They just got a different tool to use than we do: They kill innocent lives to achieve objectives. That's what they do. And they're good. They get on the TV screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this, that or the other. I mean, they're able to kind of say to people: Don't come and bother us, because we will kill you. Bush - Joint News Conference with Blair - 28 July '06

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Groups Call for Probe of Guantanamo Suicides

IPS: The U.S. government sought to distance itself Tuesday from an official's statement calling the suicides of three Guantanamo Bay prisoners a "public relations move", as human rights groups, legal experts and newspapers in the Middle East renewed calls for the prison's closing.

Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the British Broadcasting Corporation last weekend that the suicides at the U.S.-run camp in Cuba were a "good P.R. move to draw attention" and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause".

Guantanamo's commander, Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., poured more fuel on the fire by saying the three who took their lives "are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

The three men -- two Saudis and a Yemeni -- ended their lives by hanging themselves in their cells on Saturday. There have been numerous earlier suicide attempts, but the three are believed to be the only successful ones.

Mary Shaw of Amnesty International USA, told IPS that her group is "calling for an independent investigation into the deaths of the three Guantanamo detainees who apparently committed suicide."

"Amnesty has long been concerned for the mental health of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, who are being held for years on end without charge and without trial and possibly abused," she said. "We call on President Bush to put an end to this human rights scandal and ensure that all detainees in the 'war on terror' are brought to fair trial or released."

There are some 460 prisoners at the US Naval Base. Many have been detained without charges for more than four years. Only 10 have been charged with a crime and there have been no trials. There have also been widespread hunger strikes, with prisoners being force-fed with the help of military physicians and other medical personnel.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack struggled to distance the George W. Bush administration from Graffy's remarks. He said, "We would not say that it was a P.R. stunt. We have serious concerns anytime anybody takes their own life." But he added that while the United States did not wish to become the world's jailer, Guantanamo housed "dangerous citizens" who were a threat to the world.

Despite the efforts at damage control, Graffy's remarks were quickly picked up in the Arab press.

Lebanon's The Daily Star newspaper said, "Her comments quickly appeared to be bad P.R. moves for the U.S. administration."

An editorial in Saudi Arabia's Arab News called the suicides a "tragedy was just waiting to happen." It added, "These deaths reflect the desperation for a basic human need -- a need for justice, a need to have someone hear what these incarcerated people have to say, then be duly punished if a crime has been committed or be set free. Three of the detainees are now gone without ever having seen a court or enjoyed a system of justice that is held so dearly by their captors."

Egypt's influential Al-Ahram newspaper said, "Washington, which considers itself the sponsor of democracy and human rights in the world appears today as the main suspect in the violation of these rights."

An editorial in the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper wrote that "The prevalent belief is that they died of torture...The whole world should act and compel the current U.S. administration to retract from this disgraceful violation of human rights and close the Guantanamo detention center immediately without delay." Read more

db: Bad PR ... that sums it up. The US administration seeks to distance itself from the absurd comments of Harry-the-camp-commander and Ms Colleen Graffy the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy [!] because to the rest of the world it looked bad. Not because of any fundamental problem with their thinking - they were perfectly 'on message'.