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Rights activists say US needs to act

Want prisoners tried or released

WASHINGTON -- Human rights activists said yesterday's announcement that three detainees at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had committed suicide shows the need for the Bush administration to provide court trials for prisoners or release them.

Moazzam Begg, 37, a British Muslim who spent three years in US detention, including two years at Guantanamo before being released in 2005, said, ``We all expected something like this but were not prepared. It's just awful. I hope the Bush administration will finally see this is wrong."

Amnesty International said the suicides ``are the tragic results of years of arbitrary and indefinite detention," and called the prison ``an indictment" of the administration's human rights record.

Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a telephone interview from New York that prisoners held at Guantanamo ``have this incredible level of despair that they will never get justice. And now they're gone. And they died without ever having seen a court."

Olshansky, whose group represents about 300 Guantanamo detainees, appealed to the administration ``for immediate action to do the right thing."

``They should be taken to court or released," Olshansky said. ``I don't think this country wants the stain of injustice on it for many years to come."

A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office, who declined to be identified in keeping with department policy, said, ``Obviously, this is a very sad event."

On May 19, a United Nations panel said that holding detainees indefinitely at Guantanamo violated the world's ban on torture. The panel said the United States should close the detention center.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain are among those who also recently have urged the United States to close the prison.

On Friday, after the prison was mentioned during a meeting with Fogh Rasmussen at Camp David, President Bush said his goal is to close the facility.

``We would like to end the Guantanamo -- we'd like it to be empty," Bush said.

But he added: ``There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And, therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States."

Bush said his administration was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on whether he overstepped his authority in ordering the detainees to be tried by US military tribunals. The prisoners were mainly captured during the US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department defended the prison yesterday, saying detainees pose a danger to the United States and its allies.

``These are not common criminals. They are enemy combatants being detained because they have waged war against our nation, and they continue to pose a threat," the military's statement said.

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