Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Wary US beefs up facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba


A cell awaits inmates at the brand new Camp 6 maximum security jail at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba, last Tuesday.


The military is toughening a new jailhouse for suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to protect guards after a spate of attacks and evidence that detainees have organized themselves into groups to mount uprisings, officials said.

The hardening comes as UN human rights investigators are calling for closing the entire detention center on the remote US base. But with the `war against terror groups' dragging on, commanders say they have no choice in dealing with men deemed enemy combatants.

Events in recent months have made Guantanamo officials very wary:

Detainees lured guards into a cell in the prison's Camp 4 by staging a suicide attempt in May, then attacked with fan blades and broken pieces of fluorescent light fixtures, the military says. Defense attorneys say the clash was sparked when guards tried to search prisoners' Korans.

On June 10, three detainees in Camp 1 committed suicide. Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the jail, described it as a coordinated protest action -- "not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

Guards recently discovered detainees in Camp 1 were dismantling faucets on sinks, removing long, sharp springs and reinforcing them into stabbing weapons, Army Lieutenant Colonel Mike Nicolucci said. Camp 1 has been emptied of detainees while new faucets are being installed, with inaccessible springs.

From July last year through last month, the military recorded 432 assaults by detainees using "cocktails" of bodily excretions thrown at guards, 227 physical assaults and 99 instances of inciting or participating in disturbances or riots.

"What we have come to assess is these detainees -- these terrorists -- are still fighting a battle," said Army Brigadier General Edward Leacock, deputy commander of the detention operation. "They're not on the battlefield, but ... they're still continuing to fight to this day." he said.

Leacock said that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees have established a hierarchy of "military guys, religious guys ... the muscle guys, and they all have a role inside the camps."

The goal is to coordinate attacks on guards or organize disturbances, Leacock said in an interview with journalists last week.

"There are people in the camps -- we have identified them -- [who] continue to try to foment problems within the camp," Leacock said. "Our effort is trying to preclude them from developing the plans that will cause ... any kind of uprising."

Leacock did not identify the leaders but insisted extra security measures were called for.

Human rights attorneys contend detainees are treated harshly, including enduring solitary confinement for months.

Underscoring the military's new stance, a jailhouse is being "hardened" into a maximum-security facility. Camp 6 was to have opened last month as a medium-security lockup.

The modifications have pushed back the completion date of the US$37.8 million jailhouse, which has a capacity for 220 inmates, to Sept. 30. It will take its first detainees in the middle of next month, Army Captain Dan Byer said.

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