US Marine guards fire rubber bullets on Guantanamo inmates during unrest

US Marine guards use 'less-than-lethal' force to quell inmates 'armed with improvised weapons'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 4:33am

Guards at Camp Delta prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base fired several non-lethal shots to quell prisoner unrest as they relocated inmates into individual cells, US military officials said.

Weeks of mounting tensions between the military and detainees escalated into violence on Saturday during a raid in which guards forced prisoners living in communal housing to move to individual cells.

"Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired," the military said. "There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees."

Captain Robert Durand, a military spokesman at the base, said the improvised weapons included "batons and broomsticks." Another official said that at least one detainee had been hit by a rubber bullet, but that there were no further details about any minor injuries or how the prisoners had resisted.

The raid came shortly after a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) completed a three-week visit to examine the prisoners and study the circumstances of a growing hunger strike that has escalated tensions for weeks.

The head of the ICRC said this week that the group disagrees with the US over its practice of force-feeding captives at Guantanamo. The US advocacy group, Physicians for Human Rights, argues that force-feeding hunger strikers violates medical ethics.

The US military says that the Navy medical staff has been systematically pumping nutritional supplements into the stomachs of detainees who will not eat on their own and are considered medically at risk.

The military has not allowed reporters to visit the prison for several weeks.

A military news release said the commander of the prison task force, Rear Admiral John Smith, ordered the raid at 5am on Saturday "to ensure the health and safety" of detainees because prisoners in the communal areas, where guards rarely enter, had covered surveillance cameras, glass partitions and windows, restricting the ability of the guard force to observe them.

However, a government official briefed on the action said that the raid began significantly earlier than the news release said, and that it took longer for guards to regain control of the camp than planned. The official also said the prisoners started covering the cameras and windows several months ago.

Detainee lawyers and military officials also disagree about the catalyst for the hunger strike. The lawyers say their clients told them that the guard force had recently became stricter about living conditions and had conducted a search for contraband in early February that involved looking through the prisoners' Korans, which they considered to be desecration.

The military acknowledged that it conducted that search but said it did so under longstanding procedures, whereby a translator — who is Muslim — handles the Islamic book, not the guards. Military spokesmen have accused the detainees of manufacturing claims of Koran abuse and orchestrating the hunger strike to win media attention.

Carlos Warner, a federal public defender in Ohio who represents several Guantanamo detainees, criticised the guards' action Saturday.

"This is exactly the opposite of what they should be doing," he said. "As of last week, the strike would end if they allowed the men to surrender the Koran. Instead, the military is escalating the conflict."

Several weeks ago, Durand, the prison spokesman, said that the military would not accept the detainees' offer to take away their Korans instead of periodically searching them.

Additional reporting by McClatchy Tribune, Agence France-Presse