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Suicides at Guantanamo Bay prison
lead to renewed calls to close the facility

New York, June 11, 2006 – The suicides of three prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba have prompted a renewed call by the National Council of Churches USA that the facility be closed.

The suicides are "another milestone in a sordid history of human rights denial and crimes against humanity," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary.

"Americans who love their country and its historic ideals are mortified by this continuing blot on our honor, on our steadfast defense of freedom, and on our commitment to democracy and the rule of law," Edgar said.

Edgar also repeated a plea he made in February to Secretary of State Condoleeeza Rice that the NCC be allowed to send a small interfaith delegation to Guantanamo "to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees."

Rice has not responded to the request. Similar requests were turned down by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 and 2004.

Last February, Edgar praised a United Nations report that called upon the U.S. to close Guantanamo, to refrain from “any practice amounting to torture,” and either bring detainees to trial or “release them.”

The NCC Governing Board, composed of representatives of the council's member communions, has warned that the denials of human rights and freedoms "are not simply a crime against humanity; they are a sin against God."

The full text of Edgar's statement follows:

The deaths by suicide of three prisoners of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are another milestone in a sordid history of human rights denial and crimes against humanity. As the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches made clear in February 2004, the denial of rights and freedoms are not simply crimes against human beings: they are sins against God.

We urgently renew our call, made most recently on February 16, 2006, that the United States close its Guantanamo Bay detention facility without delay.

We also renew our request to the Secretary of State that the National Council of Churches USA be allowed to send a small interfaith delegation to Guantanamo to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees.

It has been four months since the United Nations Commission on Human Rights called upon the U.S. to close Guantanamo, to refrain from “any practice amounting to torture,” and either bring detainees to trial or “release them.” The National Council of Churches USA immediately endorsed the U.N. report, and called upon the U.S. government to accept its recommendations.

Since then, 75 detainees have staged hunger strikes to protest conditions in the jail. Amnesty International has described the facilities as “a legal black hole” where detainees are denied access to any court, legal counsel or family visits. “Denied their rights under international law and held in conditions which may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” Amnesty reports, “the detainees face severe psychological distress.”

Americans who love their country and its historic ideals are mortified by this continuing blot on our honor, on our steadfast defense of freedom, and on our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We appeal again to the President and to the Secretary of State: bring this cruel and humiliating chapter to an end. Close the Guantanamo Bay facility immediately.


Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228

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