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U.K. prisoners file suit against U.S. for abuse

Four British citizens released from Guantanamo Bay filed suit Wednesday against the United States seeking damages for abuse they said they suffered at the U.S. military outpost in Cuba, attorneys said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Four British citizens released from Guantanamo Bay filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the United States seeking $10 million each in damages for abuse they allegedly suffered at the U.S. military outpost in Cuba, attorneys said Wednesday.

The suit on behalf of Shafiq Rasul, 26, Asif Iqbal, 22, Rhuhel Ahmed, 22, and Jamal Al-Harith, 37, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and a Washington-based law firm.

The four were released to British authorities in March after nearly three years at Guantanamo Bay. They were captured in northern Afghanistan on Nov. 28, 2001, by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.

The lawsuit alleges the four were chained to the floor while strobe lights and loud music were played in a room chilled by air conditioning set at maximum levels. The men say they were subjected to the conditions for up to 14 hours at a time.

They say they were stripped naked and forced to watch videotapes of other prisoners who had allegedly been ordered to sodomize each other. The men also allege that some of the guards threw the prisoners’ Qurans into the toilets.

Some of the men allege they were forcibly injected with drugs as part of the interrogation process and told they would get help only if they cooperated. Medical officials at Guantanamo have said medication is voluntary.

Pentagon denies allegations
The Pentagon denied the abuse allegations, saying the men were properly held in Guantanamo after being captured in Afghanistan and having fought for al-Qaida.

“There is no basis in U.S. law to pay claims to those captured and detained as a result of combat activities,” said Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman. “The U.S. policy is to treat all prisoners and to conduct interrogations, wherever they may occur, is in a manner consistent with all U.S. legal obligations.”

Defendants named in the suit include Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of Guantanamo and now heads Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where pictures surfaced this year of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners.

In January, another Guantanamo prisoner — Salim Gherebi, who remains in custody — filed a $1.1. billion damage suit in Los Angeles against President Bush and other government officials for violations of his constitutional rights. The suit said the plaintiff is being held with no legal basis.

Earlier this month, lawyers for a still-imprisoned Briton, Moazzam Begg, said in London they would file suit Oct. 4 demanding that the United States halt what they called his “inhumane treatment,” although it is unclear if that suit was ever filed.

8 confirmed cases
Although the abuse allegations out of Guantanamo Bay are not as widespread as those at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, there have been at least eight substantiated cases of abuse at the Cuba camp, according to a report by James R. Schlesinger, who headed a U.S. congressional committee to investigate abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

One case involved a guard hitting a prisoner with a radio. Another sprayed a prisoner with a hose. A third was acquitted in a court-martial of using pepper spray on a man. A fourth, a female interrogator, was reprimanded for taking off her uniform to expose her T-shirt — an action deemed demeaning for many Muslim men.

Details of the four other abuse cases in the report have not been released by the U.S. government, despite requests for more than a month by The Associated Press.

Action borne of hopelessness?
Iqbal, one of the men in the lawsuit, said he gave his Guantanamo interrogator a false confession because he felt hopeless. He said after being asked repeatedly if he was a man seen on a videotape with Osama bin Laden, he finally relented and said yes.

He said the interrogator told him prisoners who had been put into isolation for a year eventually caved in and that he should make it easier on himself by talking.

There are some 550 prisoners from 40 different countries being held at the camp.

Only four have been charged with war crimes. The first — Osama bin Laden’s driver — is scheduled to begin his military trial Dec. 7. All face life in prison if convicted.