June 12, 2006

US steps back from Guantanamo suicide comments

By Peter Graff

LONDON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official rowed back on
Monday from remarks by colleagues that Guantanamo Bay
prisoners' suicides were an act of war and a "good PR move,"
after the comments were condemned abroad.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs
Cully Stimson, speaking to BBC radio, distanced himself from
the statements.

"I wouldn't characterize it as a good PR move. What I would
say is that we are always concerned when someone takes his own
life. Because as Americans, we value life, even the lives of
violent terrorists who are captured waging war against our
country," he said.

The camp commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, had
described the three suicides as an act of war. Colleen Graffy,
U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy,
told the BBC on Sunday the deaths were "a good PR move."

In an editorial headlined "Bad Language," the right-leaning
Times, normally a defender of Britain's alliance with the
United States, said such rhetoric "plays once again into the
hands of America's enemies."

The left-leaning Guardian described Admiral Harris's
remarks as "cold and odious." "The demented logic of Dr
Strangelove hung like a ghost" over the U.S. response to the
suicides, it said.

Britain has been Washington's closest ally in Afghanistan
and Iraq, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been
cautious in criticizing Guantanamo, which he describes as an

But senior British officials have increasingly openly
called for the camp to be closed down.

"If it is perfectly legal and there is nothing going wrong
there, why don't they have it in America?" Constitutional
Affairs Minister Harriet Harman said.

"It is in a legal no man's land. Either it should be moved
to America and then they can hold those people under the
American justice system or it should be closed."

Nine British citizens have been held in Guantanamo Bay. All
returned to Britain and none has been charged. Several appeared
in media interviews over the weekend in which they said they
were not surprised that inmates had killed themselves.