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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 22:25 GMT
Prison camp pictures spark protests
A prisoner is led to his cell in Guantanamo Bay
The US says pictures are 'not representative'
The US Government has released photographs of the Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects held at its prison camp in Cuba which show them being subjected to sensory deprivation.

The prisoners are shown kneeling down, wearing goggles, ear muffs, surgical masks and heavy gloves.

The chief medical officer of the human rights group, Amnesty International, Jim West, said the photographs were reminiscent of torture methods used in eastern Europe in the 1970s.


There is no obvious explanation of these measures except an attempt to degrade the man

Amnesty medical officer Jim West

The concerns were raised as a new group of 34 prisoners arrived at Guantanamo Bay, taking the total number being held there to 144.

As with earlier groups, the latest arrivals were shackled and wore eye-masks.

But the US military stressed that the photographs showed prisoners who had just landed at the base and the pictures were not representative of daily life at the camp.

Prisoners were normally free to walk around their cells without shackles or any sensory deprivation whatsoever.

They are only shackled when they are taken to shower or for medical checks, the military said.

Red Cross investigation

Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are currently interviewing the 110 detainees amid international concern over their treatment.

The US says the ICRC has been given full access the prisoners and is being allowed to interview them privately and on a voluntary basis.

Guantanamo Bay prisoners
The US says the prisoners are well cared for
The commandant at the camp, Brigadier General Mike Lehnert said the ICRC team had already made a number of private recommendations and these would be accommodated where possible.

According to the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday, the US military says the prisoners are forced to wear masks because there is a risk they could spread tuberculosis.

But Mr West disputed this, saying that TB was unlikely to pose a risk outside as it only breeds in confined spaces.

The prisoners were issued with goggles and ear muffs when they boarded the planes to Guantanamo. The US said the goggles were a security precaution and the muffs blocked out the sound of the transport planes in which they were travelling.

Hallucinations

But Mr West said he was shocked to see them still wearing the goggles and ear muffs.

Click here for details of a prisoner's cell

"There is no obvious explanation of these measures except an attempt to degrade the man," he told the newspaper.

Another human rights group said that not being able to see, hear, smell or touch would leave the prisoners feeling disorientated and suffering from hallucinations.

Washington has refused to give the detainees prisoner-of-war status, although it says standards of detention outlined in the Geneva Conventions are being met.

International concern

Even before these latest pictures were released, questions had been raised about conditions at the camp.


They will probably have panic attacks, mood changes and terrible nightmares

Helen Bamber, The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
Amnesty International said that, at eight-by-eight feet, the cells are below US standards for ordinary prisoners.

Deputy Prime Minister John Manley of Canada urged the US to treat the detainees "in accordance with humane norms and international law".

And in Britain, the chairwoman of Parliament's Human Rights Committee, Ann Clwyd, warned against "playing with human rights".

UK officials are in Cuba to question three detainees thought to be British members of al-Qaeda, which is widely held responsible for the 11 September terror attacks on America.

Little American town

Despite the furore over the prisoners' treatment, the US is pressing ahead with its expansion of the camp.

General Lehnert said it would be able to hold 320 detainees - more if there were two to a cell - until a permanent prison was ready.

That would have a capacity of up to 1,000. Hundreds of detainees are in custody in Afghanistan awaiting transfer.

Officials at the base stress that the vast majority of prisoners are quiet and well-behaved, despite an incident last week when one detainee bit a guard on the arm and others made death threats against their captors.

Click here for more information on the prison conditions

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Loyn
"The human rights of the prisoners are not a big talking point at Ground Zero"
Colonel Terry Kariko
"We're treating them humanely, firmly and fair"
See also:

20 Jan 02 | Americas
In pictures: Camp X-Ray prisoners
20 Jan 02 | UK Politics
'Treat Cuba captives humanely' - Straw
18 Jan 02 | Americas
Red Cross inspects US prison
18 Jan 02 | Americas
US public unmoved by camp conditions
17 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Church leaders enter Cuba row
28 Dec 01 | Americas
Destination Guantanamo Bay
17 Jan 02 | Americas
Life in a Guantanamo cell
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