The Miami Herald

Autopsies complete, analysis underway

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Military pathologists have completed clinical autopsies of the three captives who hanged themselves over the weekend inside their cells at this offshore detention center, the military announced this afternoon.

''Now it's the analytical part of the autopsy, compiling the report and making conclusions,'' said Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, prison spokesman, adding the team of medical examiners from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arrived Saturday and departed Sunday.

Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, commander of the U.S. Southern Command based in Miami, toured the terror prison here on Sunday and declared the autopsies underway, as well as an internal examination by the Navy Criminal Investigative Services.

Guards found two Saudis and a Yemeni hanging in their cells at Camp 1 long before dawn on Saturday, officials said. The military said they fashioned nooses from their bedsheets in what the prison camps commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, called ``an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.''

Civilian defense lawyers have described increasing desperation by captives held for more than four years here. They say the detainees have few ways -- other than to harm themselves -- to protest their indefinite confinement.

''The deaths over the weekend came as absolutely no surprises to the attorneys,'' Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights told reporters in Washington.

She said the center, which coordinates some captives' federal habeas corpus petitions, has worked since February 2002 ``to get the military to concern itself with mental health and living conditions.''

Lawyers for some of the detainees held a news conference in Washington to urge closure of this prison camp in light of the weekend suicides.

No timeline was available today on when the autopsy results might be made public.

A Muslim Navy cleric arrived from Quantico, Va., Sunday and as of today was working with other Muslim military employees to make sure the bodies of the deceased captives were receiving proper Muslim rites and preparation.

''The bodies are now in the morgue at the naval hospital in Guantánamo and they are being handled with great reverence and respect and observance of the Islamic rules with regard to the handling of the deceased,'' said Durand.

At the same time, U.S. diplomats were negotiating with Saudi Arabia and Yemen on whether they would be sent to their homelands for burial.

Military sources say repatriation is likely.

The Muslim chaplain, Navy Lt. Abuhena Saiful Islam, said the bodies would be washed, wrapped in white shrouds and placed in a coffin here, facing the direction of Mecca. Prayers would also be said, according to Saiful Islam, who is an imam, a Muslim prayer leader.

Commanders would decide whether fellow detainees would be able to participate in the prayers, he added.

Sunday night, the Pentagon issued a release that described the three men as captured in Afghanistan, two with ties to al Qaeda and the third as a Taliban fighter.

One, Ali Abdullah Ahmed, was described as an al Qaeda operative with alleged links to the now U.S.-held al Qaeda mastermind known as Abu Zubaydeh. Another, Mani Shaman Turki al Habardi al Utaybi, had been cleared for release from the prison, so long as he was transferred to detention elsewhere.

The alleged Taliban fighter is Yassar Talal al Zahrani, a 21-year-old Saudi who would have been captured and brought here as a teenager.

It is not yet known if the three men were among the 25 percent of detainees being regularly interrogated at this remote, offshore Navy base.

None had previously attempted suicide, Durand said.

He did not know if the Saudi cleared for release had been intended to be aboard a May 18 Saudi Airways flight that left this base with 15 detainees, for continued investigation and possible trial in their oil-rich kingdom.

The Saudi foreign minister had announced the deal in mid-May, saying the kingdom had arranged to take 16 citizens from this remote, offshore detention center. In the end, though, the U.S. military released only 15.

The military said none of the three men who killed themselves had lawyers, and none faced war-crimes charges.

Also, none had ''ongoing psychological illness,'' said the Pentagon's top medical professional, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., who accompanied the general on Sunday's visit. Moreover, none of the three were on prescription drugs, said Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers had by January met with only 130 of the detainees here.

A ''vast majority have no access to any outside counsel,'' Gutierrez said. ``They are entering their fifth year of imprisonment, held in isolation. The amount of psychiatric stress cannot be underestimated.''

Clark reported from Washington, Rosenberg from Cuba.




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