Guantanamo inmates driven to suicide

Three months after a get-tough general took command of the Guantanamo Bay prison, inmates began a flurry of suicide attempts, according to military records.

US terms Guantanamo prisoners unlawful combatants
US terms Guantanamo prisoners unlawful combatants

Major General Geoffrey Miller took over as commander at Guantanamo in November 2002 after interrogators criticised his predecessor for being too solicitous for the detainees’ welfare.


Between January and March 2003, 14 prisoners at Guantanamo tried to kill themselves, according to Pentagon figures. That’s more than 40% of the 34 suicide attempts by 21 inmates since the prison was opened in January 2002.


Miller is now in charge of all military-run US prisons in Iraq, a job he took after news broke of beatings and sexual humiliations last Autumn at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.




Miller had visited Abu Ghraib in August and September and recommended interrogation techniques that military lawyers said had to be modified to comply with the Geneva Conventions on treating prisoners of war.


Human rights groups say the suicide attempts at Guantanamo Bay may be evidence that conditions there amounted to torture.


“They had him in a helmet to protect his head because he kept pounding it on the wall”

Maj. David Auch,
physician, US Army

In response to the rash of suicide attempts in early 2003, the military set up a psychiatric ward to treat Guantanamo prisoners. The ward had 20 or more patients last year. “Approximately seven” are there now, Kolarik said, “with illnesses ranging from psychosis to depression.”


Kolarik said up to 15% of detainees arrived at Guantanamo with some degree of mental illness.


Serious problems


Some prisoners at Abu Ghraib last year were seriously mentally ill, said Major David Auch, an Army Reserve physician who served at the prison then. Auch said one to two dozen of the 3,500 or so prisoners then had psychological problems serious enough to require “watching and protection for themselves.”


Auch said he never saw any evidence of suicide attempts, although one inmate would bang his head against the door and walls of his cell.


“They had him in a helmet to protect his head because he kept pounding it on the wall,” Auch said. “Sometimes they flexicuffed him because he tried to scratch his face, tried to grab anything he could to mutilate himself.”


The US government calls the men unlawful combatants, similar to traditional prisoners of war but not subject to the guarantees of the Geneva Conventions against torture and other abuses. The administration contends their treatment nevertheless is in compliance with the conventions.

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