It has just been reported that Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih (also known as Mohammed al-Hanashi), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, has died, apparently by committing suicide.
The news comes just three days after the second anniversary of another death at Guantánamo — that of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi prisoner who died on May 30, 2007 — and just eight days before the third anniversary of the deaths of three other prisoners — Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani — who died on June 10, 2006, and it must surely hasten calls for the urgent repatriation of other prisoners before there are any more deaths at the prison.
The Associated Press, which first reported the story, stated that US military officials had reported that Salih, who was 31 years old, was found “unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Monday night,” and that he had died of an “apparent suicide.”
Like the other prisoners who died of “apparent suicides” at Guantánamo, Salih had been a long-term hunger striker, refusing food as the only method available to protest his long imprisonment without charge or trial. According to weight records issued by the Pentagon in 2007, he weighed 124 pounds on his arrival at Guantánamo, but at one point in December 2005, during the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history, his weight dropped to just 86 pounds.
Salih was one of around 50 prisoners at Guantánamo who had survived a massacre at Qala-i-Janghi, a fort in northern Afghanistan, at the end of November 2001, when, after the surrender of the city of Kunduz, several hundred foreign fighters surrendered to General Rashid Dostum, one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance, in the mistaken belief that they would be allowed to return home. Instead, they were imprisoned in Qala-i-Janghi, a nineteenth century mud fort in Mazar-e-Sharif, and when some of the men started an uprising against their captors, which led to the death of a CIA operative, US Special Forces, working with the Northern Alliance and British Special Forces, called in bombing raids to suppress the uprising, leading to hundreds of deaths. The survivors — who, for the most part, had not taken part in the fighting — took shelter in the basement of the fort, where they endured further bombing, and they emerged only after many more had died when the basement was set on fire and then flooded.
Like many of the prisoners at Guantánamo, Salih had traveled to Afghanistan many months before the 9/11 attacks, to fight as a foot soldier for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s long-running civil war against the Muslims of the Northern Alliance. When the US military reviewed his case at Guantánamo in 2004, he refused to attend the hearing, but provided a statement via his Personal Representative (a representative of the military assigned in place of a lawyer), in which he said that he arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before the 9/11 attacks, and admitted being a member of the Taliban, but made a point of adding, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean I supported Osama bin Laden.”
He also admitted fighting on the front lines against the Northern Alliance, but added “that he fired at the enemy, but did not kill anyone,” and also admitted staying in four different Taliban-run guest houses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although he also made a point of saying that he hadn’t heard of al-Qaeda “until from the media on the front lines.” He also explained that he did not participate in military operations against the United States or its coalition partners, saying, “The first time I saw Americans was in Kandahar” (at the US prison used for processing prisoners after their capture). He also denied an allegation that Osama bin Laden spoke to “his group” in Tora Bora (the site of a battle between US/Afghan forces and remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in late November and early December 2001), saying that he had never been in Tora Bora, which was, of course, true, as he was in Qala-i-Janghi instead, and was then moved to General Dostum’s prison at Sheberghan, where he was imprisoned when the Battle of Tora Bora took place.
It is not known yet if President Obama’s Pentagon will deal more sensitively with his death than has happened previously. I would be surprised if any comments are made that can compare with those made by Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo at the time of the deaths in 2006, who said, “I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us,” or Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, who described the suicides as a “good PR move to draw attention,” but in every previous case of a “suicide” at Guantánamo, the Pentagon has subsequently made official pronouncements about the men’s alleged involvement with terrorism, even though they — like Muhammad Salih — had never been charged or tried, and even though there was no substantial evidence to suggest that this was the case.
In Salih’s case, as in the cases of many — if not the majority — of prisoners at Guantánamo, the false allegation I identified above is not the only piece of untrustworthy material masquerading as evidence in his file. As I reported just two weeks ago, when it was announced that one of Guantánamo’s “high-value detainees,” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was to be put forward for trial in a federal court in New York, I discovered during my research for my book The Guantánamo Files that another allegation against Muhammad Salih had been made by Ghailani, while he was held in unknown conditions in a secret prison run by the CIA.
As I explained at the time,
One of the more disturbing aspects of the gathering of evidence used against the Guantánamo prisoners is the accumulation of allegations from [their tribunals and review boards, in which] an enormous number of claims are attributed to “a senior al-Qaeda operative” or “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant.” With no names given, it has been impossible to establish the source of these claims, although they are frequently so at odds with a previously established chronology of the prisoner’s actions — placing them at training camps and in guest houses when they were not even in Afghanistan, for example — that it’s readily apparent that many, if not most of these allegations were produced under duress, probably when supposed “high-value detainees” were being shown the “family album” of prisoners that was used from the earliest days of the US-run prisons in Afghanistan, in late December 2001.
