USA/Cuba: Guantánamo deaths - independent, civilian-led investigation urged

Amnesty International has called for a fully independent investigation led by civilians into the recent deaths of three Guantánamo detainees after apparent suicides.

The organisation also called on the US government to give UN experts immediate and unrestricted access to the Guantánamo detention centre, and in particular to allow the UN to talk privately to detainees.

The detainees who died have been identified as Saudi nationals Mane'i bin Shaman bin Turki al-Habardi al-'Otaybi and Yassar Talal 'Abdullah Yahia al-Zahrani (who was reportedly 17 when he was taken into custody), and Yemeni national 'Ali 'Abdullah Ahmed.

Amnesty International USA Researcher Rob Freer said:

“This has been a tragedy waiting to happen. A full independent investigation is a matter of absolute urgency particularly in the light of statements from high-ranking members of the US military and government that risk undermining the investigation launched by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service.”

Amnesty International believes the dismissal of the deaths of the three detainees by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Colleen Graffy as “a good PR move to draw attention”, shows a chilling disregard for human life.

The organisation is also deeply concerned by a statement from the Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, Navy Rear Admiral Harry B Harris, that the three detainees had not killed themselves out of desperation, but as “an act of asymmetric warfare”.

Rob Freer added:

“The Commander’s statement is entirely inappropriate and is part of a pattern of official commentary on the presumed guilt of detainees who have never had an opportunity to challenge their detentions in a court of law.

“Amnesty International has long been concerned that some Guantánamo prisoners are so psychologically damaged by being held for years on end without charge or trial that they are becoming suicidal.

“President George W. Bush has it within his power to order an end to this human rights scandal now and to ensure that detainees are either brought to fair trial or released with full safeguards as a matter of urgency”.

Amnesty International has also reiterated its call for the total closure of Guantánamo Bay, which must be carried out without transferring the lawlessness elsewhere, and for a full independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of the USA’s detention and interrogation policies and practices in the “war on terror”, including renditions and secret detentions.

In another development apparently related to the deaths, on 10 June, John D Altenburg, the Appointing Authority for Military Commissions, issued an order staying all proceedings by military commission. Pre-trial hearings had been scheduled to occur this and next week.

Amnesty International opposes the trials by military commission as they fall far short of international standards for fair trial. The organisation continues to call on President Bush to rescind the Military Order of 13 November 2001 establishing the commissions. He should not merely wait for the US Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

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