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War On Terror: Red Cross To Make Early Visit To Guantanamo

U.S. military police at Guantanamo Bay keep an eye on detainees (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, June 13, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Red Cross says it is to send a team to the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the wake of the suicides of three prisoners there on June 10. The news comes as the U.S. State Department distanced itself from remarks by a U.S. diplomat that the suicides were a "good PR move."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had planned a regular visit soon to Guantanamo Bay, one of many it has made there in the four years since the United States began using the base as a detention center for terrorist suspects.

But news that three inmates -- two Saudis and a Yemeni -- had hanged themselves in their cells has prompted the ICRC to bring its next scheduled visit forward.

Antonella Notari, an ICRC spokeswoman, said the ICRC team, including a doctor and an Arabic speaker, will not investigate the suicides, but will discuss the incident, the first deaths at the prison, with detainees.

"I can imagine...that for the prisoners themselves, this is something that needs to be talked about," Notari said.

'PR Stunt' Claim Rejected

The EU and the UN want the lights to go out on Guantanamo Bay (epa)

The suicides came amid mounting calls for the United States to close the controversial prison, where some 460 detainees are being held on suspicion of having links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Already in the past month, the UN Committee against Torture and Britain's attorney-general, among others, have urged the United States to shut it down. The suicides have fueled those calls, with critics saying the deaths were a sign of detainees' desperation.

Remarks by a top U.S. official that the suicides were a "good PR move to draw attention" have only added to the controversy. Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the BBC on June 11 they were "a tactic to further the jihadi cause."

On June 12, the U.S. State Department distanced itself from those remarks. Spokesman Sean McCormack said the State Department "would not say that it was a PR stunt" and that U.S. President George W. Bush had expressed "serious concern."

Guantanamo Bay is likely to remain prominent in the news this month. The U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule in June on whether inmates there can face military trials, and the EU is increasing pressure on the United States to close down the detention center. Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said the bloc would raise the issue when Bush travels to Vienna for a June 21-22 summit.