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Admiral: Gitmo suicides a 'planned event'

First confirmed deaths follow hunger strikes at detention facility
A U.S. military member stands near two detainees at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in May.


Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
Saudi Arabia

(CNN) -- Three prisoners at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have hanged themselves in what is being called a "planned event," the U.S. military has said.

They are the first confirmed deaths at the compound. Prisoners have attempted suicide in the past.

"Two Saudis and one Yemeni, each located in Camp 1, were found unresponsive and not breathing in their cells by guards," said a statement issued by Joint Task Force-Guantanamo on Saturday. (Watch as the first reports of the deaths are released -- 2:47)

"Medical teams responded quickly and all three detainees were provided immediate emergency medical treatment in attempts to revive them. The three detainees were pronounced dead by a physician after all lifesaving measures had been exhausted," the statement said.

"This was clearly a planned event, not a spontaneous event," said Rear Adm. Harry Harris, commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo.

He added that there is a "mythical belief" that the Guantanamo detention center would be shut down if three detainees die.

The names of the detainees were not released. The State Department was notified and is talking with the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni governments, the military statement said.

President Bush, who is at Camp David, was informed of the deaths Saturday morning by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to a senior administration official. Bush said he was "seriously concerned" and wanted the incident handled humanely, the official said.

"The remains of the deceased detainees are being treated with the utmost respect. A cultural adviser is assisting the Joint Task Force to ensure that the remains are handled in a culturally and religiously appropriate manner," the statement said. (Watch commanders explain how guards discovered the men -- 5:09)

The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service is trying to determine the cause and manner of death.

About 460 detainees are being held without formal charges at Guantanamo on suspicion of having ties to al Qaeda.

'Would simply rather die'

The suicides should surprise no one because the detainees believe they will be held indefinitely with no chance for justice, said Josh Colangelo-Bryan with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents about 200 of the detainees.

"They've been told that while at Guantanamo they have no rights as human beings," he told reporters during a conference call Saturday.

Colangelo-Bryan said one of his clients told him during a visit to the facility in October 2005 that he "would simply rather die than live here with no rights."

Jumana Musa, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for domestic human rights and international justice, released a statement pointedly blaming the Bush administration for the suicides and calling Guantanamo "an indictment on its deteriorating human rights record."

"By rounding up men from all over the world and confining them in an isolated penal colony without charge or trial, the United States has violated several U.S. and international laws and treaties," Musa said in the statement.

The United States has defended its use of the Guantanamo facility to hold "enemy combatants" during the war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The U.N. last month issued a report saying that holding suspects indefinitely without charges violates the world torture ban and established human rights law.

The May 19 report called for the shutdown of Guantanamo and any secret prisons the U.S. operates.

Harris said Saturday that every prisoner at Guantanamo is considered "dangerous."

"They are smart. They are creative. They are committed. They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own," Harris said. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." (Watch a retired general call the suicides 'an act of defiance' -- 3:29)

Asymmetrical warfare is when one side uses unorthodox or surprise tactics to attack the weak points of its stronger opponent.

Harris said a guard early Saturday "noticed something out of the ordinary" in a cell and discovered one man had hanged himself early Saturday. Upon checking on other detainees, guards found that two others had hanged themselves as well, he said.

The men hanged themselves using nooses "made out of their clothing material and bed sheets," Harris said.

Camp 1

Camp 1 is a maximum-security wing of the facility. Detainees there are housed individually in cells and allowed 30 minutes in an exercise yard twice a week, according to the military. Showers are allowed in outdoor stalls after exercise.

Though Camp 1 is maximum security, it is not considered the highest security wing of the prison.

Camp 1 prisoners have generally been deemed cooperative and are allowed certain amenities not available to some prisoners, such as prayer rugs, canvas sneakers, toiletries, flip-flops, cotton underwear, shorts, trousers and a shirt, the military says.

There have been 41 suicide attempts -- many by the same detainee -- since the facility opened in January 2002, the Pentagon said May 19 after prisoners wielding homemade weapons clashed with guards attempting to intervene in what they thought was a suicide attempt.

It was later determined the suicide attempt was a ruse to lure guards into the room so prisoners could attack them, the military said. Earlier that day, three other prisoners attempted to kill themselves by swallowing pills they had hoarded, the Pentagon said.

Also last month, 75 prisoners staged a hunger strike to protest conditions at the jail, Reuters reported.

Harris said the men who killed themselves Saturday were "committed hunger strikers" and had participated in the May hunger strike.

Khalid al-Odah, whose son has been at Guantanamo since his arrest in Pakistan in 2002, told CNN he hasn't heard from his son in two months -- and that communication came from his son's attorney.

"I'm very, very upset to hear this kind of news," he said about the suicides.

"I'm terrified, me and my wife. I'm terrified of having my son there. He was on a hunger strike for a very long time," indicating it lasted about five months before officials forced him to stop it.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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