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Another Suicide Attempt Reported Among Detainees in Cuba

The Pentagon confirms five new cases since Jan. 16. Inquiry is sought by Amnesty International.

February 07, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Thursday that there has been another suicide attempt among inmates at its Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects in Cuba, bringing the number to five in three weeks. Amnesty International called for an investigation.

"Medical and psychiatric teams are working to try to prevent further injury or attempts," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman who declined to comment further.

Five new cases of prisoners attempting suicide have been confirmed since Jan. 16. Officials refused to say whether it was five men or cases of multiple attempts by any one man.

Including the 10 attempts in 2002, the new cases brought the total to 15 since the high-security prison was built on the base a year ago to house men captured in the fight against terrorism.

One prisoner tried to kill himself twice, said Maj. Paul Caruso, a spokesman for the Guantanamo Bay base.

After previous suicide attempts, the rights group Amnesty International protested the prolonged detention and the uncertainty the men face about their future, saying it may cause physical and psychological harm.

"Clearly, five suicide attempts in a few weeks ought to give grave cause for alarm," Amnesty spokesman Alistair Hodgett said Thursday.

"At this point I think it's incumbent on the Department of Defense to investigate whether conditions of detention are contributing to these attempts -- and make the contents of that investigation public."

Some of the men have been held by the military for interrogation for more than a year without charges, trial or access to lawyers or their families.

The U.S. has designated the men "unlawful combatants," saying that they are not entitled to the same rights as prisoners of war but that they are being treated humanely.

Officials decline to say exactly how many are being held and what their nationalities are, although the roughly 625 men are believed to come from more than 40 countries.

The facility has shifted its handling of prisoners in recent months after coming under a new commander.

Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who took over in November, said in a recent interview that he was going to offer more rewards for cooperative behavior, such as chances for the men to sleep, eat and pray together in a new medium-security detention wing. Until now, all men have been held in isolation in high-security cells.

Officials have declined to say what other changes he has instituted, although one said that Miller was sent in to improve performance of interrogations at a time when officials were frustrated at the amount of information coming from prisoners.

Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the previous commander in charge of detention -- including housing, guards and security, for example -- left in October after some interrogators complained that he had been too concerned about prisoner treatment.

The recent string of suicide attempts started Jan. 16, when a prisoner was found hanging in his cell and a guard rescued him. His government was notified because his injuries were so serious. Burfeind said the prisoner was still hospitalized.

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