US sends home bodies of three Guantanamo detainees
WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) The United States is sending home the bodies of two Saudis and a Yemeni who it said committed suicide at the US prison for foreign terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, defense officials said today.
The United States said the men hanged themselves with clothes and bed sheets in maximum security cells on June 10, making them the first prisoners to die at the controversial camp since it opened in 2002 at the US naval base on Cuba.
The US military has identified the three men as Ali Abdullah Ahmed of Yemen, and Saudis Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi and Yassar Talal al-Zahrani.
A senior US defense official, who asked not to be named, said the bodies were being shipped home but did not say when they would arrive.
The families of the three have questioned the circumstances of their deaths, saying the men, all devout Muslims, would not have committed suicide.
The deaths renewed long-standing criticism of the base, which many human rights groups and some governments say should be closed.
The United States has argued the prison is needed to prevent dangerous al Qaeda and Taliban figures from returning to the battlefield and to extract information that may prevent future attacks.
The United States currently holds about 460 detainees at the Guantanamo prison, most held without charges for more than four years. Ten have been charged with crimes, but not one trial has been completed.
NO RECENT DISTURBANCES US Navy Lt Cmdr Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said there had not been any disturbances involving detainees at Guantanamo since the suicides.
The military has said pathologists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's office conducted autopsies on the bodies of the three detainees but were still awaiting test results before announcing an official cause of death.
Army Gen Bantz Craddock, who oversees Guantanamo as head of US Southern Command, has said the military was reviewing the adequacy of procedures at the facility in light of the suicides and whether the procedures were followed.
The military also said it launched an investigation into whether US personnel allowed a journalist at Guantanamo to hear classified or sensitive information.
Charlotte Observer reporter Michael Gordon was permitted to report on a staff meeting held two days after the suicides. He reported that the detention center commander, Army Col Mike Bumgarner, ordered staff to assess and tighten existing policies on detainee clothing, meals, recreation time, prison lighting and discipline, and ordered more frequent patrols in the cellblocks.
REUTERS DH RAI0110