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Gitmo suicides "good PR stunt" by two killers intent on martyrdom and one scheduled for transfer

June 12, 2006

Suicide detainee was due for transfer,10117,19450923-401,00.html

ONE of the alleged terrorists who committed suicide at Guantanamo Bay had been cleared for transfer to another country, a second was involved in a 2001 prison uprising in Afghanistan where a CIA agent died, and a third had ties to al-Qaeda, the Pentagon has said.

The US Department of Defence identified the three as Saudi Arabians Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi and Yassar Talal Al-Zahrani, and Yemeni Ali Abdullah Ahmed.

In what one US official termed a "good PR stunt", the three hanged themselves with nooses made from sheets and clothes at the weekend, prompting renewed pressure on the US to close the prison on its naval base in Cuba where about 460 men are held, almost all without charge.

Danish Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen, who supported the US-led Iraq war, said the prison camp's procedures violated "the very principle of the rule of law" and weakened the fight against terrorism. "I think it would be to the benefit of our cause and our fight for freedom and against terrorism if the facilities at Guantanamo Bay were closed down," he said.

Utaybi had been recommended for transfer to the custody of another country before his suicide, the Pentagon said in a statement. He would have been under detention there as well.

The US military accused Utaybi, 30, of being a member of a militant missionary group, Jama'at Al Tablighi.

US Navy commodore Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, said he did not know if Utaybi had been informed of the transfer before he killed himself.

US authorities allege that Ahmed, 28, was an al-Qaeda operative who had ties to senior members of the group. During his time in Guantanamo Bay, he had been "non-compliant" and hostile to the guards, and was a long-term hunger striker from late 2005 to May 2006, the US Defence Department said.

Zahrani, 21, was accused by the US of being a front-line fighter for the Taliban who facilitated weapons purchases for use against coalition forces.

He was allegedly involved in the November 2001 prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, that resulted in the death of CIA officer Johnny Spann.

None of the three had been charged. Guantanamo detainees, some of them in custody for 4 years, are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Many claim they are innocent or were low-level Taliban members who never intended to harm the US.

Only 10 detainees, including Australian David Hicks, have been charged with offences and they face military trials ordered by US President George W. Bush.

While US officials argue that the suicides were political acts aimed at hurting US standing in the world, human rights activists and former detainees say Guantanamo prisoners are desperate after years in captivity and see suicide as the only way out, even though Islam forbids it.

"A stench of despair hangs over Guantanamo," said Mark Denbeaux, a defence lawyer who visited a client at Guantanamo on June 2. "Everyone is shutting down and quitting."

General John Craddock, chief of the US Southern Command, said at the weekend the suicides at Guantanamo were part of Islamic militants' holy war against the US and its allies.

But the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee said he would like to see the detainees' cases judged more quickly. "Where we have evidence they ought to be tried, and if convicted they ought to be sentenced," Senator Arlen Specter said.

US military guards were trying to prevent more suicides by removing sheets from cells when detainees were not sleeping. But human rights groups and defence lawyers said they feared the suicides - the first detainee deaths at Guantanamo Bay - were only the beginning.

So far, Guantanamo officials have said there have been 41 suicide attempts by 25 detainees.

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