President Bush has expressed serious concern about the suicides of three detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. The suicides, discovered early Saturday, were the first in the four and one-half years that the U.S. Naval base has been used to hold prisoners captured in Afghanistan. Military commanders called the suicides a coordinated operation.
Shortly after midnight Saturday morning, a guard noticed a detainee hanging in his cell. The man was unresponsive and was not breathing. Within a matter of minutes, guards discovered two others who had also hanged themselves. They had fashioned nooses out of clothing and bedding.
According to the military, medical personnel responded quickly, but were unable to revive the men.
Two of the detainees were from Saudi Arabia, and one was from Yemen.
U.S. Army General John Craddock, in charge of the U.S. Southern Command, said the inmates lived in the same cell block, but not in adjacent cells. In a conference telephone call with reporters, he said the suicides were coordinated beforehand. "The methodology was similar. These are men who had tried, gone on hunger strikes together in the past. Their methods of hanging themselves was similar if you will. I believe it was clearly a coordinated attempt," he said.
Each of the men left a suicide note. But the contents were not disclosed.
An investigation of the deaths is underway. Authorities say they want to prevent future suicides at Guantanamo.
The U.S.-run facility has been criticized by the United Nations and several international human rights organizations. Critics say it is a violation of human rights to hold prisoners without filing charges or granting a fair trial.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is an advocacy group that represents a large number of Guantanamo detainees. Its legal director, William Goodman, said the deaths reflect the desperation of the detainees.
But Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of Joint Task Force at Guantanamo, said the detainees took their own lives to further the cause to which they were committed. "This is a determined, intelligent, committed element, and they continue to do everything they can to accomplish what their intent is, and I think it is to become martyrs in the jihad," he said.
Admiral Harris says the bodies will be treated with cultural sensitivity.