Guantanamo inmate killed himself 'unaware he was due to be freed'

ONE of the three Guantanamo Bay detainees whose suicides were described by American officials as "a good PR move" was unaware he was due to be released, the US Defence Department has said.

The deaths of Saudi Arabians Mani al-Utaybi and Yassar al-Zahrani, and a Yemeni, Ali Ahmed, who hanged themselves by nooses made from sheets and clothing, led to fresh calls from Europe for the camp to be closed.

An influential US senator has also called for the government to move faster in determining the fate of hundreds of detainees who have been imprisoned for up to over four years with no end in sight.

About 460 people are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda and the Taleban at the camp on an isolated US military base in south-eastern Cuba.

Only ten have been charged and many claim they were not involved in al-Qaeda or were low-level Taleban members who never intended to harm the US.

None of the three who committed suicide early on Saturday had been charged, but the camp commander said killing themselves was an "act of asymmetric warfare waged against us".

US authorities allege that Ahmed, 28, was a mid to high-level al-Qaeda operative with ties to key al-Qaeda facilitators and senior membership.

Zahrani, 21, was accused of being a frontline fighter for the Taleban who facilitated weapons purchases for its offensives against US and coalition forces.

The US military accused Utaybi of being a member of alleged militant missionary group Jama'at Al Tablighi. But the 30-year-old, born in Al-Qarara, Saudi Arabia, had been due to be freed with 141 other prisoners, according to US lawyer Professor Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the detainees.

Utaybi been declared a "safe person" but the US needed a country to send him to, Prof Denbeaux said.

"His despair was great enough and in his ignorance he went and killed himself," he said. "A stench of despair hangs over Guantanamo. Everyone is shutting down and quitting."

Prof Denbeaux said he was frightened by the depression he saw in one of the men when he visited the jail on 2 June.

However, the US Defence Department said Utaybi had been recommended for transfer to another country for continued detention.

International demands to close the prison grew over the weekend.

The Danish prime minister, Fogh Rasmussen, who supported the US president, George Bush, in the Iraq war, said the detention centre's procedures violated "the very principle of the rule of law" and weakened the fight against terrorism.

The EU's External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, condemned the existence of the camp.

"Guantanamo should be closed. This is an occasion to reiterate that statement," he said.

Cully Stimson, Mr Bush's deputy assistant secretary of defence for detainee affairs, yesterday tried to pull back from the earlier comments about public relations and "asymmetric warfare".

"I wouldn't characterise it as a good PR move. What I would say is that we are always concerned when someone takes his own life, because as Americans, we value life, even the lives of violent terrorists who are captured waging war against our country," he said.

Relatives of two Saudi detainees said the men could not have committed suicide because they were strict Muslims.

Islam prohibits suicide and sets out harsh punishments in the afterlife for those who take their own lives. The men's families said they had probably been killed.

"I am confident my son did not commit suicide," Talal al-Zahrani, Yassar's father, said. "The story of the US administration is a lie."

Zahrani's brother, Ahmed, also said it was unthinkable that Yassar would kill himself.

"It's impossible for Yassar to commit suicide," he said.

Fares al-Utaibi, Mani's brother, also suspected foul play. "We are 100 per cent suspicious about his death," he said.

Katib al-Shimary, a lawyer for Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, said he held the US authorities responsible for the deaths. "We lost confidence in US jails after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," he said.

The Saudi government declined to say if it would ask for an inquiry into the deaths but pledged more efforts to bring back all Saudis detained at Guantanamo, estimated at up to 103.

Saudi Arabia has freed at least eight detainees handed over to it from Guantanamo after they completed their jail sentences. In May, the kingdom said it had received 15 Saudi detainees and might put them on trial.

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