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Detainee death at Guantanamo highlights concerns over prisoner health

Associated Press
December 31, 2007

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Several Guantanamo Bay prisoners are seriously ill, lawyers said Monday, rejecting U.S. claims after the death of one prisoner that no other detainees are in immediate medical danger.

On Sunday, a 68-year-old Afghan died from cancer at the isolated U.S. base in southeast Cuba, heightening lawyers' concerns over clients held at Guantanamo for suspected al-Qaida or Taliban links.

"Many attorneys are concerned," said H. Candace Gorman, a Chicago lawyer whose Libyan client held at the camp has Hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

At least four of the 275 men held at Guantanamo Bay are gravely ill and another has become psychotic, lawyers told The Associated Press.

The death of Abdul Razzak at the prison clinic Sunday marked the first time any of the more than 700 men who have been held at Guantanamo Bay has died from natural causes, the military said. Four prisoners committed suicide. The U.S. now holds about 275 men there.

The sick prisoners have ailments that include liver infection, heart disease and another possible case of cancer and lack adequate medical treatment, according to lawyers for the men.

Razzak was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in September and had been receiving chemotherapy treatment since October, the military said. His death was expected, and he had been living in the clinic in recent weeks as his condition deteriorated, said Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt, a spokesman for the Guantanamo detention center.

Haupt said he did not know if Razzak was allowed any final contact with family in Afghanistan before he died.

U.S. authorities accused Razzak, who had been held at Guantanamo since early 2003, of being a senior leader of a 40-man Taliban unit — an allegation he denied. No charges were ever filed against him.

"There are so many ill people there — according to my client and clients of other attorneys — that it's just a matter of time before someone else dies from this medical neglect," Gorman said.

Haupt said no other detainees are in any immediate medical danger. Military authorities have long praised the medical care at Guantanamo — noting last year that they have performed more than 300 surgical procedures and treated hepatitis, battlefield wounds, tuberculosis, appendicitis, malnutrition and malaria.

"We go to significant lengths to provide every bit of medical care to the detainee population," Haupt said.

The military brought a surgical team and a mobile cardiac lab to Guantanamo — at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of about $400,000 — for a heart procedure on Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman accused of supporting al-Qaida.

Paracha refused the treatment. His lawyers insist it is too risky to allow the procedure to be done at Guantanamo and want him transferred to a properly equipped cardiac care facility. In November, he said his chest pain is so severe that "he is convinced he is dying," said Zachary Katznelson, an attorney with the British legal rights group Reprieve.

Attorney Clive Stafford Smith, also from Reprieve, said he has at least two seriously ill clients, including Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for the Al-Jazeera TV network who is being evaluated by doctors at Guantanamo after he complained of pain and blood in his urine. The lawyer said that cancer is a possibility, but he does not know the results of the cameraman's latest examination.

Stafford Smith also said that another client, Ethiopian national Binyam Mohamed, is apparently psychotic — engaging in such behavior as smearing feces on the walls of his cell.

Gorman said her client, Abdul Hamid Abdul Salam Al-Ghizzawi, has not been treated for his hepatitis or tuberculosis and has developed a severe liver infection. In court papers, she said: "Al-Ghizzawi is dying a slow and painful death."

Lawyers for a detainee from Yemen, Abdulkhaliq al Baidhani, say he has gone blind in one eye and his sight is deteriorating in the other. Doctors at Guantanamo have told him he needs an operation to save his eyesight, but military officials have not authorized the procedure and he fears he will be blind by the time he leaves the prison.

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