Mass suicide bid at Guantanamo

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The Independent US

Twenty-three inmates at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay staged a mass suicide attempt in 2003 by trying to hang or strangle themselves.

Twenty-three inmates at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay staged a mass suicide attempt in 2003 by trying to hang or strangle themselves.

US military confirmation of the mass suicides came yesterday as the families of four Britons detained without charge for three years by the US authorities waited for their loved ones to arrive home from the prison on Cuba. The four will be arrested by anti-terrorist police officers as soon as they are released from American custody.

The US Southern Command yesterday admitted that, between 18 and 26 August 2003, the detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells. However they played down the incidents, saying that one - on 22 August - was "a coordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation".

The four Britons will be taken to Paddington Green police station in west London where they will be questioned under Britain's anti-terrorism laws.

The families of Moazzam Begg, 37, from Birmingham, and Feroz Abbasi, 24, Martin Mubanga, 32, and Richard Belmar, 25, from London, have been told that the men will arrive by RAF aircraft this afternoon. They will then be transferred to Paddington Green high-security police station where they will be fingerprinted and, for the first time since their detention, allowed access to lawyers.

But any family reunions will be delayed until tomorrow morning when the police will grant "supervised" visits to individual family members.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000 the Metropolitan police can hold the men for up to 14 days without charge but must continuously review the terms of their detention.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, will consider any evidence, including information obtained during police interviews, that might support charges against any of the men. He must then decide to either order the men's release or send a police file to the Crown Prosecution Service where senior lawyers will advise on the prospect of a successful conviction in the public interest.

Louise Christian, the lawyer representing the families of Mr Abbasi and Mr Mubanga, said that she would be making representations to the police to allow her to see the two men as soon as possible.

She said: "We now know that during their three-year detention they have been tortured and deprived of their human rights. To continue to detain them in this country is oppressive."

The men could be free within 24 hours if the police follow the same course they did with the first five Britons, who were flown home from Guantanamo Bay in March last year.

But negotiations over the release of the remaining Britons are thought to have been more difficult because of the Americans' insistence that any security risk that the men might pose must be "properly managed."

A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed all four men would be flying home together but declined to be drawn on whether they faced prosecution or surveillance in this country.

During their detention the men have been repeatedly interrogated by MI5 officers as well as American officials while in Guantanamo Bay.

Criminal and human rights lawyers doubt whether any confessions - or other incriminating evidence obtained during the men's detention in Guantanamo Bay - could be used in a court in this country.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald QC, is expected to advise Sir John Stevens on the results of police interviews and any evidence already gathered by the US and British intelligence.

Last night, Mr Begg's father, Azmat Begg, insisted he was neither excited, nor overjoyed, simply apprehensive that the man he sees tomorrow will be the same son he last saw more than three years ago.

"The family are very much delighted and excited, he said.

"I have got my own reservations. I just want to see him first and decide what feelings are in my head, in my mind," the former bank manager said, adding that he feared for his son's mental state: "My feelings are concerned. I am not happy or excited, nor am I depressed. I am just in a level mood. Moazzam was in solitary confinement for three years. They put in a window that was just eight inches by four inches. That makes me very sad. I know for sure that people in those conditions for only a few months go out of their minds."

Mr Begg is expecting to travel to London today, possibly accompanied by local police. The family has excitedly been discussing who will make that momentous trip. Whether Moazzam's wife Sally and their four children, including the youngest, Ibrahim, who has never seen his father, will also also make the journey.

"I don't know when I am actually going to see him. My solicitor told me he would be arrested when he landed - but we are hopeful they will not press any charges against him," said Mr Begg.

Mr Begg continued: "It is difficult to know what he will want after so long. He did miss the food as he mentioned it in his letters. I think he will want some fish and chips. That was his favourite."

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