Source : - ABC News Online

June 12, 2006

Amnesty International has called on the United States to "end the lawlessness" at its military camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, after the suicide of three detainees.

The London-based human rights group also called for the results of the investigation into the deaths to be made public and both the inmates' families and their lawyers informed.

"The news that three detainees in Guantanamo have died as a result of apparent suicide is a further tragic reminder that the USA must end the lawlessness of the facility," it said in a statement.

"There have been numerous suicide attempts in the detention camp. These are apparently the first that have been successful."

The group reiterated its call for the US-run camp in Cuba to be shut and for Washington to disclose fully all other prisoners detained as part of the "war on terror".

It also renewed its appeal for a full, independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of US detention and interrogation policies and practices with security suspects.

Britain, Germany and Denmark joined a chorus of rights groups that have long expressed outrage at the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and urged Washington to close it.

"If it is perfectly legal and there is nothing going wrong there, why don't they have it in America?" Britain's Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman asked on BBC television.

'Absolute desperation'

The calls were backed by the Muslim Council of Britain, the country's main umbrella group for Islamic organisations, which said the deaths were not an "assymetrical act of war", as the United States has claimed.

Instead, it said they were an "act of absolute desperation".

"These men had been kept in a legal limbo for several years now, with no charges being brought against them, with no chance to clear their names before a court of law," its secretary-general Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari said.

"For a top US Government official to now describe their deaths as some kind of 'PR move' is incredibly insensitive and indeed callous."
Upcoming summit

The United Nations (UN) rapporteur on torture says the European Union should pressure US President George Bush at an upcoming summit in Vienna to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The US-EU summit on June 21 "would be an excellent opportunity to demand, and to facilitate, an immediate closing" of the camp, Manfred Nowak said from Washington to AFP.

Mr Nowak, who authored a UN report released in February sharply critical of the Bush administration's handling of prisoners at the Guantanamo facility, said the inmates there "truly are desperate".

Mr Nowak says the suicides "express the despair of the people, some of them innocent, imprisoned for up to four-and-a-half years without having the least idea of the length of their 'sentence' and without being able to defend themselves before a judge".

More than the harsh conditions of their detention, this uncertainty "is what breaks the prisoners at Guantanamo," he said.

"The standard US response - that they will be freed when the war on terrorism is over - is the height of cynicism."

'Act of warfare'

American officials have described the suicides, the first since the US began housing terror suspects there in early 2002, as a deliberate act of warfare.

"They are smart, they are creative, they are committed," the camp's commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, said of the prisoners who took their own lives.

"I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us."

Colleen Graffy, US deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the BBC World Service the suicides were a "good PR move to draw attention".

"It does sound that this is part of a strategy in that they don't value their own life and they certainly don't value ours and they use suicide bombings as a tactic to further their Jihadi cause," she said.

Mr Nowak said he was highly sceptical of rumours circulating in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, that the three prisoners did not in fact take their own lives but died at the hands of their captors.

Two of the detainees were Saudi nationals, and the third was from Yemen.


A lawyer, Kateb al-Shimmari, acting for the families of Saudi prisoners, told AFP: "We have great doubts over the US version of the story because they were being held in extraordinary circumstances and were under 24-hour surveillance".

Mr Nowak says mounting international pressure to close Guantanamo will be accelerated by the suicides.

"The Americans know that this situation considerably undermines their authority in the world," he said.

"It is up to the EU to help them find a diplomatic exit for closing down the camp."

In his UN report, released on February 15, Mr Nowak concluded that "the general conditions of detention, in particular the uncertainty about the length of detention and prolonged solitary confinement, amount to inhuman treatment and to a violation of the right to health as well as a violation of the right of detainees ... to be treated with humanity."

The US Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the legitimacy of special military tribunals set up to try those charged with war crimes, and to clarify what rights the prisoners have in US courts.

- AFP/Reuters

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