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Suicide Bids Spiked At Gitmo

Three months after a get-tough general took command of the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects, prisoners began a flurry of suicide attempts.

Major General Geoffrey Miller took over as commander at Guantanamo in November 2002 after interrogators criticized his predecessor for being too solicitous for the detainees' welfare.

Between January and March 2003, 14 prisoners at Guantanamo tried to kill themselves. That's more than 40 percent of the 34 suicide attempts by 21 inmates since the prison was opened in January 2002.

Miller is now in charge of all military-run U.S. prisons in Iraq, a job he took after news broke of beatings and sexual humiliations last fall at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Miller had visited Abu Ghraib in August and September and recommended interrogation techniques that military lawyers said had to be modified to comply with the Geneva Conventions on treating prisoners of war.

In other developments:

  • U.S. authorities released three busloads of prisoners from the notorious Abu Ghraib detention center, bringing the total number set free in the last two months to over 2,000.
  • Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, one of the defendants in the Abu Ghraib case, opted to go forward with his pretrial hearing Tuesday even though his civilian lawyer will not be present, the military said.
  • The U.S. Army scheduled the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing for Spc. Sabrina Harman for Thursday. The session, known as an Article 32 hearing, will determine if she will face court martial.
  • The Article 32 for the Army reservist pictured mugging for the camera with a series of Iraqi prisoners, Lynndie England, has been postponed. It was to have started Wednesday morning but has been rescheduled to July 12.
  • Lawyers for two defendants in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal won the right Monday to question top U.S. generals to bolster arguments their clients were following lawful orders in their treatment of inmates.

    The order, issued by a military judge at pretrial hearings, compels Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, to give depositions.

    The defense will also have access to Miller, the former Guantanamo commander now running prisons in Iraq. Others who could be questioned include Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, and Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, chief of coalition intelligence operations.

    Civilian defense attorneys have contended the MPs were acting on instructions from military intelligence officers and civilian contract interrogators.

    "No one can suggest with a straight face that these MPs were acting alone," Guy Womack, attorney for Charles Graner, told reporters. "They were directly under the supervision and the direction of military intelligence officers."

    Questioning senior officers who run the Iraq war could shed light on interrogation techniques and help determine how far responsibility for the abuse extends up the chain of command.

    However, the military judge, Col. James Pohl, rejected motions to compel testimony from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

    Sgt. Javal Davis' civil lawyer, Paul Bergrin, said in court that Abizaid had already prejudiced the hearings, telling troops during a speech he would "see to it personally that the accused in this case will never wear the uniform again."

    Bergrin said commanders put more pressure on MPs at Abu Ghraib to "soften up" detainees as the insurgency gained steam so they would give information to interrogators and "save the lives of American soldiers."

    The pretrial hearing for Frederick comes only one day after a military judge had postponed Frederick's pretrial hearing after his civilian lawyer, Gary Myers, did not appear.

    Frederick's military lawyer, Capt. Robert Shuck, said Monday that Myers wanted to participate by telephone because coming to Iraq "places people in peril for their lives."

    Pohl angrily dismissed the suggestion, saying that he had received and denied a previous e-mail request from Myers to take part by phone.

    Human rights groups say the suicide attempts at Guantanamo Bay may be evidence that conditions there amounted to torture.

    "Our concern is that the totality of the conditions at Guantanamo — starting with the prolonged detention without trial, combined with the frequent interrogation that may have included problematic methods — may have contributed to an atmosphere that pushed people to attempt suicide," said Alistair Hodgett of the human rights group Amnesty International.

    Miller and other military officials deny that.

    "All detainees are treated humanely," Guantanamo military spokesman Major David S. Kolarik said in written response to questions from The Associated Press.

    In internal memos, Bush administration lawyers have acknowledged repeatedly that "pushing someone to the brink of suicide" would be torture.