Source : - The Australian
June 11, 2006
THE commander of the US Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris has described the overnight suicide of three inmates "as an act of war".
Three foreign prisoners were found dead overnight after hanging themselves with clothing and bedsheets in the first deaths at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since the prison opened in January 2002, US defence officials said.
The military said two Saudis and one Yemeni were found unresponsive and not breathing in their cells by guards and that attempts to resuscitate the detainees failed.
They were pronounced dead by a physician at Guantanamo, which holds just under 500 foreigners captured mainly in the US war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The suicides have thrown a spotlight on the camp that has drawn widespread criticism against the Bush administration from foreign countries, including some allies, and human rights advocates.
Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of Guantanamo, described the suicides were an act of warfare.
"They are smart. They are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us," Rear Adm. Harris said.
The suicides threw a fresh spotlight on the camp that has drawn widespread criticism against the Bush administration from foreign countries, including some allies, and human rights advocates.
Facing indefinite detention with none of the rights afforded formal prisoners of war or criminal suspects in the US justice system, dozens of the detainees have undertaken hunger strikes and attempted suicide.
Guantanamo has been one of string of issues that have undermined support abroad for Washington's war on terrorism, declared after the Sept. 11 attacks. The deaths come as President George W. Bush faces growing public doubt about the war in Iraq.
The US military said the bodies were being treated "with the utmost respect." An investigation has begun, it said.
A White House spokesman said Bush expressed serious concern on Saturday when he was told about the three suicides.
Spokesman Tony Snow said Bush, who is at Camp David this weekend, was told of the deaths by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"He expressed serious concern," Snow said, adding that US officials made a round of telephone calls to notify American allies abroad.
Bush has said he would like to close the detention center and spoke of Guantanamo on Friday at a joint news conference with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who raised concerns about it with the US president.
"We'd like it to be empty," Bush said. "And we're now in the process of working with countries to repatriate people."
Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch in New York, said the suicides at Guantanamo likely were driven by despair.
"Sadly suicides like these are entirely predictable when people are held outside the law with no end in sight. They despair of spending the rest of their lives detained at the whim of their jailer with no sense of when it would end," he said.