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Three Guantanamo prisoners commit suicide

The military said that the circumstances of the deaths of two Saudis and one Yemeni were being investigated.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2006 15:29 IST

Three inmates of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, apparently committed suicide, the US Southern Command announced.

The dead men were described as two Saudis and one Yemeni.

The military said that the circumstances of the deaths were being investigated. If confirmed, the three would be the first suicides at the Guantanamo prison after numerous reported attempts and hunger strikes, according to attorneys representing prisoners.

General John Craddock, head of the US Southern Command, which operates the Guantanamo base, said autopsies are being performed.

Shortly after midnight on Saturday, a military guard noticed a problem in one inmate's cell and found that the man had hung himself and was not breathing, said Rear Admiral Harry Harris. Guards and medical personnel tried to save the man to no avail.

Harris added that checks immediately after the first hanging found that two others had taken similar actions in nearby cells. Medics and other medical staff "worked hard to revive these men", he said.

It was not clear whether the second and third men used the discovery of the first hanging as a diversion to take their own lives. All three left suicide notes in Arabic, and their nooses were made from clothing and bedding.

Harris said that the suicides were premeditated, "not an act of desperation but rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us".

Craddock said that the Guantanamo prisoners are "enemy combatants being detained because they waged war against our nation, and they continue to pose a threat". He said that the incidents are being studied to prevent inmates from hurting themselves in the future.

In Guantanamo, a "cultural advisor" is assisting military authorities to "ensure that the remains are handled in a culturally and religiously appropriate manner".

The US State Department has notified the Saudi and Yemeni governments.

The prison was built on a US naval base on Cuba to hold detainees in Washington's so-called war on terrorism. Most of the Guantanamo inmates were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan, largely in the wake of the toppling of the former Taliban regime in Kabul and the ouster of camps run in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda - the terrorist network led by the fugitive Osama bin Laden.

US President George W. Bush said on Friday that he would like to eventually close the Guantanamo prison, as demanded by US allies in Western Europe. "We'd like it to be empty," he said.

Bush said further action to close the prison is awaiting a US Supreme Court decision on whether military tribunals are allowable for the prosecution of about a dozen detainees who have been charged with crimes for specific actions.

Critics say that the prisoners are suffering indefinite detention in a "war on terrorism" that will have no formal end. Conditions for Guantanamo inmates have been another point of contention, as well as some methods used by US interrogators.

Joshua Denbreaux, an attorney for some of the detainees, called the suicides an "absolute disaster" of public relations for the US military. Noting the strict conditions under which inmates live, he said: "I'm still surprised they managed to kill themselves."

Denbreaux blamed the US government for driving inmates to suicide, even forbidding lawyers to give them news of Bush statements about eventually closing the prison. "These men are without hope," he said.

More than 400 prisoners of numerous nationalities remain in Guantanamo, down from a high of about 800 as small numbers are released.

First Published: Jun 11, 2006 11:19 IST