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Guantanamo Detainees Stage Riot, Suicide Attempts, But Injuries Minor

U.S. military guards at the Guantanamo detention center fired rubber shotgun pellets and used batons and shields to put down a small but violent riot by detainees Thursday evening. Senior officers at the facility spoke by telephone to reporters in the United States Friday and VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The officers say 10 detainees in a medium-security part of the facility lured guards into their bunkhouse by simulating a suicide attempt. The commander of the detention operation, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, says the detainees were ready when the guards came in.

Admiral Harris says what followed was a "dangerous disturbance." He says the guards train for possible fake suicide attempts used to lure guards into a trap because detainees at Guantanamo have done that in the past. But the tactic worked to some extent anyway.

The commander of the guards, Colonel Mike Baumgarner, described what happened. "We entered with a force of approximately 10 individuals. And we were meeting one-to-one force with riot batons and shields. Frankly, the detainees were jumping off the beds on top of the guards," he said.

Colonel Baumgarner says the senior non-commissioned officer on the scene determined that the guards' lives were in danger. "Frankly, we were losing the fight at that point. He then authorized the engagement with non-lethal rounds," he said.

The colonel says those 'non-lethal rounds' were five shotgun shells containing rubber pellets, and what he described as one 'sponge grenade.' He says the disturbance was put down within about four minutes, with six detainees receiving minor injuries and some of the guards suffering cuts and bruises.

But that was not the end of the incident. "As that was unfolding, two other bays (bunkhouses) reacted to where they began to carry out significant property damage. As that unfolded, they also assaulted another guard by throwing a glass at him," he said.

Colonel Baumgarner says those two groups of detainees destroyed everything they could in their rooms, including security cameras, wires and electric fans, which they tried to make into weapons. The colonel says that part of the disturbance was ended by what he called verbal commands and a show of force. He says by then he had called in about 100 extra guards.

The colonel reports total damage caused during the disturbance amounted to about $110,000, mainly from the destruction of the cameras.

The area where the disturbances happened is for detainees who have been cooperative in the past. The communal living, access to large exercise yards and other privileges are designed to be more pleasant than other parts of the center, where detainees live in individual cells and exercise in small yards.

The officers also report that the confrontations Thursday evening followed incidents earlier in the day in which two detainees in a more secure part of the center tried to commit suicide by taking overdoses of prescription drugs that they had hoarded for some time. The officers say the two men were quickly treated by the center's medical staff and Friday afternoon were stable but still unconscious in the base's hospital.

In addition, the officers say two other detainees took pills apparently to show support for the first two, but they did not have enough pills to become seriously ill. Guards found a cache of pills in another detainee's cell.

Admiral Harris, the overall detention center commander, describes the detainees as "dangerous and committed jihadists," and he says they rioted Thursday to get publicity. "This is a way to bring attention to their position, and the fact that they are continuing to wage war against America and our allies. And they are doing what they can to further their ideals," he said.

Admiral Harris also praised both the guard force for using minimal force to contain the disturbance, and the medical staff for acting quickly and effectively to save the lives of the two men who actually tried to commit suicide.

Also on Friday, the United Nations Committee Against Torture called on the United States to close the Guantanamo detention facility.

Earlier, the United States transferred 15 Guantanamo detainees back to their home country, Saudi Arabia. That transfer, and others in recent weeks, have brought the number of detainees at Guantanamo to about 460, more than 100 of whom have been approved for release and are waiting for their home countries, or other countries, to agree to accept them.