On one occasion only, I discovered that one of these “al-Qaeda” sources had been named, and was none other than Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “The Yemeni Mohammed al-Hanashi [Muhammad Salih] admitted to his tribunal in 2004 that he arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before 9/11, and that he fought with the Taliban. By the time of his review in 2005, however, new allegations had been added, including the claim that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani ‘identified him as having been at the al-Farouq camp [the main training camp for Arabs, associated in the years before 9/11 with Osama bin Laden] in 1998-99 prior to moving on to the front lines in Kabul.’ In other words, although al-Hanashi admitted traveling to Afghanistan to serve as a foot soldier for the Taliban, a man who was held in extremely dubious circumstances in another part of the world was shown his photo and came up with a story about seeing him two or three years before his arrival in Afghanistan, which would, henceforth, be regarded as evidence against him.”
I find it disturbing enough that, after seven and a half years’ imprisonment without charge or trial, Muhammad Salih has died at Guantánamo, but as we await further details from the prison authorities, I sincerely hope that this man — not a terrorist, but a soldier in what he thought was a holy war against other Muslims — is not slandered in death, as were Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, Yasser al-Zahrani and Abdul Rahman al-Amri before him.
POSTSCRIPT: The following is a press release issued by the Yemeni embassy in Washington D.C.
We are saddened to learn of the death of Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih Alhanashi, a Yemeni detainee at Guantánamo Bay who apparently committed suicide late last night (Monday the 1st of June, 2009). An Embassy representative is on route to Guantánamo to be briefed on the situation and to participate in the proceedings that are required after such incident. The Embassy representative will oversee that the remains of the deceased detainee are being treated in accordance to Islamic customs. We will work closely with the US government to repatriate the remains of the deceased as soon as possible. We extend our deepest condolences to the family of the deceased. In addition, this incident demonstrates the urgency of closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. The Yemeni government is looking forward to cooperate closely with the US administration to expedite President’s Obama decision to close Guantánamo.
Embassy of the Republic of Yemen
Andy Worthington is the author of 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, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), Guantánamo: al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj fears that he will die (September 2007), The long suffering of Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian teenager sent home from Guantánamo (October 2007), Guantánamo suicides: so who’s telling the truth? (October 2007), Innocents and Foot Soldiers: The Stories of the 14 Saudis Just Released From Guantánamo (Yousef al-Shehri and Murtadha Makram) (November 2007), A letter from Guantánamo (by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj) (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges (June 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), Seven Years Of Guantánamo, And A Call For Justice At Bagram (January 2009), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home (March 2009). Also see the following online chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 2 (Ahmed Kuman, Mohammed Haidel), Website Extras 3 (Abdullah al-Yafi, Abdul Rahman Shalabi), Website Extras 4 (Bakri al-Samiri, Murtadha Makram), Website Extras 5 (Ali Mohsen Salih, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih).
Here’s an interesting comment from the New York Times’ report on Muhammad Salih’s death, in which William Glaberson notes that “detainees’ lawyers, including those representing other Yemeni detainees, have been saying that many prisoners are desperate and that many are suicidal because they see no end to their detention.”
And at Salon, tying this in with fears that Obama wants legislation to replicate, on the US mainland, the same system of “indefinite detention” that the Bush administration put in place at Guatánamo, Glenn Greenwald writes, “Closing Guantánamo obviously does nothing to solve these problems if the same system of indefinite detention without charges is simply transported to a new location … It’s the system of indefinite detention with no trials, not the locale of the cage, that is so oppressive and destructive.”
[…] …on June 2nd, 2009 at 11:11 pm […]
This from Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project:
“Tragic deaths like this one have become all too common in a system that locks up detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. There must be an immediate, independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding this apparent suicide and the conditions of confinement at Guantánamo.
“There is no room for a system of indefinite detention without charge or trial under our Constitution. Detainees against whom there is legitimate evidence should be tried in our federal courts — not in the reconstituted military commissions now being proposed. Those against whom there is no legitimate evidence must not be given a de-facto life sentence by being locked up forever.”
[…] By George W. Bush and Barack Obama: It has just been reported that Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih (also known as Mohammed al-Hanashi), a Y… The news comes just three days after the second anniversary of another death at Guantánamo — […]
As an American,I greet this news with sorrow and grief……
A once great nation of builders and doers
now finds itself the mugger of the planet,
the sadist and rapist too…..
