Group Denounces U.S. Over Gitmo Suicides

The Associated Press
Thursday, September 28, 2006; 12:58 AM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A press rights group criticized the U.S. military Wednesday for allegedly attempting to link an attorney for Guantanamo Bay detainees to the suicides of three prisoners, calling it an attempt to shift blame.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the U.S. military authorities were attempting to deflect blame for the June suicides at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba by manufacturing sham accusations against attorney Clive Stafford Smith.

One of Stafford Smith's Guantanamo clients is Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, whose case has attracted the attention of Reporters Without Borders.

"Do the Guantanamo military authorities think they can escape blame for the inhuman treatment of their detainees by making such stupid and crass accusations against Stafford Smith?" the press group asked.

Stafford Smith told The Associated Press in a recent e-mail that interrogators have repeatedly questioned his client Mohammed el-Gharani in an attempt to link the lawyer to the suicides.

Stafford Smith, who represents several Guantanamo clients but not the three who killed themselves, said the military seems to believe he suggested to his clients that suicide might be a way to close the prison and that the idea caught on among detainees.

The lawyer said soldiers have threatened to move el-Gharani to Camp 5, a maximum-security facility, if he does not implicate him in the deaths.

U.S. military authorities did not immediately return calls on Wednesday to comment on the statement from Reporters Without Borders and the Pentagon previously said it would not comment on Stafford Smith's remarks because the investigation into the suicides is ongoing.

Lawyers and human rights activists called the suicides an act of desperation. Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the detention center commander, described them as acts of "asymmetric warfare" to boost criticism of Guantanamo, where suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members are imprisoned. Only 10 of the roughly 460 detainees have been charged with crimes.

© 2006 The Associated Press