WASHINGTON – Human rights groups and defense lawyers called Monday for an independent investigation into the three detainee suicides at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, questioning the military’s preliminary explanation of how the men killed themselves and the way U.S. officials have characterized the deaths.
U.S. officials have called the three deaths Saturday an act of “asymmetric warfare” and a public relations move aimed at riling the international community. Military commanders said the men – all described as having terrorist ties – used creative methods to kill themselves while seeking martyrdom, and the military dismissed claims that the suicides were the desperate acts of depressed captives.
Amnesty International officials said Monday that an independent investigation “is a matter of absolute urgency” and is the only way to find out what really happened in the prison’s Camp 4. In a written statement, the officials said an ongoing Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe will not be sufficient in light of comments U.S. officials have made.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has open and regular access to the Guantanamo Bay facility, plans to send a delegation to look into the suicides. The group made a similar assessment there last month after a riot following a series of suicide attempts.
“This is no inquiry or investigation; it’s a follow-up to find out what happened, to assess the mood in the camp,” said Simon Schorno, a Red Cross spokesman in Washington. “It’s routine.”
The Bush administration sought to distance itself from comments Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for public diplomacy, made to the British Broadcasting Corp., in which she called the suicides a “good PR move.” Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, said Monday the department would not characterize them that way and said U.S. officials “have serious concerns anytime anybody takes his own life.”
David Remes, a defense attorney representing 17 Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, said he is skeptical of the military’s version.
“There’s no way to verify anything that the military says down there because, as usual, its stance is: ‘Trust us,’ ” Remes said. “We have to take their word for it. What’s really needed is an independent investigation.”