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Guantanamo detainees in suicide bid

August 16 2002

Four detainees accused of links to the fallen Taliban regime of Afghanistan or al-Qaeda terrorist network tried to kill themselves in their cells at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, a military official said today.

Many detainees are depressed about their indefinite detentions without charge, and many have expressed the desire to commit suicide, officials said.

One man tried to slash his wrists with a plastic razor while three others tried to hang themselves with "comfort items" at Camp Delta, the prison in eastern Cuba where 598 men are being held, said Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Hoey, a detention mission spokesman.

The suicide attempts occurred in July and August, but military spokesmen gave no details on exactly what the men used or if they had been treated before for psychological disorders.

Comfort items include a towel and sheet.

All of the men were reportedly back in the cells and unhurt.

"All of these men are monitored very closely and their attempts were not successful," Hoey told The Associated Press.

"It's not unusual that the longer detainees are incarcerated the more likely it is that you see suicide attempts and this type of behaviour."

Since the first detainees arrived in January, none have been charged by the US government, which says it may try them in military tribunals, send them home or hold them indefinitely.

Australians David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib are among those being detained at the naval base. The detainees are being interrogated and are not allowed lawyers.

The legal limbo has outraged human rights activists and psychologists who say the uncertainty the men face is unbearable and counterproductive to interrogators seeking information.

"Once you're in that condition, you're not rational," said psychiatrist Stuart Grassian of Harvard University in Boston, an expert on the affects of long-term confinement in maximum-security conditions. "Leaving people in confinement, or pushing them to the breaking point, won't necessarily improve the ability to get information," Grassian said. "When people break, a lot of times it isn't in a way that's particularly useful to anyone."

Dozens of detainees, who come from 38 countries, have staged hunger strikes to protest their indefinite detentions. Others are being treated for psychological disorders and several are being medicated with antidepressants or anti-psychotic drugs.

Many of the men have made statements that they wanted to die or kill themselves, Hoey said, and several others have tried to harm themselves, but the actions were not considered suicide attempts.

"There are gestures and statements that are considered self-harm incidents but we don't view them as serious attempts at suicide."


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