Guards quell captives' uprising

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- In a series of disruptions spanning 18 hours across the prison camps here, captives staged suicide attempts and fought U.S. guards with light-bulb shards, broken fans and metal bars they had ripped from their barracks, the U.S. military disclosed Friday.

At one point, to quell a five-minute brawl between 10 detainees and an equal number of soldiers, a U.S. Army rapid strike force fired pepper spray and rubber bullets.

Two other detainees were in comas at the Navy hospital Friday after overdosing on drugs in what commanders characterized as a calculated, coordinated martyrdom mission.

''These are dangerous men and determined jihadists,'' declared Rear Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the detention center housing about 460 detainees.

Harris described Thursday's events as ''probably the most violent outbreak'' at the Pentagon's 4-year-old interrogation and detention center. They also come at a time of increased international pressure on the Bush administration to close this prison complex.

In cascading crises, the tally was two young men in a coma from overdoses of antianxiety drugs that had not been prescribed for them, 66 captives moved out of medium security barracks into individual maximum security cells, and a guard force with cuts and bruises.

By Friday, during several passes around the compounds on the Caribbean, there was no evidence of the disruption -- no noise, with guards coming and going as usual.


Trouble began at 6:43 a.m. Thursday when, during a prayer call, guards spotted a young man unconscious in his cell, according to commanders who created a timeline. At 1:25 p.m., a second man was found unconscious -- both, commanders here said, from taking an overdose of pills.

Neither man was prescribed the drug, leading officers here to conclude that captives had colluded and stockpiled them for two men on a martyrdom mission.

Both men had earlier been committed hunger strikers, willing to die, ostensibly to embarrass the United States internationally and force Guantánamo's closure, said Army Col. Mike Bumgarner, chief of detention operations for more than a year.

In between, two other men appeared ill from overdoses, which officials have since concluded were not suicide attempts. One had a bad reaction to medication, said the admiral, Harris, in a telephone briefing to news reporters off the island. He said the other did not want to die but was creating a disturbance in sympathy with the plotters.

With two unconscious detainees from Camp 1 in the Navy hospital here, troubles then began in Camp 4, which has prisoner-of-war-style communal housing. With 175 captives, it is the Pentagon's showcase prison camp, where captives who are considered compliant sleep in bunkhouses for 10, and can eat and pray in open yards 20 at a time.

It has a soccer field awaiting Astroturf, exercise bicycles and picnic tables under the watch of a guard tower.

But at 6:35 p.m. a sailor guard spotted a captive stringing up a bed sheet inside one bunkhouse.

Sensing a ruse, the commander called out the Quick Reaction Force -- an elite, armed force. Bumgarner believes it was the first time ever here.

When the guards charged inside shouting orders, they encountered excrement, urine and soapy water spread across the floor. Two guards wielding riot shields and batons went down. Guards behind them let loose with pepper spray, five shotgun rounds of rubber bullets that unleashed 90 marble-sized pellets and something called a sponge round.

''We had two guards down,'' Bumgarner said. ``We were losing the fight at that point.''


The military showed homemade weapons Friday that the military said came from Camp 5 in the melee: a two-foot light tube, shattered on one end; cameras that had been ripped from the walls; parts of a huge electrical fan, and pieces of metal from the barracks building.

Six detainees were treated for minor injuries, Bumgarner said, including an older detainee who got a blast of pepper spray in an adjacent barracks that staged its own disruption around midnight Thursday.

Several guards suffered ''cuts, scrapes, bruises -- just like a good football game,'' said Bumgarner. No detainee was made available to offer an independent description of the episode; the military also refused a request by The Miami Herald -- the only news outlet on the base Friday -- to tour the camps.


The Navy admiral said there was not even a hint of the coming disruption on Thursday, which began before dawn with 15 long-held Saudi captives leaving the island for their homeland for further investigation and possible trial.

The night before, to celebrate their departure, the admiral had instructed the chefs to prepare a festive meal -- curried chicken, rice, traditional Middle Eastern honey sweets -- and serve it in all the camps, where the Saudis who had departed were scattered.

''There was really good feelings. Everybody was pumped because these guys were leaving,'' the admiral said. ``The guys themselves were pumped because they were leaving.''

Bumgarner attributed the disturbances to a belief in the camps that three of the captives must die here to incite enough ire against the United States to bring sufficient international condemnation on the United States and lead to the closure of Guantánamo.

Word had already passed through the camp that the detainees knew there were news media on the base to cover the first U.S. war-crimes tribunal since World War II.

Harris theorized that the joy over the Saudi departure was cover for more long-range, deeper scheming.

None of the men involved in the disruptions are charged before Military Commissions, Harris said. Prison officials wouldn't provide ages or nationalities of the captives involved. Nor would they give their names.

Harris praised the ''heroic'' performance of the U.S. military medical and security teams, but said he would review how medication is distributed throughout the camps.

Medical staff distribute 1,000 pills a day to 200 to 300 detainees, ranging from psychiatric drugs to aspirin and Tylenol.

Thursday's was the second reported staged suicide spree described by the military at Guantánamo. In January 2005, the military disclosed that more than a year earlier 23 prisoners tried to hang or strangle themselves -- 10 on the same day -- in a sustained, mass protest at the prison.