongoing criticism from around the world about the military's highest-profile detention center, where the United States keeps more than 450 detainees who were captured during hostilities in Afghanistan and surrounding areas and who allegedly are or have been enemy combatants. The United Nations anti-torture panel called last month for the United States to close the facility, while human rights groups have railed against the treatment of detainees there and argue there is no appropriate judicial process in which they could challenge their detention.

The incident yesterday morning occurred just weeks after two detainees tried to kill themselves by overdosing on antidepressant drugs they had hoarded in their cells. Shortly after those suicide attempts on May 18, detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison rioted, attacking guards with makeshift weapons.

Harris and Craddock told reporters during an afternoon teleconference that no riot or uprising accompanied yesterday's suicides. Harris said detainees have been spreading rumors around the prison's camps that it would take three suicides to garner international attention. The three men had been involved in hunger strikes over the past year, and Harris said the Yemeni detainee had been a long-term hunger striker. All three have been force-fed in the past to break their strikes, Harris said.

Defense Department officials have long expressed their pride in not having lost a single life among the approximately 759 detainees who have at one time been incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. There have been 41 suicide attempts by about 25 individual detainees -- many by hanging -- but in each previous case, medical personnel were able to save them.

"This is a determined, intelligent, committed element," Craddock said. "They continue to do everything they can . . . to become martyrs."

Christie Parell, a White House spokeswoman, said President Bush expressed "serious concern" about the incident. "He stressed it was important that the bodies be treated humanely and with cultural sensitivity."

William H. Goodman, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents nearly all the Guantanamo Bay detainees in suits filed in U.S. courts, said that he and other lawyers are working to learn the identities of the detainees who died so they can prepare to help their families. Goodman said the deaths are evidence of a failed system.

"These are the latest victims and the most serious so far in the ongoing effort of this administration to impose a lawless system that denies justice, fairness and due process to people throughout the world," Goodman said. "This is an act of desperation because they have no way to prove their innocence. A system without justice is a system without hope."

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