Some Guantanamo 'Terror'
Suspects Trying Suicide


(AFP) -- The 20th suicide attempt among terror suspects kept at the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, is a reminder to the world of the despair felt by the inmates, who are cut off from the outside world and are kept in the dark about their future.
Deprived by US authorities of prisoner of war status, some of these 650 prisoners, who have been brought to Cuba in successive waves, have been subjected to almost complete isolation, broken only for interrogations, already for 14 months.
Captured for the most part during the war in Afghanistan, none of them has been formally charged, met a lawyer or received a visitor.
The Pentagon, which regularly assures the public that the conditions of their detention are correct, regrets the suicide attempts, the most recent of which occurred earlier this month.
Doctors from "a medical team, including a mental health team of psychologists and psychiatrists, work with the guards to train them to detect and report signs" of coming suicides, explained Defense Department spokeswoman Barbara Burfeind, pointing out that the prisoners have access to psychiatric care.
The department recently announced that a new building, which already accommodates 20 prisoners, will be finished in Guantanamo this spring, allowing detainees to be held in "less restrictive" conditions.
Camp 4, a medium security facility, will be used to detain enemy combatants that are considered less of a security risk than others and who have been cooperative in the interrogation process, according to Burfeind.
"The assurances of the US authorities that steps are being taken isn't enough, the answers of the Pentagon are insufficient," argued Alistair Hodgett, a representative of the human rights group Amnesty International, who has asked four times for permission to visit the base.
Regarding Camp 4, he remarked: "If some are rewarded for their cooperation, what happens to those who don't?"
"From information gathered by the witnessing of the five released prisoners so far, and methods of interrogation in Bagram (Afghanistan), it is obvious conditions are really awful," said Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents four prisoners from Guantanamo.
He said Guantanamo prisoners were often kept shackled, in awkward positions for an inordinate amount of time, in solitary confinement while interrogators rely on sleep deprivation and artificial light to glean information from the inmates.
"Coupled with no access to a lawyer or family and no perspective of getting out, all this is making people desperate to call for attention, or so depressed they really want to kill themselves," Ratner explained.
"This level of suicide attempts is the direct result of people being in a legal black hole, detained in condition likely inhumane," he continued, arguing that under the administration of President George W. Bush "this country has thrown international law out the window."
Human rights organizations believe it is important to keep the public's interest in these people alive.
"People locked out of sight are rapidly forgotten," said Hodgett. "US secrecy and denial of information only make matters worse."
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