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Violent uprising at Guantanamo

Inmates ambush guards by faking a suicide attempt in the U.S. prison in Cuba, while two others overdose.

Published May 20, 2006

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Prisoners with makeshift weapons battled guards trying to save a detainee pretending to commit suicide at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in what military officials said Friday was a coordinated attack that left six prisoners injured.

"This illustrates to me the dangerous nature of the men we have detained here," the detention center's commanding officer, Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris, said of Thursday's attack.

The clash, which took place the same day two detainees attempted suicide elsewhere in the camp, was among the most violent incidents reported at the isolated detention center, where the United States holds about 460 men suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

The most recent turmoil began Thursday morning when a detainee who failed to show up for morning prayers was found unconscious in his cell, Harris said.

Tests indicated he had taken an overdose of drugs similar to the antianxiety drug Xanax. He was hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

Early in the afternoon, guards searching the prison for contraband prescription medicine found another detainee "frothing at the mouth" from an overdose of drugs. He was also hospitalized in stable condition, the admiral said.

In the early evening, guards saw a detainee in Camp Four - a medium security, communal-living unit for the "most compliant" prisoners - appearing to get ready to hang himself with a bed sheet in the room he shared with nine detainees.

The apparent suicide attempt "was a ruse to get the guards to enter the compound," Harris said.

The detainees had made the floor slippery with feces, urine and soapy water and attacked 10 members of Guantanamo's quick-reaction force with fan blades, pieces of metal and broken light fixtures, Harris said.

For several minutes, the detainees appeared to have the upper hand, knocking some of the soldiers to the ground, said Army Col. Michael Bumgarner, a camp official.

"Frankly we were losing the fight at that point," Bumgarner said.

The quick-reaction force gained control using pepper spray, unspecified "physical force," five blasts of a shotgun that fires rubber pellets and one shot from a nonlethal weapon that Bumgarner said fires a sponge-like projectile.

Detainees in two other units of Camp Four began damaging security cameras, light fixtures and other items in a show of support for those engaged in the melee. Guantanamo officials estimated the total damage at $110,000.

Six detainees had minor injuries and no guards were injured, Harris said. The prisoners involved in the melee were moved to a higher security area.

Guantanamo has had a number of protests and more minor disturbances since the United States began taking prisoners to the base in January 2002.

Guantanamo officials said there have been 41 suicide attempts by 25 detainees and no deaths since the camp opened. Defense lawyers contend the figure is higher.

[Last modified May 20, 2006, 07:39:21]

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