Mon, Jul 10, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Camp suicides involved others: inquest

GUANTANAMO INVESTIGATION Lawyers for detainees at the island facility have condemned the confiscation of prison notes as a violation of attorney-client privilege


A US military investigation into three apparent suicides last month at the Guantanamo Bay prison has found that other detainees may have helped the men hang themselves or were also planning to try to kill themselves at some point.

After searching the cells of detainees other than those found hanged to death before dawn on June 10, authorities found instructions on tying knots along with several notes in Arabic that were "relevant" to an investigation into a possible broader plot, a US official said in court papers filed late on Friday in Washington.

Authorities confiscated personal papers from nearly all 450 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to pursue "all logical leads" in the investigation and to "determine whether other suicides were planned or likely to be planned," said Carol Kisthardt of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in an affidavit.

In a separate affidavit, the detention center's commander, Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris, said investigators believe "the suicides may have been part of a larger plan or pact for more suicides that day or in the immediate future."

Both affidavits were filed in support of a US government request for a judge to appoint a special review panel to review all the documents seized from Guantanamo detainees.

The panel should include lawyers, law enforcement and intelligence personnel and translators who have not taken part in any legal proceedings against detainees to ensure their independence and protect the legal rights of detainees, the government said.

Investigators said they confiscated about 500kg of personal documents, including letters from attorneys, after three detainees were found hanging from their steel mesh cells -- the first reported deaths of prisoners at the prison.

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have condemned the confiscation of the legal papers as a violation of attorney-client privilege and have asked a judge to order their immediate return.

Bill Goodman, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights based in New York, which represents about 200 detainees at the facility, said the government's request for a special review panel would undermine trust between prisoners and their lawyers and delay the legal process.

"It's another road block," Goodman said.

Authorities took the papers after finding a note in Arabic related to the suicides in the mesh wall of one of the prisoners found hanged to death, Kisthardt said.

The note did not appear to be written by one of the detainees who committed suicide and it was written on paper provided by lawyers stamped with the words "Attorney Client Privilege."

Among the papers, investigators also found an e-mail from someone on the base that reputedly contained sensitive information about the location of cells and operations at the camp, where the US holds men suspected of links to the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

Investigators also confiscated envelopes from detainees marked "Attorney-Client Privilege" but did not review the contents to see if they had any relevant information, Kisthardt said.

The government, in its request to the judge, said the special panel, or so-called "Filter Team," would review all the material and report any information that threatens national security or involves "imminent violence" but would not divulge anything that would violate attorney-client privilege.

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