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‘Non-lethal force' incident at Gitmo confirmed

Mar. 6, 2013 - 11:59AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 6, 2013 - 11:59AM  |  
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison used "non-lethal force" to quell a disturbance in a recreation yard, a military spokesman said Wednesday, declining to confirm a lawyer's account that a shot was fired and that one prisoner was injured.

The incident occurred Jan. 2, but only came to light this week after the attorney, Clive Stafford Smith, released a letter he sent to the commander of the prison on the U.S. base in Cuba requesting an investigation.

A spokesman for the prison, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said the incident has already been reviewed and found to be in compliance with procedures. "It was a proper use of force."

The military says the disturbance was brief. Durand said a detainee attempted to climb a fence and a small crowd of detainees began throwing rocks at a guard tower. Guards then issued repeated warnings, before using "appropriate crowd dispersal measures," and the crowd immediately broke up. Medical personnel evaluated the men involved and determined that none needed treatment, he said.

Durand declined to reveal what measures were used to disperse the crowd or to say what methods guards have at their disposal.

In his letter to the commander, Smith gives a conflicting account from prisoners. He said a detainee was prevented from entering the recreation yard and was trying to get the attention of a guard, who then aimed a rifle at him.

"Other detainees saw this, and immediately responded, fearful that the guard would shoot their colleague," Smith wrote. "The guard thereupon swung his rifle around on them, and fired one round."

He said one prisoner was injured in the throat, but that it was unclear whether he was struck with some type of non-lethal projectile, such as a rubber bullet, or from ricochet.

Neither the military nor Smith identified the prisoner. The lawyer, however, said he was an Afghan whose name had been mentioned as a candidate for release as part of a possible peace deal between the United States and the Taliban.

The incident occurred in Camp 6, a section of Guantanamo generally reserved for prisoners who follow camp rules and where the men spend most of the day in a communal setting as opposed to confined to solid-walled cells. About 100 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo are in Camp 6.

Though conditions are better in Camp 6, detainees have been complaining through their lawyers that conditions have deteriorated in recent weeks and that guards have confiscated personal items such as religious CDs, blankets and legal mail. The military says there have been no major changes in conditions and denies reports from attorneys for the prisoners that there is a mass hunger strike in the camp.

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