Red Cross breaks silence on Guantanamo prisoners to lambast US approach

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The Red Cross said yesterday that it had noticed a "worrying deterioration" in the mental health of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. It also criticised the Bush administration for refusing to allow the men access to lawyers or impose a legal framework.

Breaking its silence more than 18 months after the first of the 660 or so alleged Taliban or al-Qa'ida prisoners were incarcerated at the prison camp, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said more than 30 suicide attempts by prisoners was evidence something was badly wrong. It said it had decided to speak out - an extremely unusual step - because ongoing negotiations with the Bush administration had failed to get results. A spokeswoman said: "Since they have been at Guantanamo Bay they have effectively been put beyond the law. Effectively, none of the prisoners knows their fate. There is no information about how long they are going to be there. We have been able to witness the impact of this. There has been a serious deterioration in their psychological well-being."

The ICRC, along with campaigners and lawyers for the prisoners, nine of whom are British citizens, have appealed to the Bush administration to either charge or release the men. The Pentagon has announced that six of the prisoners, including two Britons and an Australian, have been selected to be tried by military tribunal. There have been reports that in the absence of legal advice the men have entered into plea bargains, agreeing to plead guilty to various offences in exchange for reduced sentences.

The ICRC, the only independent organisation to have visited the prisoners, said the most frequently asked question by prisoners was related to their future.

Yesterday, Azmat Begg, the father of Mozzam Begg, 35, one of the Britons facing trial by a military tribunal, said the prisoners were being treated like "caged dogs". Mr Begg, from Sparkbrook, Birmingham, said: "This is what I have been trying to say for two years. All of these prisoners are suffering so much stress and torture. My son doesn't have any connection with the outside world and is being kept in solitary confinement. If you live in those circumstances and then you are brought before a military court you will do exactly what you are told to do."

He added: "He should be brought back to the UK where he can receive the support of his family and have medical treatment to establish whether he is fit to stand trial."

Louise Christian, representing the second Briton facing trial, Feroz Abbasi, 23, said an assessment of her client by a Pentagon-appointed psychologist suggested he had been suffering from depression.

¿ A former Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay has been charged with improperly handling classified information, the US military said yesterday. Army Captain James Yee was charged with two counts of failing to obey a lawful order. He is one of three people arrested in an espionage inquiry.