WASHINGTON -- The suicides of three Guantanamo Bay prisoners placed more scrutiny on the Bush administration's detention policies yesterday as details emerged about the identities of the three men who killed themselves after being held without charges for four years.
The Pentagon yesterday identified the three detainees who hanged themselves in their cells early Saturday as a 28-year-old Yemeni accused of ties to senior Al Qaeda leaders, a 21-year-old Saudi accused of fighting with the Taliban, and a 30-year-old Saudi accused of being a member of a militant missionary group that allegedly recruits for Al Qaeda.
The Pentagon released the information hours after Saudi Arabia had separately identified its two citizens and said it wanted their bodies repatriated for burial.
Reaction rippled around the world to the suicides, the first reported deaths at the military prison since it opened at a US Navy base in Cuba more than four years ago.
Officials in Germany, Sweden, and Britain renewed calls for the United States to close the prison and give the prisoners trials. A Saudi Arabian human rights agency called for an outside investigation of the deaths, questioning whether the men had been tortured.
And in the United States, two senators also sharply criticized the operation yesterday. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects for years without trial a ``grave problem."
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on CNN that the United States should put prisoners at Guantanamo on trial. He also said that the military has brought many detainees to Guantanamo on evidence that may be too weak to produce a conviction.
``Where we have evidence, they ought to be tried. . . . As to a great many others, there is not evidence which could be brought into a court of law," Specter said.
Also speaking on CNN, Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said the administration should try to close the prison ``as quickly as possible." Reed said the administration needed to put in place fair procedures to determine ``who in fact is a terrorist" and who is not, something, he asserted , that has not been done.
``We should recognize that as long as Guantanamo exists, it's a source of international attention and concern," Reed said. ``These types of incidents -- these suicides -- will only provoke further condemnation around the world."
The military said that guards discovered the three prisoners -- all of whom lived in the same maximum-security cellblock -- hanging in their cells shortly after midnight Saturday. Efforts to revive them failed.
There had been dozens of suicide attempts and widespread hunger strikes at the base since it first opened in January 2002, but no previous attempt had succeeded. Seeking to understand why the three detainees were able to succeed, investigators focused yesterday on ruses used by the prisoners to prevent guards from seeing that they had put nooses around their necks.
Quoting a base official, The New York Times reported today that investigators have concluded that at least one of the prisoners hanged himself behind laundry drying from the ceiling of his cell, and that he had arranged his bed to make it look as if he were still sleeping.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the US Southern Command in Miami, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Marshall, said he had received no reports of additional suicide attempts. The military said it was moving to tighten its procedures to prevent suicides.
On Saturday, the prison commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, characterized the suicides as a manipulative act of warfare by fanatics. ``I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather was an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us," he said.
But lawyers for some detainees rejected that characterization, saying that the detainees are sinking under a sense of despair and hopelessness as their imprisonment has dragged on for years with no end in sight.
Yesterday, the Pentagon named the three as two Saudi Arabians -- Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi, 30, and Yassar Talal Al-Zahrani, 21 -- and Yemeni Ali Abdullah Ahmed, 28.
The military said Utaybi -- whom it accused of ties to Jama'at Al Tablighi, a militant missionary group -- had been cleared to be released from the base into the custody of another country, probably Saudi Arabia, for continued detention. Officials did not say whether Utaybi knew about the transfer recommendation.
Authorities accused Zahrani, who was 17 when captured, of fighting with the Taliban and facilitating weapons purchases. It said he was at the Mazer-e-Sharif prison uprising in November 2001, when CIA officer Johnny ``Mike" Spann was killed.
The Defense Department said Ahmed had ties to Al Qaeda leaders, and that he was a long-term hunger striker in 2005 and 2006.
Meanwhile, international criticism of the administration's detention policy at Guantanamo mounted yesterday.
In Britain, Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, said on BBC that ``either [the prison] should be moved to America and then they can hold those people under the American justice system, or it should be closed."
In Germany, Peter Struck, a parliamentary leader for the governing Social Democratic Party, told the Bild newspaper that the suicides reinforced longstanding beliefs in Europe that ``the USA should shut Guantanamo and transfer the detainees to proper court proceedings."
And Sweden's foreign minister, Jan Eliasson, called the deaths a ``tragic development" that ``shows the importance of letting the Guantanamo prisoners free or giving them a statutory trial." Eliasson said the European Union has urged that the prison be closed.
Reaction in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally in the Middle East, was particularly harsh. The daily Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh quoted Mufleh al-Qahtani, deputy president of the Saudi National Assembly for Human Rights, as voicing skepticism about the military's account that the men committed suicide.
``The detention camp is out of reach for neutral monitors, therefore, it is easy to accuse the prisoners [of suicide]. It is possible that these doomed [inmates] had been tortured," Qahtani was quoted as saying.
And Katib al-Shimary, lawyer for Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, echoed those suspicions, to Saudi-owned satellite television Al Arabiya, according to Reuters.
``The detainees' deaths reveals the mistreatment at Guantanamo and the extent human rights are breached," he said.
President Bush said on Friday that he would like to empty Guantanamo, transferring some of the prisoners to their home countries and giving others trials.
The US government recently charged 10 of the 460 Guantanamo prisoners with conspiracy to commit war crimes. It is attempting to prosecute them before a special military commission.
The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the administration's commissions -- which give defendants far fewer rights than an ordinary trial -- are constitutional.
The court's decision is expected by the end of June.
Material from news services was included in this report.
Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.