And what COWARDS we have become
too, hiding in bunkers and killing from afar
It’ s just unbelievable that this is what America has become…
I still have hope that Obama will start putting his foot down about all the lawless behavior, but I’m loath to rely
on anyones sense of what is right..
it is so disheartening to see how the U.S. governance has gone to the highest bidders time & time again…
[…] report was originally published at Mr. Worthington’s website and has been republished […]
This is a shame on America brought about my George W. Bush and now President Obama is responsible for not acting fast on the closure of the shame and cynosure as he promised. President Obama needs to wake up and act fast before he looses the popularity he enjoys and the faith the people have bestowed on him. This is indeed a shame and a dark age in the history of the United States. He died innocent for he was not convicted after so long! This delay in conviction is unacceptable even in the third world! Unfortunately George W. Bush has shown that any ignorant with US citizenship could become president if he has a band of manipulative backers.
I received the following from Jeff Kaye, psychologist and indefatigable anti-torture activist:
I am very saddened by the death of Salih. It made me realize how hardened I let my defenses become as I do this work, but your essay on Salih’s life, and his senseless detention, his protest and now his death brings home to me the importance of what we do, and how brutalized as a society we have become.
I too hope the government will not slander his memory, because they certainly did everything they could to use his life as a tool for their war on terror propaganda, and to demonstrate their power of life and death over whomever they chose. In such circumstances, as the hunger strikers make clear, only the choice over one’s own life or death can make a statement of one’s own autonomous self. Yet how tragic that individuals must be driven to die so that they can psychically live. And this is assuming that it was not pain or insanity that drove him to kill himself.
Thanks for all the work you do. It is fantastic, and keeps an old soul like me awake to the promise that something will change out of all this.
Thomas and Raymond,
Welcome, and thanks for the comments. You both made points about the presidency being for sale, or available to anyone with “a band of manipulative backers,” and I’m sure that, amongst those Americans who have a heart — as opposed to Cheney and his ilk — you’re not alone in questioning Obama’s ability — or willingness — to deal with the dreadful legacy of the Bush administration decisively and with a true sense of justice.
I hope that this death of a man who had been held for over seven years in the most horrible form of legal limbo — and one perpetuated for over four months by Obama, whatever his intentions — will now lead to some swift action to repatriate or otherwise rehouse men like him.
I suspect, like all of us who work on these topics for so much of the time, I too have let my defenses harden. However, a death like Salih’s, whether consciously and clearly undertaken (despite Islam’s prohibition on suicide) — or, as you suggest, possibly through “pain or insanity” — also brought home to me the extraordinarily long time that he and the majority of the Guantanamo prisoners have languished without any fundamental rights whatsoever. Even for those of us who are conscious of what is going on, it is sometimes easy to forget, and now, sadly, we are reminded when one of these faceless and still-demonized statistics comes to life, but only at the moment of death.
Always good to hear from you.
Hi Andy –
Writes like you are the greatest warriors for the humanity today. Thank you for your extra-ordinary effort of bringing the plight of these people to everyone’s attention.
Thanks Andy, Great piece of writing, and a deep and powerful study of the depravity and craziness of the whole u.s. gulag. I find it especially poignant that Mr. Salih was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre — how bitterly ironic his story ends like this. This story could be a textbook for this whole wretched episode in our history, a nightmare that goes on with no end in sight.
Your work is so vital to us and to the prisoners — you are indispensable. Thanks again
[…] Prisoner Muhammad Salih Dies At Guantánamo By sudhan Andy Worthington, June 2, […]
There is little doubt that if GTMO is still open in its present form one year hence (and, let’s face it… that’s how you bet: the Obama Administration has made the morally reprehensible and legally outrageous– and hence politically-mollifying-to-Americans– statement that “there are [swarthy, mysterious, “different”] men too dangerous to release but who still can’t be charged” statement in support of grander plans for
the ultimate indicator of tyranny “prolonged detention”) some other Mohammad Salih will die under suspicious circumstances “commit suicide”.
Query, of course, whether conditions surrounding Salih were “Geneva compliant”… SecDef Gates has assured us all they were, in a great Orwellian exercise of asking the fox if he is justly and humanely guarding the hen house (only the rare fox would say anything other then “YES, SIR!”)
