The Toronto Star / Associated Press – 2005-01-28 23:01:28
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (January 24, 2005) — Twenty-three terror suspects tried to hang or strangle themselves at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a mass protest in 2003, the military confirmed today.
The incidents came during the same year the camp suffered a rash of suicide attempts after Maj.-Gen. Geoffrey Miller took command of the prison with a mandate to get more information from prisoners accused of links to al-Qaida or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime that sheltered it.
Between Aug. 18 and Aug. 26, the 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells, demonstrating “self-injurious behaviour,” the US Southern Command in Miami said in a statement. Ten detainees made a mass attempt on Aug. 22 alone.
US Southern Command described it as “a co-ordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation.”
Guantanamo officials classified two of the incidents as attempted suicides and informed reporters. But they but did not previously release information about the mass hangings and stranglings during that period.
Those incidents were mentioned casually during a visit earlier this month by three journalists, but officials then immediately denied there had been a mass suicide attempt. Further attempts to get details brought a statement Friday night, with some clarifications provided today by military officials at Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. Southern Command.
Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International’s office in Washington, was critical today of the delay in reporting the incident.
“When you have suicide attempts or so-called self-harm incidents, it shows the type of impact indefinite detention can have, but it also points to the extreme measures the Pentagon is taking to cover up things that have happened in Guantanamo,” he said.
“What we’ve seen is that it wasn’t simply a rotation of forces but an attempt to toughen up the interrogation techniques and processes.”
Officials said today that they differentiated between a suicide attempt in which a detainee could have died without intervention and a “gesture” they considered aimed only at getting attention.
Gen. Jay Hood, who succeeded Miller as the detention mission’s commander last year, has said the number of incidents has decreased since 2003, when the military set up a psychiatric ward.
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