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Posted on Thu, Feb. 06, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Pentagon reports suicide attempts among Guantanamo prisoners

The Pentagon said Thursday there has been another suicide attempt among inmates at its Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorist suspects, bringing the number to five in three weeks.

''Medical and psychiatric teams are working to try to prevent further injury or attempts,'' Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind said, declining further comment.

Including the 10 attempts in all of 2002, the new case brought the total to 15 since the high-security prison was built on the U.S. naval base a year ago to house men captured in the fight against terrorism. The five cases this year have all come since Jan. 16

Noting previous suicide attempts, the rights group Amnesty International has protested the prolonged detention and the uncertainty the men face about their future, saying it may cause physical and psychological harm.

Some of the men have been held more than a year under interrogation by the military without charges, trial or access to lawyers or their families.

The Bush administration has designated the men ''unlawful combatants,'' saying they are not entitled to the same rights as prisoners of war but are being treated humanely. Officials decline to say exactly how many are held and what their nationalities are, though the roughly 625 men are believed to come from more than 40 countries.

The facility has shifted its handling of prisoners in recent months after coming under a new commander.

Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who took over in November, said in a recent interview he was going to offer more rewards for cooperative behavior, such as chances to sleep, eat and pray together in a new medium-security detention wing. Until now, all men have been held in isolation in high-security cells.

Officials have declined to say what other changes he has instituted, though one said Miller was sent in to improve performance of interrogations at a time when officials were frustrated at the amount of information coming from stonewalling prisoners.

Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, the previous commander in charge of detention -- meaning housing, guards, security and so on -- left in October amid complaints from some interrogators that he had been too concerned about prisoner treatment.

Miller was sent in to consolidate control over detention issues and interrogations, which had been under two commanders.

The recent string of suicide attempts started Jan. 16, when a prisoner was found hanging in his cell and a guard rescued him. His government was notified because his injuries were so serious, Burfeind said, adding that he was still hospitalized Thursday.

The four after that were treated and returned to their cells.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the main goal of interrogations has been to get information prisoners may have about planned attacks or terrorist organizations.

He said those who are not a threat, not candidates for trial and of no further intelligence value will be transferred from the facility. Five prisoners have gotten out so far; officials said they had no information about how many more might be under consideration for release or trials.

Rumsfeld said Tuesday that ``these people are being treated properly, and the process is going along, and information's being gathered, intelligence information, and it's to the benefit of our country.''

Sweden this week demanded that one of its citizens held in Cuba be tried or released.

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