September 1, 2007 in Nation/World

‘Mass disturbance’ problems reportedly rise at Guantanamo

Ben Fox Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – “Mass disturbances” are up sharply at the Guantanamo Bay prison this year despite a security overhaul and the release of dozens of prisoners, according to a new U.S. military report.

A one-page report titled “Danger Inside the Wire” said there were 385 mass disturbances in the first six months of 2007 compared with 201 for all of 2006, an increase of more than 90 percent with half the year still to go.

The military declined to provide details about the incidents. A Guantanamo spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Ed Bush, said the category includes assaults or “other acts” involving at least three detainees that were intended to disrupt operations at the detention center, where about 355 men remain held without charges on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

The report also showed that several other disciplinary categories – including “forced cell extractions” and “assault with bodily fluids” – are on pace to match or exceed last year’s totals even though there are fewer detainees and most now are kept under tighter security in the newer, more modern sections of the detention center in Cuba.

Military officials say the numbers show detainees are dangerous. They “continue to wage war by employing various tactics … to either harm the guard force or bring international attention upon themselves in order to obtain release and return to the fight,” Army Col. Bruce Vargo, commander of the Joint Detention Group at Guantanamo, wrote in an e-mail.

Bush said the “mass disturbance” category does not include the long-running hunger strike at the detention center.

Several attorneys who represent detainees said they suspect the military’s definition is overly broad.

“Perhaps any collective action is the basis for what they call a mass disturbance or there is just something going on that nobody knows about,” said David Remes, a Washington attorney who visited clients at Guantanamo in August.

Military officials have described Guantanamo as relatively calm compared to 2006, when three suicides and a riot prompted a security overhaul that included shifting dozens of the “most compliant” detainees out of a unit where they had been allowed to live in a communal setting.

In the six months that ended June 30, the military recorded 155 “forced cell extractions,” compared to 238 for all of 2006; there were 96 assaults with bodily fluids during the period compared to 145 for all of last year; and there were 166 reported threats compared to 215 for all of last year. The military provided a copy of the report to The Associated Press.

The military has released about 100 prisoners over the past year. Most of the rest are now held in solitary confinement in solid-wall cells for all but two hours a day – harsh conditions that detainee advocates say could contribute to disciplinary problems.

“If you keep people pent up in conditions of isolation and hopelessness, they become frustrated,” said Boston attorney Sabin Willett.

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