Guantanamo: new call for closure as bodies returned

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The bodies of three Guantanamo inmates found dead in their isolation cells just over a week ago have been sent back to the Middle East, amid demands for an independent investigation into how they died.

The reported suicides of the three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, were the first at the camp, sparking a fresh round of demands for the facility to be closed down. Yesterday, relatives of the Yemeni man, Ali Abdullah Ahmed, 28, refused to bury his body until an autopsy had been carried out. Yemeni legal authorities have also demanded an independent investigation into his death by the US, while clerics in his home town described him during Friday prayers as a "martyr".

Lawyers and civil rights campaigners claim the Bush administration is in disarray over its handling of Guantanamo ahead of a crucial decision by the Supreme Court over the legal rights of the camp's 460 detainees, due within the next 12 days. The deaths of the three inmates, including the Saudis Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi, 30, and Yassar Talal al-Zahrani, 21, last week forced President Bush to say publicly that he too wants to see the base closed.

Guantanamo was "locked down" and visiting journalists were expelled in the wake of the deaths, which also forced the Pentagon to suspend plans for a series of military tribunal hearings into detainees alleged to be significant al-Qa'ida and Taliban members.

The first case to be abandoned involved one of at least eight British residents in Guantanamo, Binyem Mohammed, a Pakistani-born detainee who had studied for seven years in Britain. He and other British residents have made suicide attempts in recent months. One lawyer said he was struck by the mood of "despair and depression" at the base.

Tomorrow an all-party group of MPs will hear allegations that the UK government was complicit in the "rendition" of Mr Mohammed from Pakistan to Morocco, where he allegedly endured 18 months of "severe" torture before being taken to Cuba.

The camp's fate will overshadow President Bush's visit to Europe this week, a State Department legal adviser has admitted. John Bellinger, speaking in Paris, said the President was not due to give a clear date for closing the base. But, he added: "He's very aware of the concerns in Europe and elsewhere about Guantanamo, about the damage, frankly, that it does to the image of the United States.

"The difficulty... is the dilemma about what to do with the people who are there." Despite the calls for its closure, he said, "no one has suggested what should be done with the people who are there."

His remarks reflect the problems in releasing some 120 Guantanamo inmates who cannot safely be sent to their home countries because they risk being tortured or killed there.

No foreign government has yet agreed to accept third-party nationals in their countries, except Albania, which has taken five ethnic Muslim Chinese Uighurs.

The US refuses to allow any detainee on to the US mainland.

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