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Protests worldwide target US prison at Guantanamo

Opponents mark facility's 5th year

Demonstrators outside the parliament building in Budapest yesterday were organized by Amnesty International. Demonstrators outside the parliament building in Budapest yesterday were organized by Amnesty International. (FERENC ISZA/AFP/Getty Images)

GUANTANAMO, Cuba -- Demonstrators, some wearing Guantanamo-style orange jumpsuits, staged protests from Melbourne to Rabat to Washington yesterday against the US military prison in Cuba where terrorism suspects have been held for years without trial.

A dozen American peace activists, including Cindy Sheehan, marched to the US military enclave in eastern Cuba to demand the prison's closure. "Guantanamo prison, place of shame, no more torture in our name," they chanted.

"If dogs were treated like this in my country, there would be an uprising," Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, said as the group placed flowers by a barbed wire fence 5 miles from the naval base that houses the prison.

The first detainees, shackled, blindfolded, and wearing orange suits, were flown to the island for temporary housing in cages in the heavily guarded camp five years ago, soon after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Since then, more than 770 captives have been held at Guantanamo, of whom only 10 have been charged with crimes. About 395 prisoners remain there, suspected of Al Qaeda and Taliban links, kept in modern maximum-security cells.

Speaking at United Nations headquarters yesterday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged that the prison be closed.

Washington has said the camp is necessary to deal with the particular circumstances of its war on terrorism, but President Bush has acknowledged it is hurting the US image.

Bush has made no moves to close Guantanamo and last year signed legislation barring foreign captives from challenging their detention through the US courts.

"I can tell you that we are detaining the right people in Guantanamo, we are detaining them legally, ethically, and humanely," Colonel Lora Tucker, a US military spokeswoman at Guantanamo, said in an e-mail.

Fourteen Guantanamo prisoners were on a hunger strike to protest their detention, including five who were being force-fed. "These numbers are not what we would consider to be unusual," Tucker said.

British citizen Asif Iqbal, who spent two years in Guantanamo only to be released without charges, returned to Cuba for yesterday's protest against the camp.

Iqbal, who said he was interrogated endlessly, tortured with sleep deprivation, and coerced into signing a false confession, read out letters from other former detainees.

Cuba's communist government, which has denounced the prison as a concentration camp run by its political enemy, allowed the marchers to get to the security perimeter around the base it says was illegally occupied by the US Navy a century ago.

Zohra Zewawi, a Dubai resident, said her son Omar Deghayes, 37, who has been held in the camp since his arrest in Pakistan in 2002, lost vision in one eye due to abuse. "Guantanamo today is being used by the enemy to recruit more and more wannabe terrorists," said his brother Taher Deghayes.

In London, about 300 Amnesty International members and volunteers, many dressed in bright orange suits, protested outside the US Embassy. Some acted as American guards, ordering others to kneel, lie face down on the floor, and remain silent.

Demonstrators outside the UN office in Rabat urged governments to press the United States to free their citizens jailed in Guantanamo, where five Moroccans are being held.

"Guantanamo must be closed. It's an embarrassment for this country," said Michael Ratner, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which organized the protest in Washington with Amnesty International USA.