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Inside story of the Guantanamo uprising

The camp commander's claims of a co-ordinated revolt are challenged by new details of the violence.

By Severin Carrell

05/21/06 "
The Independent" -- -- The prison camps at Guantanamo Bay were gripped by a series of uprisings and disturbances last week which suggest a state of near revolt, it emerged yesterday.

Reports from within the controversial detention centre in Cuba claim the base's military commanders believe there were links between a series of suicide attempts, medical emergencies and the violent clashes between 20 inmates and guards on Thursday.

It was "probably the most violent outbreak" in the camp's four-year history, claimed Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the detention and interrogation centre's commander. "These are dangerous men and determined jihadists," he said.

The base's authorities suspect the incidents were co-ordinated and fed off each other, but one former inmate and two lawyers raised substantial doubts about the US military's account of the disturbances.

Moazzam Begg, the Birmingham bookshop owner released from the camp last year, said the detention cells were too closely monitored and controlled for inmates to organise a revolt so well. Clive Stafford Smith and Brent Mickum, defence lawyers who regularly visit clients in the base, said they suspected the official accounts were "rubbish".

Camp officers said the incidents began early on Thursday morning in Camp 1, when an unconscious inmate was discovered in his cell. Nearly seven hours later, another detainee was found unconscious, both from taking anti-depressants which they had not been prescribed.

During the same period, another two men became ill - one from an adverse reaction to his medication and a second who over-dosed, allegedly in solidarity with the two unconscious men.

Five hours later, 10 inmates in another facility, a normally peaceful communal compound for "compliant" prisoners called Camp 4, allegedly provoked a confrontation with the prison's notorious "quick reaction force". When the 10-man force arrived, the authorities claim they were confronted by detainees wielding improvised weapons made from a broken lighting tube, large fan blades, CCTV cameras which had been ripped down from walls, and metal sheeting from buildings.

The floor of their shared bunkhouse had allegedly been slickened with urine, excrement and soapy water, leading to two guards slipping. The guards then used pepper-spray and rubber pellet shotgun blasts to subdue the detainees - five of whom were treated for minor injuries.

About midnight, an elderly detainee was hit with pepper spray and treated for minor injuries after inmates in another nearby camp staged a further demonstration. Several guards suffered "cuts, scrapes and bruises, just like a good football game," said Colonel Mike Burngarner, the base's chief of detention operations.

The authorities claim the disruption was designed to create further controversy about the camp, because inmates know Guantanamo Bay is the subject of intense legal and political controversy. Next month, the US Supreme Court is due to deliver a critical ruling on whether President Bush's administration can legally refuse to block legal hearings for the 460 inmates now there.

Col Burngarner told the Miami Herald that inmates believed three detainees would need to die in order to provoke a worldwide backlash intense enough to close the camp. Yesterday, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, repeated his demand for closure.

Mr Begg, who was seized by the CIA in Pakistan in 2002, said he was sceptical that inmates would be able to avoid the round-the-clock surveillance by CCTV cameras, foot patrols and watchtowers to make and hide weapons. Medical staff were also scrupulous about ensuring detainees swallowed their medication.

He added that electrical equipment such as fans and cameras were normally out of reach. "It's not like a Second World War prisoner of war camp where you can dig tunnels. There's so much security, day in, day out. Everything is logged, everything is watched, everything is scheduled," he said.

Mr Stafford Smith and Mr Mickum, who represent detainees with close ties to the UK, said these unusually detailed and immediate accounts by the US authorities confirmed the Bush administration had begun a public relations offensive to rebuild support for the camp.

2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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