Inmates, Guards Clash at Guantanamo Prison

Reports on Friday suggest that prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, armed with improvised weapons, recently clashed with their guards. The incident comes one day after the U.N. urged the U.S. to close the facility where hundreds of so-called "enemy combatants" have been held without trial or formal hearing.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams. Coming up: Do Americans really care in the government knows who they're phoning?

BRAND: But first, the U.S. military says prisoners have clashed with guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. According to reports, the clash occurred yesterday as prisoners tried to stop guards from preventing a detainee from committing suicide. The news comes as a U.N. panel is recommending that the U.S. close Guantanamo and any other secret detention centers worldwide.

NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam has been following the Guantanamo story, and she joins us now. And Jackie, first, tell us more about the clash.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Well, the reports that we're getting, Madeleine, are that some of the detainees used anything they could get their hands on that wasn't bolted to the wall essentially - light fixtures, ceiling fans and that. And when guards tried to prevent a detainee from hanging himself, the detainees rushed the guards and attacked them, using, again, the ceiling fans and the light fixtures and that. This, reportedly, was the fourth suicide attempt yesterday. This all happened yesterday. And so, you know, we've got, you know, a rush of suicide attempts here, and we've got this going on. And as you know, Guantanamo is a highly secretive place. So even to get any of this news is quite surprising.

BRAND: Mm hmm. And this is part of the hunger strikers that we've heard before? We don't know yet?

NORTHAM: Well, we don't know yet. No, it seems like it's two different things. For a long time, you know, a few years ago, they had a rash of suicides, and then it stopped. They took efforts, you know, to curb the suicides. But now it's starting up again, it seems. Again, we don't have any - we can't get a lot of good information out of Guantanamo, but this is the first time that we've ever actually heard that there was fighting going on between the detainees and the guards. These detainees were in the medium-area part, in the medium-security area of the prison, and it's a communal living type situation there. So they can walk around. They're not always in their cells, that type of thing. But, apparently, the people that were involved with this now have all gone into the high-security area of the jail now.

BRAND: Mm hmm. And let's talk about this U.N. report. What's in it?

NORTHAM: There's quite a number of things. There's an 11-page report that's been in the works for a while now. Some of the really interesting things are, the panel tells the Americans that they must stop using harsh interrogation techniques such as water-boarding, which creates a sensation that a prisoner is drowning; the use of working dogs to intimidate the detainees; and also any sort of sexual humiliation during an interrogation procedure and that. That's one of the things that's in there.

It also says that they must close Guantanamo Bay. And they must close secret prisons throughout the world. And we've heard about these allegedly being in Eastern Europe. Now, we're hearing about them in North Africa as well. So those are the three key things that came out of this report.

BRAND: And Jackie, there have been many previous calls for Guantanamo to be closed. Just last week, Britain's Attorney General said that. So any reaction from the Bush Administration?

NORTHAM: Well, there's been a bit so far. It's still fairly early in the day. Tony Snow, the new White House spokesman, came out and said that everything that they're doing at Guantanamo Bay is done fully within the boundaries of American law. And he's probably right in that sense. You talk to any of the people that watch this very closely, in particular the International Committee of the Red Cross is the only organization that can get down there, they say that there isn't a problem with torture down there anymore. What's concerns people is the other areas and the places that actually aren't run by the military.

So again, it goes back to these CIA black sites. We don't have a sense even fully where they are or what is happening there.

So there's been that. There's also been Bellenger - I'm sorry, John Bellenger, who is the State Department legal counsel. He came out and he said, look it, this committee, which is a highly regarded committee, the whole thing, he came out and he said they've got it all wrong. They weren't listening to us when we went to meet with them earlier this month. They've got it wrong. And that's where it stands so far. We've got State Department coming up again later on today, so we'll get a bit more out of that.

BRAND: Well, thank you very much. NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam.

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