Suicides Widen Gitmo Debate

Military personnel transport a detainee into a building within the grounds of the maximum security prison at Camp Delta 2 & 3, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, on April 5, 2006.
AP Photo
Religious leaders and doctors are weighing in on the subject of alleged torture of prisoners, following three suicides at Gitmo called "an act of asymmetical warfare" by a U.S. admiral, and a "p.r. move" by a U.S. diplomat.

Even though the Bush administration has said that it does not torture detainees and does not condone the torture of detainees, a group of religious leaders and other Americans – reportedly including former President Jimmy Carter – has taken out a full page ad in the New York Times denouncing any U.S. torture.

The American Medical Association is also out with a statement on the subject, making it clear that any doctors who participate in such activities are violating the code of medical ethics which they have sworn to uphold.

Two Saudis and one Yemeni hanged themselves Saturday, the first successful suicides at the base after dozens of attempts at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military prison in Cuba for terror suspects – many held for years after being arrested during the war in Afghanistan.

So far, only 10 detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been charged with crimes.

Military officials said the suicides were coordinated acts of protest, but human rights activists and defense attorneys said the deaths signaled the desperation of many of the 460 detainees held on suspicion of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

President Bush expressed "serious concern" Saturday over the suicides, which are under investigation.

Monday, the Bush administration distanced itself from the description of the suicides as a publicity stunt.

"I would just point out in public that we would not say that it was a P.R. stunt," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "We have serious concerns anytime anybody takes their own life."

Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the deaths at the U.S.-run camp in Cuba were a "good P.R. move to draw attention."

Graffy also told the BBC the deaths were "a tactic to further the jihadi cause."

The remark is a setback for Graffy's boss, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a longtime confidante of the president whose job is to improve the U.S. image in the Arab world. Hughes, a former White House communications adviser, heads an office at the State Department which monitors and quickly responds to inaccurate or distorted portrayals of U.S. views and actions in the Arab media.

Graffy's remarks were quickly picked up in the Arab press.

"Her comments quickly appeared to be bad P.R. moves for the U.S. administration," an article on the Web site of Lebanon's The Daily Star newspaper said.

Graffy is not the only U.S. official to have portrayed the suicides in a tactical light. Navy Rear Admiral Henry Harris, speaking to reporters in a weekend conference call, described the suicides as an "act of asymmetric warfare against us" and "not an act of desperation."

Harris, who is the camp commander at Guantanamo, also said detainees there "have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own."

The EU said Monday that it plans to ask President Bush to shut down the prison at Gitmo. Mr. Bush has said he'd like to close it down, but is awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether the detainees should get military or civilian trials. "We'd like it to be empty," the president said Friday. "There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And therefore I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States."