By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007
A Saudi detainee at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was found dead in his cell from an apparent suicide yesterday afternoon, military officials said. He would be the fourth detainee to take his own life at the facility in the past year.
Military officials at U.S. Southern Command did not release details about the death or identify the detainee, who was among about 80 Saudi Arabians in custody. Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based law group that represents many Guantanamo detainees, said they had learned no details as of last night and did not have independent confirmation that the death was a suicide.
"The detainee was found unresponsive and not breathing in his cell by guards," military officials said in a news release on Southcom's Web site. "The detainee was pronounced dead by a physician after all lifesaving measures had been exhausted."
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has started an investigation, and a cultural adviser is assisting officials at the base to ensure that the detainee's body is handled in a "culturally sensitive and religiously appropriate manner," according to the release.
Three detainees committed suicide in their cells simultaneously on June 10, 2006, using clothes and sheets to fashion makeshift nooses. U.S. officials called the incident an act of "asymmetric warfare" and a way to garner negative publicity for the detention facility on the U.S. base. Those detainees, according to the military, allegedly conspired with others to carry out a suicide pact and passed notes among themselves about how to do it.
The three suicides in June were the first detainee deaths reported at Guantanamo since it opened in January 2002. As of last year, there had been more than 40 suicide attempts by about 25 detainees, including some who had tried to overdose on hoarded drugs and one who repeatedly tried to die by hanging and slashing himself.
Such cases are illustrative of the negative image that Guantanamo has internationally; even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has expressed a desire to close the facility because of the taint it carries. Attorneys for detainees have talked emotionally about the desperation their clients feel and have railed against what they consider worsening conditions at the facility's newest camp, which is modeled after U.S. prisons.
There are about 380 detainees at Guantanamo, fewer than half of the 775 detainees who have been there since it was opened to house those captured in the war in Afghanistan and in the larger Bush administration effort against terrorism. Three detainees have been charged with crimes under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Military spokesmen at the Pentagon and at Guantanamo referred all inquiries to Southcom. A Southcom spokesman said last night that he could not elaborate on details of yesterday's death.
Wells Dixon, an attorney at CCR, said last night that he has asked the Justice Department for information about the detainee, and that his organization is already calling for an independent investigation into his death. Dixon, who visited Saudi detainees at Guantanamo earlier this month, said they "were suffering terribly."
"The fact that four detainees have now died while in military custody should not surprise anyone," Dixon said. "These results are predictable, given the fact that these men have been confined for so long without charge or trial under such difficult circumstances."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.