A Guantanamo Bay detainee who participated in a clash with U.S. military guards last month said it was sparked when guards tried to search prisoners' Qurans, contradicting the military's account of the melee, his defense attorney said Wednesday.
A detainee looks into the window of a cell at Camp 4 inside of the maximum security prison Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [AP]
The detainee also denied the contention by military officials that prisoners in the May 18 clash in Guantanamo Bay lured guards into a cell by staging a suicide attempt, defense attorney Kristin Wilhelm told The Associated Press.
The military, in its account soon after the clash occurred at the prison in southeast Cuba, said 10 prisoners used makeshift weapons to battle 10 guards. It was one of the most violent incidents at Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. holds about 460 men on suspicion of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Wilhelm said the detainee, a Yemeni whom she could not further identify because of Pentagon rules, told her the guards demanded that prisoners turn over their Qurans so they could be searched for hoarded medicine, which the military said had been used in two suicide attempts earlier in the day elsewhere at the prison camp.
One detainee offered to collect the Qurans and search them in front of the guards, but the military guards refused and entered the cell block, setting off the fight, she said. She said the prisoners used only a floor lamp against the guards and that it quickly ended when one detainee succumbed to pepper spray used by military police.
"There was no mention of a suicide attempt and there was no mention of luring a guard into the cell block," the attorney said of her conversations with her detainee client.
Wilhelm and another lawyer from her firm, John Chandler, met with the detainee on May 26. Their notes from the meeting were declassified by the military on Wednesday. Their firm represents five prisoners from Yemen.
Wilhelm and Chandler were among the first defense lawyers to visit Guantanamo after the May 18 clash and provided the first detainee account of the incident.
Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, a base spokesman, said he would respond "soon" to the detainee's allegations. Durand earlier said that officials from the military's Joint-Detention Task Force and an interagency task force were conducting an internal review of the incident.
Former detainees at Guantanamo have alleged in the past that military personnel at Guantanamo have desecrated the Quran by stepping on the book and throwing it into a toilet. U.S. military officials said no Guantanamo Bay guard had tossed a detainee's Quran into a toilet, but acknowledged there were instances in which Qurans were abused by guards, intentionally or accidentally. U.S. officials have said that all troops at the prison are instructed to handle the Quran with respect.