Three Guantanamo Bay Detainees Die of Apparent Suicide
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 10, 2006 Three detainees at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, died of apparent suicides early this morning, military officials reported today.
Two Saudis and one Yemeni, all located in Camp 1 of the detention center, were found unresponsive and not breathing in their cells, Navy Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said in a news conference. The first detainee was found shortly after midnight, and the other detainees were found within minutes, Harris said.
Medical teams responded quickly and all three detainees were provided immediate emergency medical treatment in attempts to revive them, Harris said. The three detainees were pronounced dead by a physician after all lifesaving measures had been exhausted, he said.
Harris, who arrived on the scene shortly after the detainees were pronounced dead, said the guard force and medical personnel acted in a professional manner and did everything they could to save the detainees' lives.
"I could see on the faces of the doctors, nurses and corpsmen that they were mourning the loss of a patient," Harris said. "They did exactly what they were trained to do."
The names of the deceased are not being released pending an investigation, said Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command. The U.S. State Department is in ongoing discussions with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Yemen in regards to the handling of the detainees' remains and notification of next of kin, he said.
A cultural advisor is assisting Joint Task Force Guantanamo to ensure that the remains are handled in an appropriate cultural and religious manner, Harris said. The bodies will not be buried within 24 hours, as per normal Islamic law, because autopsies must be performed, he said, but Joint Task Force Guantanamo has a religious fatwah, or law, from a reputable imam allowing for delays when the cause of death is uncertain.
The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service has initiated an independent investigation to determine the cause and manner of death, Craddock said.
The detainees appear to have hanged themselves with nooses made from clothing and bed sheets, Harris said. The three detainees' cells were on the same cell block and were near each other, but not next to each other, he said.
Harris said the joint suicides were clearly planned by the detainees as a way to advance their cause in the war on terror.
"I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare aimed at us here at Guantanamo," he said. "We have men here who are committed jihadists. They are dangerous men and they will do anything they can to advance their cause."
The three detainees who died had all participated in a hunger strike at one time, Harris said. The Yemeni detainee was a long-term hunger striker who had begun his strike in 2005 and just ended it last month, he said. The other two detainees participated in one hunger strike in 2005 and another short one this year, he said.
The three detainees were not charged under military commissions and were not being actively interrogated, Harris said.
None of the three detainees had attempted suicide before, Harris said. Craddock added that all three had gone through combatant status review boards and administrative review boards, and none were on medication or had any indication of mental illness.
Harris said he believes the detainees were acting on a rumor circulating in the camps at Guantanamo that says three detainees must die for all the detainees to be released. This rumor has no basis and is not encouraged by the guard force, he said.
The suicides are not thought to be linked to the June 8 death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Harris said, because the detainees at Guantanamo do not yet know of his death.
All three detainees left suicide notes in Arabic, which are being included in the investigation, Craddock said.
The servicemembers at Guantanamo Bay are dedicated and, together with Joint Task Force Guantanamo leaders, have worked hard to ensure the conditions don't exist to allow for suicides, Harris said. However, the enemy combatants at Guantanamo are a determined group that will do anything they can to advance their cause, he said.
"These are dangerous men, and they're not here by accident or happenstance," he said.
Joint Task Force Guantanamo leaders are already reviewing procedures to look for ways to ensure things like this won't happen in the future, Harris said. For example, the guards have begun taking bed sheets away from detainees in the morning and giving them back at night, he said.
"We remain focused on our mission; it's a vital mission in the global war on terror," he said.