SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – An investigation into three apparent suicides at the Guantanamo Bay prison has found that other detainees may have helped the men hang themselves or were planning to kill themselves too.
Authorities who searched other detainees' cells after the three were found hanged discovered instructions on tying knots, along with several notes in Arabic that were "relevant" to an investigation of a possible broader plot, officials said in court papers filed late Friday in Washington.
The detention center's commander, Navy Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, said in an affidavit that investigators believe "the suicides may have been part of a larger plan or pact for more suicides that day or in the immediate future."
Authorities confiscated personal papers from nearly all 450 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to "determine whether other suicides were planned or likely to be planned," Carol Kisthardt, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent in charge of the investigation, said in an affidavit.
Both affidavits were filed in support of a request for a judge to appoint a special review panel to review all the detainees' documents, which include letters from attorneys.
Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have condemned the confiscation of the legal papers as a violation of attorney-client privilege and asked a judge to order their immediate return.
Investigators said they confiscated about 1,100 pounds of personal documents after three detainees were found hanging from their steel mesh cells before dawn on June 10 — the first reported deaths of prisoners at the prison.
Bill Goodman, legal director for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents about 200 detainees, said Saturday that the government's request for a special review panel would undermine trust between prisoners and their lawyers and delay the legal process.
"It's another roadblock," Goodman said.
The government said the panel's independence would be assured, and detainees' rights protected, by its including lawyers, law enforcement and intelligence personnel and translators who have not taken part in any legal proceedings against detainees.
The special panel, or "Filter Team," would review all the material and report any information that threatens national security or involves "imminent violence" but would not divulge anything that would violate attorney-client privilege, the government said.
Authorities took the papers after finding a note in Arabic related to the suicides in the mesh wall of the cell of one of the prisoners found hanged to death, Kisthardt wrote.
The note did not appear to be written by the prisoner, or another of the detainees who committed suicide, and it was written on paper provided by lawyers stamped with the words "Attorney-Client Privilege."
Among the papers, investigators also found a printout of an e-mail written by someone on the base that appeared to contain sensitive information about the location of cells and operations at Guantanamo, where the U.S. holds men suspected of links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Investigators also confiscated envelopes from detainees marked "Attorney-Client Privilege" but did not review the contents to see if they had any relevant information, Kisthardt wrote.