SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – The remains of three men who committed suicide at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay were sent to their homelands, the Pentagon said. A commercial charter jet transported the remains Friday from the Navy base in southeastern Cuba to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Department of Defense spokesman.
The men hanged themselves June 10 inside their steel mesh cells at the detention center where the U.S. holds some 460 men on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. They were the first reported detainee deaths at the prison since it opened in January 2002.
Ali Abdullah Ahmed, 28, went to his native Yemen while Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi, 30, and Yassar Talal al-Zahrani, 21, were sent to Saudi Arabia. Funeral rites were administered at Guantanamo by a Muslim imam assisted by Muslim personnel at the base, Gordon said.
The suicides brought renewed scrutiny on Guantanamo and more international pressure to shut it down. The European Union this week renewed its calls for the closure and plans to raise the issue at next week’s EU-U.S. summit.
In Paris, State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III said President Bush is not expected to offer a date for closing Guantanamo when he visits Europe next week. “He’s very aware of the concerns in Europe and elsewhere about Guantanamo, about the damage frankly that it does to the image of the United States,” he said.
“The difficulty, frankly though, is the dilemma about what to do with the people who are there. And what is interesting is despite the many voices who have called for the closure of Guantanamo, not one has suggested what should be done with the people who are there,” Bellinger told The Associated Press in an interview.
In Yemen, Muslim clerics in Ahmed’s hometown of Taiz told worshippers Friday that he had died a “martyr” and blamed the United States.
The lawyer for his family said relatives would refuse to bury the body until the government performed an autopsy and revealed the cause of death.
“We reject the U.S. report and claims of suicide,” the lawyer Mohammed Nagi Alaw told The Associated Press. “For us, the fact is that he was killed by the Americans until proven otherwise,” he added.