Mass Suicide Attempt Belatedly Reported
By Francis Harris
That prisoners at Guantanamo attempted suicides is not a surprise. Its timing may be relative to the Abu Ghraib story, changed conditions at Gitmo, and the realization that they might be there for many years. An additional factor may have been the prisoners realization that Captain James Lee’s tour was coming to an end and thus that they were losing a sympathetic Muslim chaplain.
However, what is most striking about this report of many prisoner suicides is the fact that government officials first denied the mass suicide attempt, and then acknowledged it once they were shown to be liars. As they say in Law and Order: “Are you lying now or were you lying then?”
Twenty-three al-Qa’eda suspects tried to hang or strangle themselves at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay during a mass protest in 2003, the Pentagon admitted yesterday. The apparently co-ordinated action occurred at Camp Delta over nine days in August 2003, but did not result in any deaths.
The suicide attempts have led to a stricter prisoner regime
On one day alone, Aug 22, ten men tried to hang or strangle themselves with their clothing. It was not clear if any of the four British detainees were involved. Two protesters were taken to hospital and later received psychiatric treatment.
The suicide attempts came to light after they were mentioned casually during a camp visit earlier this month by three U.S. journalists, but officials issued an immediate denial. However, under media pressure the U.S. Southern Command, which has authority over Camp Delta, confirmed the reports.
A statement from the U.S. Southern Command did not explain why the information had been kept secret for so long. It described the action as “a co-ordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation.”
U.S. officials said it was important to note the difference between a genuine suicide attempt and a co-ordinated “gesture” which was not intended to result in death. They added that “self-harm” incidents had fallen from 350 in 2003 to 110 last year, attributed to the opening of a psychiatric unit.
The Southern Command statement said: “The Joint Detention Operations Group continually assesses the camp’s population for whom the informal leaders are, the mood of the detainees, and their ability to communicate with each other. That assessment has enabled the leadership to take numerous measures to reduce the opportunity for detainees to communicate a co-ordinated self-harm incident, or strike out at another detainee or the guard force.”
The military had reported 34 suicide attempts since the camp opened in 2002. Yesterday’s revelation brought criticism from Amnesty International, which accused the American military of taking extreme measures to cover up events at the detention camp.
The Boston Globe quoted a U.S. defense department source as saying that a series of recent counter-terrorism raids in Germany, in which 22 suspected militants were held, was attributable to information from Guantanamo.
The four Britons held at Guantanamo Bay for the past three years will return home today. Moazzam Begg, 36, from Birmingham; Feroz Abbasi, 23; Martin Mubanga, 29 and Richard Belmar, 25, all from London, are due to fly into a military air base.
—Telegraph Group (UK), January 25, 2005