According to the Associated Press, the Saudi citizen who apparently committed suicide at Guantánamo on Wednesday 30 May has been identified by the Saudi authorities as Abdul Rahman al-Amri. Described by the Pentagon as a 34-year old from Ta’if, born on 17 April 1973, al-Amri had been held in the maximum security Camp V, reserved for the “least compliant and most ‘high-value’ inmates”, according to a US military spokesman.
Whether or not this is a valid description of al-Amri is debatable. He did not take part in any of the tribunals at Guantánamo –- either the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), convened to assess the status of the prisoners as “enemy combatants”, or the annual Administrative Review Boards (ARB), convened to assess whether the prisoners still constitute a threat to the US and its interests. He did, however, prepare a statement for his CSRT in which he “admitted it was his duty to fight jihad and that he continues to admit to that today. He says it is all Muslims’ responsibility to fight for jihad when called upon by a Muslim government (in this case, and at that time, it was the Taliban)”.
Having served in the Saudi army for nine years, al-Amri apparently travelled to Afghanistan in September 2001, undertook military training at a “school for jihad” in Kandahar and then moved on to the front lines. In December 2001, he passed through the Tora Bora region, crossed the border into Pakistan, and surrendered to the Pakistani police. He was one of approximately 180 Guantánamo prisoners handed over to the US authorities after being detained by the Pakistani authorities during a one-week period in mid-December 2001. Dozens of these men were either humanitarian aid workers or religious teachers, and most of the rest were, like al-Amri, Taliban foot soldiers recruited to fight the Northern Alliance in an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before 9/11. In his statement, al-Amri pointed out that “Americans trained him during periods of his service” with the Saudi army, and insisted that, “had his desire been to fight and kill Americans, he could have done that while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia. His intent was to go and fight for a cause that he believed in as a Muslim toward jihad, not to go and fight against the Americans”.
He also refuted the most serious allegation against him: that he “was identified as the person responsible for providing a movie that provided all the details on how the USS Cole was attacked [in 2000] and the explosives that were used”. He admitted that he used the alias Abu Anas whilst in Afghanistan, but explained that he believed that another individual with the same name had been responsible for providing the film. This would not be surprising. Countless prisoners have refuted a variety of allegations based on claims relating to their supposed aliases, and it’s probable — given al-Amri’s stated role as nothing more than a foot soldier against the Northern Alliance — that he was no exception.
Watch the press for the Pentagon’s response to his death, however. Whilst it’s probable that there’ll be more subtlety on display than last June, when the prison’s commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, described the suicides of three prisoners as “an act of asymmetric warfare”, it’s likely that someone in the administration will step forward to declare that the USS Cole allegation “proves” that al-Amri — held for nearly five and a half years without charge, without trial, and without access to a lawyer or to members of his family — was an al-Qaeda operative. What will probably not be mentioned is that, according to a report by the imprisoned al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, al-Amri, like the three prisoners who apparently committed suicide last year, had been on hunger strike for several months.
Even in death, it seems, there is no escape from the vengeance of the Pentagon.
For more on the suicides — and suicide attempts — in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.
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