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Guantanamo Jail

By Gary Marx

Calling the Bush administration the "enemies of humanity," Iraq war protester Cindy Sheehan demanded Tuesday the closing of the U.S. military jail at Guantanamo Bay and fair treatment for all detainees in America's war on terrorism.

Sheehan, who became a controversial symbol of the U.S. anti-war movement after her son was killed in Iraq, said her weeklong trip to Cuba is designed to highlight the "barbaric activities at Guantanamo" and prod the U.S. Congress to challenge the Bush administration's detention without trial of hundreds of prisoners.

"George Bush and his administration are enemies of humanity," Sheehan, 49, told reporters in Havana. "The images coming from Guantanamo have been horrific. The news from there has been unspeakable."

Sheehan's photograph topped the front page of Tuesday's Granma, the official daily newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.

Miriam Leiva, a prominent Cuban human-rights activist, said in an interview that she welcomed Sheehan's trip but wished she could speak to her about the 280 opposition figures held in Cuban prisons.

Human-rights officials and families say Cuba's political prisoners are housed in violent facilities with poor hygiene, inadequate health care and insufficient food. Cuban authorities have refused to grant international human-rights groups access to the country's prisons.

Sheehan, who gained widespread attention when she camped out near Bush's ranch in Texas, arrived in Havana on the weekend as part of a 12-member delegation that includes a former U.S. Army colonel, a constitutional law expert, the mother and brother of a prisoner held at Guantanamo, and a former detainee.

The group is scheduled to travel to the city of Guantanamo on Wednesday, where they will participate in a conference focusing on conditions at the military base. On Thursday, the group is to march to a Cuban military base near the U.S. facility to mark the fifth anniversary of the arrival of first prisoners at the remote site.

The U.S. military holds about 395 men on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban at Guantanamo, which has been the subject of heated debate for alleged human-rights violations of prisoners.

One delegation member is Taher Deghayes, a Dubai resident whose brother, Omar, was arrested 4 1/2 years ago in Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo. Deghayes said Omar has no links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban and demanded his release.

"Omar is kind, articulate and intelligent," Deghayes said. "He frequently spoke out against terrorism in the name of Islam because Islam signifies peace."

Also traveling with the group is Asif Iqbal, who was a 19-year-old British mail worker when he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and then sent to Guantanamo. Iqbal said U.S. authorities alleged that they had a grainy video of him attending a 2000 meeting with Osama bin Laden and several of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Iqbal said he confessed to the allegation after being subjected to repeated interrogations, ear-splitting music, flashing lights, extreme high and low temperatures and other forms of torture. He spent 3 months in isolation.

Iqbal was released 2 1/2 years later after British authorities provided evidence that he was in a British jail on the day of the alleged Al Qaeda meeting, he said.

"When that place is closed, then I can move on with my life," he said.

Delegation members also visited the Latin American Medical School in Havana, where students from across the region study for free, and met representatives of Cuban government organizations.

"The ill treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo is really appalling," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "But the political prisoners in Cuba are subjected to all sorts of abuses, including psychological torture."

Sheehan called for the fair treatment of all prisoners worldwide, including Cuban opposition activists, and said her trip was not an endorsement of the Cuban government.

"This is where Guantanamo is, and this is where we have to be," she said.

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