Absolute power is an awesomely ugly thing. As administered by low-ranking soldiers who have limited power otherwise (who evidently beat each other up if they’re not sufficiently
sadistic with the program as disclosed in my interview with former GTMO guard Terry Holdbrooks http://thetalkingdog.com/archives2/001274.html ), doesn’t seem to be “Geneva compliant,” what with rules for humane and just treatment and all, now does it? Salih, as I understand it, was still subjected to a restraint chair widely considered “a torture chair” by most detainees and observers, and likely subjected to having tubes shoved up his bodily cavities several times a day. Along with the other indignities he suffered, he lost over 1/3 of his already slender body weight.
While lawyers signed on to represent him this year (around February), apparently, the military couldn’t be bothered to let Salih actually meet them. Seemingly alone in the world, Salih succumbed to the inevitable, and since American legal orders don’t seem to apply to (some) human beings at Guantanamo Bay, Salih left GTMO by one of the two methods permitted (those being the Grace of the High and Mighty Executive, and of course, death).
It is still relatively early in the Obama Adminstration. While this death can– and MUST– be charged to the Obama Administration, which has had more than enough opportunity to make meaningful improvements in the GTMO situation, but for various reasons has not, most of the physical and mental and spiritual damage to Salih had clearly been done to him during the Bush Administration.
Still and all, however, our new President, who happens to be a college classmate of mine, coming in with great “hope”” for “change,” and indeed, coming in with my full support, will not have my support again should he continue this outrageous course of lawlessness: differing with the untenable policies of his predecessor only rhetorically and symbolically, while the “facts on the ground” continue to lead to yet more Mohammad Salihs.
Here’s “hope” for a “change” in that policy.
Ali and Paul,
Thanks for the comments and the supportive words. Now that “change” is a possibility, rather than being locked down as it was in the Bush years, it’s more important than ever to expose what little truth we have been allowed to glimpse behind the rhetoric of fear that still exists, in which the prisoners are still regarded as some kind of special species of dangerous “others,” when, in fact, they are either innocent men, foot soldiers brutalized by a government that once supported the Geneva Conventions, or criminals.
Thanks for the comments. I particular liked your appraisal of how the Obama adminstration worked out that Guantanamo was run in accordance with the requirements of the Geneva Conventions — “asking the fox if he is justly and humanely guarding the hen house.”
Thanks also for the update on Salih’s status as one of the few prisoners who didn’t even have legal representation. I read today that he was one of only eight prisoners who hadn’t had contact with lawyers. That was reassuring on one sense, as I thought the figure was much higher, but it remains a bitter indictment of the ad hoc nature of Guantanamo that, five years on from Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruling that first allowed lawyers to meet the prisoners to prepare habeas corpus cases, someone like Muhammad Salih died as the Bush administration initially planned for all the prisoners: outside the law, imprisoned without charge or trial, and deemed guilty by Presidential whim.
I salute your courage in bringing out ugly truths when such behavior tends to be punished by the existing power structure.
The actions of US leaders continue to sink lower into a moral abyss. Perhaps the media-hypnotised people of the US, my country, could consider how desperate and determined these Guantanamo “detainees” (as if they are bad kids kept after school for an hour) are, when their only weapon, only method of expression, is to starve themselves to death and be force-fed to boot.
The US republic has been infiltrated and hijacked by bankers, supporters of Israel, and globalists. If believers in the Jewish “holocaust” hold the German people directly responsible for Nazi crimes, then how much worse will it someday be for Americans with torture and murder of innocents becoming standard operating procedure?
Thanks forthe supportive comments, and for the succinct and accurate analysis of the whole problem with regarding hunger strikers at Guantanamo as terrorists: “Perhaps the media-hypnotised people of the US, my country, could consider how desperate and determined these Guantanamo ‘detainees’ (as if they are bad kids kept after school for an hour) are, when their only weapon, only method of expression, is to starve themselves to death and be force-fed to boot.”
[…] for four months was convened at Guantánamo, and just hours before the Pentagon announced that a sixth prisoner had died, apparently by committing suicide, the small group of reporters — “less than a dozen,” […]
After this article was published, I received the following message:
I want to thank you for remembering Muhammad Salih and for keeping that portion of the world’s people who want to know what is happening at Gitmo up to date. Your dedication to this project is both profound and outstanding — and I know you can not be doing this based on praise like what you have just read.
Last month marked the 21st year that I left Afghanistan for the first time. I had been in-country for 18 months, was in Herat province and affiliated to the men supporting Ismail Khan, went on my own dime and regretted that I had not gone sooner because somehow I knew the Afghanistan situation would continue to ripple and by the time of my departure, it was already understood that the Soviet military adventure was already over.
