Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Guantanamo detainees speak out


Detainees flinging body waste at guards. Guards interrupting detainees at prayer. Interrogators withholding medicine. Hostility and tension between inmates and their keepers at the Guantanamo Bay prison are evident in transcripts obtained by The Associated Press (AP).

These rare detainee accounts of life inside the razor wire at the remote US military base in Cuba emerged during Administrative Review Board hearings aimed at deciding whether prisoners suspected of links with the Taliban or al-Qaeda should continue to be held or be sent away from Guantanamo.

The Pentagon gave the AP transcripts of hearings held last year in a trailer at Guantanamo after the news agency sought the material under the Freedom of Information Act. Responding to questions from the AP, military officers denied that detainees have been deprived of medicine.

The military has said Guantanamo is relatively calm compared with last year. But a report released by the detention center last month shows mass disturbances are up sharply over last year and forced removal of prisoners from cells and assaults with bodily fluids are on pace to match or exceed last year's total.

The transcripts, obtained by the AP on Friday, illustrate the friction.

A Yemeni detainee, Mohammed Ali Em al-Zarnuki, warned his panel of three US military officers that inmates would attempt suicide unless guards stop interrupting prayers, moving detainees during prayer time and whistling and creating other distractions.

Four detainees have committed suicide at Guantanamo -- three last year and one on May 30. Several other detainees have tried to kill themselves, including by overdosing on hoarded medicine.

Commanders at Guantanamo had no comment on Tuesday on the allegation. Guards have been trained to be sensitive about religious matters at Guantanamo, where calls to prayer blare from loudspeakers while traffic cones are placed next to cells during prayer time, reminding guards not to interrupt.

In determining whether a detainee should remain at Guantanamo, the Administrative Review Boards consider whether he poses a security threat or has intelligence value. But detainees told the panels that lying to interrogators is common, calling into question the validity of the intelligence interrogators extract.

One detainee bluntly informed his panel that he lies to interrogators and that others do as well.

"Why do you feel you have the right to lie to the interrogators?" a surprised panel member asked the detainee, Abdennour Sameur, an Algerian who was a resident of Britain.

"I was lying so that I can get my medical [treatment]," Sameur said.

A Guantanamo spokesman, Army Lieutenant Colonel Edward Bush, said no officials at Guantanamo have ever heard of a detainee being prevented from taking medicine.

Navy Captain Bruce Menele, the commander of the Joint Medical Group at Guantanamo, said "interrogators have no authority over medical personnel administering medicine, or over any other aspect of detainee medical care."

A letter signed by physicians and published on Friday in the British medical journal The Lancet compared the role of doctors at Guantanamo to the South African doctors involved in the case of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who was beaten and tortured to death in 1977 in police custody.

The letter, signed by some 260 people from 16 countries -- most of them doctors -- accused the US medical establishment of turning a blind eye to the role of military doctors at Guantanamo.

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