updated 3/8/2004 2:51:17 PM ET 2004-03-08T19:51:17

Relatives of three terrorism suspects held at the Navy base in Cuba on Monday urged President Bush to release the prisoners for trial in their home countries, saying the indefinite detainment is taking a toll on the prisoners’ mental health.

The family members, who journeyed to the capital from England, France and Germany, said each of the detainees is being “kept like an animal in a cell” with little sleep and no information about why they are being held.

“In one letter he wrote, ’I do not know what crime I am supposed to have committed. ... As a result I am in a state of desperation and beginning to lose the fight against depression and hopelessness,”’ said Azmat Begg, who is the father of Moazzam Begg, one of the estimated 640 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

'No favors'
“Mr. President, I ask no favors. Let my son be returned to his country,” said Begg, 65, of England. “If there is evidence against him, let him be charged. If he is found guilty, let him be punished according to the law.”

Begg joined the other relatives, Aymen Sassi, the brother of detainee Nizar Sassi of France, and Rabiye Kurnaz, mother of detainee Murat Kurnaz of Germany, at a news conference on the steps outside the Supreme Court. The event, sponsored by the National Council of Churches, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, was organized to raise awareness of the detainees’ plight.

The relatives also wrote letters to Bush seeking greater legal access for the prisoners.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month from lawyers representing foreign “enemy combatants” who are being held incommunicado at the military prison. At issue is whether the prisoners may challenge their detention in U.S. courts.

White House defends policies
Human rights organizations have called on the United States to release the prisoners or at least say what is planned for them. The groups say that the indefinite detentions have led to a deterioration in mental health and dozens of suicide attempts at the prison, set up shortly after the start of the war in Afghanistan in October 2001.

Administration officials have said they have wide legal latitude to interrogate the detainees for extended period since national security is at risk. The military has freed 88 prisoners and transferred a dozen to the custody of their home countries, while preparing tribunals for a few of the detainees.

Terry Waite, a Briton who was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly five years, said at the news conference that what the U.S. government is doing in Cuba is similar to the injustice of his detention nearly two decades ago.

“We believe there has been a major breach of human rights,” he said. “Perhaps it was done with good intentions, but the consequences will be disastrous for the United States and all our freedoms.”

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