By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Human rights groups and defense lawyers yesterday called for an independent investigation into the three detainee suicides at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, questioning the military's preliminary explanation of how the men killed themselves and the way U.S. officials have characterized the deaths.
Since the detainees used makeshift nooses in their cells early Saturday, U.S. officials have called the three deaths an act of "asymmetric warfare" and a public relations move aimed at riling the international community. Military commanders said the men -- described as having terrorist ties -- used creative methods to surreptitiously kill themselves while seeking martyrdom, and dismissed assertions that the suicides were the desperate acts of depressed captives.
Amnesty International officials said yesterday that an independent investigation "is a matter of absolute urgency" and is the only way to find out what happened in the detainees' cells. In a written statement, the officials said an ongoing Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe will not be sufficient in light of comments U.S. officials have made.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has open and regular access to the Guantanamo Bay facility, plans to send a delegation in coming days to look into the suicides. The group made a similar assessment there last month, when there was a riot after a series of suicide attempts.
"This is no inquiry or investigation; it's a follow-up to find out what happened, to assess the mood in the camp," said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman in Washington. "It's routine."
The Bush administration sought to distance itself from comments Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for public diplomacy, made to the BBC, in which she called the suicides a "good P.R. move." Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, said yesterday that the department would not characterize the deaths that way and said that U.S. officials "have serious concerns anytime anybody takes their own life."
Pentagon officials have provided some details about the deaths, saying that the detainees secretly fashioned nooses out of clothes and bedsheets, then evaded the guards' attention long enough to take their lives.
David Remes, a defense lawyer for 17 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, said he is skeptical of the military's version.
"There's no way to verify anything that the military says down there because as usual, their stance is: 'Trust us,' " Remes said. "We have to take their word for it. What's really needed is an independent investigation."