The US confirmed that three prisoners found hanged in their cells at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility committed suicide, triggering a new wave of international outrage against the controversial detention facility.
Critics say the prisoners are being denied basic human rights
The deaths of two men from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay have reignited the controversy surrounding the camp, with Germany among the countries responding to the news by renewing calls on Washington to close the prison and give the prisoners trials.
"We expect the US to investigate the matter immediately," said a government spokesman in Berlin on Sunday. "Our position on Guantanamo is well-known," he added, referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel's call earlier this year to close the facility.
Peter Struck, parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, said the events in Guantanamo confirmed international doubts concerning the camp. "The US should close the camp and give the prisoners a fair trial," he said.
There have been dozens of suicide attempts since the camp was set up
The US began using the base at the US naval facility on Cuba's southeastern tip in 2002, describing the some 460 prisoners it holds there as "enemy combatants" and denying them the rights of regular prisoners of war. To date, only 10 have been formally charged since the camp first opened.
In the wake of the deaths, one top senator from President George W. Bush's Republican Party criticized the policy of prolonged detentions of hundreds of terror suspects without trial.
"Those people have to be tried," said Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "There are tribunals established. Where we have evidence they ought to be tried, and if convicted they ought to be sentenced," said Specter, who said some inmates have been detained based on "the flimsiest sort of hearsay."
A senior Senate Democrat, Jack Reed, called for the prison to be permanently shuttered.
"They should as quickly as possible try to close the facility," said Reed, a leading Democrat on military matters. "There has to be a good procedure that balances the need to keep these people off the street with the need to find out who in fact is a terrorist. That hasn't been done yet by the administration," he said.
Stepping pressure on US
The suicides pose a new challenge for President George W. Bush's administration, long under pressure to close the camp from critics that include the UN and international human rights organizations as well as a number of European governments.
The UN rapporteur on torture said Sunday that the EU should pressure Bush at an upcoming summit in Vienna to close the Guantanamo camp.
Human rights groups said the deaths showed the inmates were in a state of despair because of the indefinite nature of their detention.
"Holding people indefinitely without access to family, regular legal process, or independent medical care, is an invitation to disaster," said Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First.
"An act of warfare"
The prison camp holds most prisoners without charge
The deaths, which also came amid a prisoner hunger strike, came after repeated suicide attempts by inmates in the camp that were prevented.
White House officials described the three men as committed terrorists, and military officials said that none had been among the handful of prisoners whose cases had been brought before military commissions for prosecution.
Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the camp's commander, described the suicides as an act of "warfare" meant to draw international attention. "These are dangerous men and they will do anything they can to do gain support for their cause and the advance of their cause," Harris said.
There have been 41 suicide attempts by about 25 individual detainees but in previous cases, US medical personnel were able to save them, according to the Pentagon.
One lawyer acting for the families of Saudi nationals held in Guantanamo Bay questioned the US military's account.
"I have informed their families and they do not believe that they have committed suicide and consider them martyrs," Saudi lawyer Kateb al-Shimmari told AFP on Sunday. "We have great doubts over the US version of the story because they were being held in extraordinary circumstances and were under 24-hour surveillance."