Guantanamo suicides a 'PR stunt', says US official

By Kate Kelland

LONDON - Three suicides at the US's Guantanamo prison camp have been described as a publicity stunt by a senior US official.

The deaths at the weekend were the first at the prison since the United States began holding terrorism suspects there in 2002.

Colleen Graffy, US deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the BBC World Service the suicides were a "good PR move to draw attention".

"It does sound that this is part of a strategy in that they don't value their own life and they certainly don't value ours and they use suicide bombings as a tactic to further their Jihadi cause," she said.

She said the men had not needed to take their lives to protest their situation, as they had access to lawyers, mail and could write to their families.

Meanwhile, a British man held for two and a half years at the prison camp said he was shocked that three inmates had hanged themselves but said treatment of prisoners there made suicide attempts inevitable.

Shafiq Rasul, who was held at the Guantanamo camp in Cuba after being arrested in Afghanistan, said that while he was there, inmates who were subjected to constant beatings and interrogations had attempted to take their own lives.

"I was shocked, but at the same time it is inevitable that something like that would happen," he told Sky Television.

"There were numerous suicide attempts while I was there as well -- it happened right in front of me."

The US military said on Saturday that three Arabs at the camp -- two Saudis and one Yemeni -- had hanged themselves with clothes and bed sheets. The three had taken part previously in extended hunger strikes and been force-fed. They all left suicide notes but no details were made public.

British Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman said the camp should be moved to the United States or closed.

"If it is perfectly legal and there is nothing going wrong there, why don't they have it in America?" she said on BBC television. "It is in a legal no man's land. Either it should be moved to America and then they can hold those people under the American justice system or it should be closed."

The UK government's top legal adviser, Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, last month said the camp should be closed.

The US military says 23 inmates have attempted suicide a total of 41 times since the camp opened.

Asked whether he had heard other inmates talk of suicide when he was incarcerated at Guantanamo, Rasul said: "I don't think they ever spoke about it, but there were individuals who had just had enough, couldn't take any more, were going crazy, who would attempt to kill themselves."

Rasul was one of three British Muslims who say they travelled to Pakistan in 2001 for a wedding and entered Afghanistan when called on by a cleric to help distribute aid.

He was freed without charge in March 2004 and has since accused Washington of torture and launched a legal battle for compensation.

"Basically for the two and a half years I was there, I had no rights," he said. "I had no communication with the outside world, I had no access to lawyers, and I was accused of being a member of al Qaeda -- I was told I was the worst of the worst."

Rasul said he was "beaten on a regular basis, taken to interrogation, shackled to the floor in very stressful positions and left there for hours and hours".

Guantanamo holds about 460 foreigners captured mainly in Afghanistan where the United States has fought the Taleban and al Qaeda.

- REUTERS

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