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War On Terror: Suicides At Guantanamo Trigger Criticism

Guantanamo Bay detainees under the eye of US. military police (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, June 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials say three inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects have killed themselves. These are the first deaths of detainees at the facility on Cuba since it was opened more than four years ago.

The three detainees -- two Saudis and one Yemeni -- were found dead on June 10 after apparently hanging themselves with clothing and bed sheets.

The military said that all three had earlier engaged in a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention, and had been force-fed before giving up their protest. The military noted that 23 inmates have attempted suicide a total of 41 times since the camp opened in 2002.

The White House said President George W. Bush expressed "serious concern" about the deaths, and urged that the bodies of the men be handled humanely and with cultural sensitivity.

The U.S. military expressed little surprise. The commander of the U.S. military's Southern Command, General John Craddock, said terrorist suspects like those held at Guantanamo will do anything they can "to become martyrs in the jihad."

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the detention center, described the suicides as an "an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against" the United States, arguing that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are "smart, they are creative, they are committed [and] they have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own."

But human rights organizations interpret the events at Guantanamo very differently. Amnesty International said in a statement that "these apparent suicides...are the tragic results of years of arbitrary and indefinite detention."

Ken Roth, the head of New York-based Human Rights Watch, told Reuters that "suicides like these are entirely predictable when people are held outside the law with no end in sight."

The criticism leveled at the United States over the Guantanamo detention center has been heard many times before.

Rights advocates object strongly to the fact that prisoners at Guantanamo have none of the rights afforded to formal prisoners of war or criminal suspects in the U.S. justice system. A UN panel said on May 19 that holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantanamo violates the international ban on torture. And observers note that out of 759 detainees who have been held at the center, about 300 have been released or transferred, but only 10 have formally charged with crimes.

Among the critic is the British attorney-general, Lord Peter Goldsmith, who said at conference on terrorism a month ago that the existence of Guantanamo Bay is "unacceptable" and called for its closure.

Bush has suggested that the prison cannot run indefinitely. On June 9, he said he hopes to "empty" the detention center by sending some detainees home and trying the most dangerous in U.S. courts.

In the wake of the detainees' deaths, the United States is likely to hear even more calls for the center's closure.