While there, I was already the subject of an Interpol warrant and wanted in the US for what they call an act of terror and had made up my mind that if the remote possibility arose, and I came across anybody who knew me from home (the US) and he looked official or military then there would be an immediate shooting match and may the best man win. That never happened. What did happen was that I was hunted unsuccessfully by KHAD.
The reason I tell you this is that while in the states I had spent two years as a so-called Muslim ‘chaplain’ in the D.C. and federal prison system. I had a card that could get me into any facility in the US and though I only went to five, that was enough. In the prison system too, I was a volunteer — no pay involved and when I visited places I paid.
Of course, you can not grow up black in America and not know something about prisons or not be acquainted with those who have done time. And I grew up in the 60s well before prison conditions became Hollywood fare. Actually going into those places in the late 70s and interacting with the inmates was a no-holds barred education. And later when things popped up like Abu Ghraib, what shocked me was that the world was so dumb as to what takes place in those hell holes right there in American communities.
What has always been particularly disturbing to me about Guantánamo is the notion that these men have no idea when they will ever see a trial much less release. I am no legal historian but I can not think of any thing that comes close to such an act of evil save the incarceration of the Japanese-Americans in WWII and they did less than half the time. For me American justice concerning poor and minorities was always a misnomer even in the US.
Perhaps the good Guantánamo will do for the world is to make it understand that the notion of a morally good and just America is simply bullshit. And I think the way things work out there and also in Afghanistan will bring about the realization that good looks, elocution and intelligence aside, Barack Obama is just another American imperialist.
I have not been to Gitmo but like I said earlier, I am not unfamiliar with how prisons work and what kinds of people work in them. What is happening down there in all its horror, represents for me one sign out of many of the diminishing of America in very significant ways and that ultimately can only be good for the rest of the world.
Again, thank you for keeping people up to date on what happens there and the fate of simple, ordinary men like Muhammad Salih. And I am sitting here thinking that if he has been force-fed for two years, perhaps it was not suicide at all.
Thank you for the supportive comments — which are always gratefully received, but no, they’re not why I’m pursuing this mission. Somewhere along the line, while researching these men’s stories, I became determined to do all I could to expose Dick Cheney, David Addington and their close associates for their brutal, stupid, and counter-productive dictatorial tendencies, and to insist that, in future, prisoners must be either PoWs, protected by the Geneva Conventions, or criminal suspects who will face a trial in a federal court.
Thanks also for the many insights in your message — about racism, imperialism, and the US prison system. I wish I had time to tackle that one! Maybe next!
[…] to die in mysterious circumstances, and just eight days after the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih. The authorities maintain that the men died by committing suicide, although doubts about this […]
[…] Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi was a Taliban supporter, who – according to Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington – “was one of around 50 prisoners at Guantanamo who had […]
[…] passing, he mentions that the death of another prisoner in June last year — a 31-year old Yemeni named Muhammad Salih — also raises disturbing […]
[…] passing, he mentioned that the death of another prisoner in June last year – a 31-year-old Yemeni named Muhammad Salih – also raises disturbing […]
[…] which have also not been addressed adequately. The first is that of Muhammad Salih, a Yemeni who died on June 2 last year, reportedly by committing suicide, and the other three — Salah Ahmed al-Salami, a Yemeni, Mani […]
[…] that a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Mohammed al-Hanashi (also known as Muhammad Salih) had died, reportedly by committing suicide. He was the fifth reported suicide at Guantánamo, following three deaths on June 9, 2006 and […]
[…] that a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Mohammed al-Hanashi (also known as Muhammad Salih) had died, reportedly by committing suicide. He was the fifth reported suicide at Guantánamo, following three deaths on June 9, 2006, and […]
[…] a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Mohammed al-Hanashi (also known as Muhammad Salih) had died, reportedly by committing suicide. He was the fifth reported suicide at Guantánamo, following three deaths on June 9, 2006, and […]
[…] next year, 2009, the anniversary was overshadowed by the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih, another […]
[…] next year, 2009, the anniversary was overshadowed by the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih, another […]
[…] Despite the recent attention given to this topic in the past months, it is not a new occurrence at Guantánamo. Hunger strike protests have been recorded from 2002, sometimes involving up to 200 prisoners. The three men, Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, who passed away in the prison in 2006 were being force fed at the time. The same is true of Abdul Rahman al-Amri who died in 2007 and Muhammad Salih who died in 2009. […]
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