Guantanamo Bay suicide prisoners 'showed no sign of being depressed'

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Three Guantanamo Bay detainees who hanged themselves in their cells were tested psychologically only days before their suicides and showed no signs of being depressed, a military doctor said yesterday.

The doctor suggested the examinations, performed one to two weeks before the suicides on 10 June, supported assertions by military officials that the prisoners killed themselves as a political act - not because they were despondent about their prolonged detention.

"None had showed any signs of being depressed or having a mental condition," said the doctor, who is the chief medical officer in America's prison camp on Cuba's south-east tip.

He spoke on condition of anonymity.

The three detainees - two Saudis and a Yemeni - were given psychological tests as a formality because they had recently participated in a hunger strike, including one who refused meals for 180 days. The military said they were found hanging in their cells from nooses fashioned from bed sheets.

After the suicides, Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the detention operation, called the deaths an act of "asymmetrical warfare" against the US military. "If you ask my opinion, I agree with the admiral that this was somewhat of a political statement," the doctor told reporters visiting the US naval base.

He said medical personnel examined the detainees some 10 minutes after they were found and "did everything we could" to revive them. He suggested that American guards might have noticed the detainees sooner had the prison not been following International Red Cross recommendations, including how dark their cells should be at night. "If we did everything the Red Cross wanted, there would be very little that we could do to keep detainees alive short of putting them in a strait-jacket," he said.

"Every time we give them something to make their lives easier, they use it against us by trying to harm themselves." Since the deaths, the military is guarding against future suicides by only giving out bed sheets and blankets during sleeping hours and monitoring detainees in their cells every three minutes.

Any detainee thought to be a suicide risk is now placed in a restraining, green anti-suicide smock for 72 hours and given a psychological exam, he said. There are about 20 detainees in smocks.

Medical personnel have cut down the amount of medicine given to detainees since two detainees who had hoarded pills took overdoses in May.

The doctor said there have been no suicide attempts since the deaths on 10 June, but there have been several incidents of detainees harming themselves, such as cutting themselves with paint chips or beating their heads against walls.