Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide?

12.6.09

Muhammad SalihYesterday, in the “Other Voices” section of the Miami Herald, Binyam Mohamed, the British resident and victim of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, who was returned to the UK in February, provided readers with his interpretation of the recent death in Guantánamo of the Yemeni prisoner Muhammad Salih (also known as Mohammed al-Hanashi). I’m cross-posting it here because of its significance, as Binyam Mohamed knew Muhammad Salih in Guantánamo, and provides a context for his death that raises some profoundly disturbing questions. The photo that accompanies this article is from Cageprisoners.

Was detainee’s death a suicide?
By Binyam Mohamed
Miami Herald, June 11, 2009

To the prisoners at Guantánamo, Mohammed Ahmed Abdullah Saleh was simply known as Wadhah al-Abyani (Wadhah meaning “one who clarifies” and Abyan the place where he came from in Yemen). Last week, it was announced that he had apparently committed suicide in his cell. After almost eight years in US custody, Wadhah came home to his native Yemen in a coffin. He was no more than a few months older than I. He was born in 1978. Coincidentally, he was numbered 078 by the US military.

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At 5’10” in height, his weakened body weighed no more than 104 pounds the last time I saw him. Wadhah had, like many prisoners still held in Guantánamo, been on a hunger strike before I left, protesting the conditions, abuses and absence of justice we were all subjected to.

We were force-fed together, transported to the chair willing or unwilling, strapped to it according to the doctor’s orders. A sympathetic-looking nurse would ask which nostril we would like to have the tube inserted in. While the 25-inch of hard tube is forced through your nostril down to your stomach, your eyes swell with tears and run down your cheeks. It’s always comforting to hear the nurse say, “Oh don’t worry. It’s OK, that happens to everyone,” as she wipes off your tears for you. And as the tube goes through the throat, you get the sensation of choking. Coughing is a norm but some start vomiting blood. With the years of hunger-striking, very few can keep what’s being pumped into them down.

Wadhah was always being put into segregation because of his determined insistence in pointing out the realities of what had happened to us all. The fact is, US authorities didn’t like him talking about words and practices they were only too familiar with: kidnap, rendition, torture, degradation, false imprisonment and injustice. But, while Wadhah opposed the policies and treatment in Guantánamo, he didn’t have problems with the guards. He was always very sociable and tried to help resolve issues between the guards and prisoners. He was patient and encouraged others to be the same. He never viewed suicide as a means to end his despair.

According to my personal diary, on Jan. 5, 2009, at around 11:20 a.m., I was taken from my cell to meet the Camp 5 NCOIC [non-commissioned officer-in-charge]. I was asked if I wanted to represent the prisoners on camp issues such as hunger strikes and other contentious issues. I declined, as did most. But poor Wadhah agreed, wanting to help his brothers the best he could. Little did he realize that if they didn’t get their way he would be the one sacrificed. The following Saturday, on Jan. 17, he was taken outside Camp 5 to meet with the Joint Task Force commander, Adm. David Thomas, and the Joint Detention Group commander, Col. Bruce Vargo.

Wadhah never returned to his cell, and two weeks later we learned that he was moved to what we called the “psych” unit — the behavioral-health unit (BHU). There has yet to be any explanation as to why he was sent there or even what was the cause of death. The BHU was built as a secure unit to prevent, among other things, potential suicide attempts.

Everything that someone could use to hurt himself has been removed from the cell, and a guard watches each prisoner 24 hours a day, in person and on videotape.

In light of this, I am amazed that the US government has the audacity to describe Wadhah’s death categorically as an “apparent suicide.”

I believe that this was a murder, or unlawful killing, whichever way you look at it. An innocent Muslim man not charged or tried for seven years has lost his life because of illegal incarceration:

  • If he did take his life — after being forced into a BHU — what put him there? Who takes responsibility for making him lose hope after having held on for so many years, despite the inhumane treatment and conditions?
  • If his death occurred by “natural causes,’” then the years of hunger strikes (since 2005) in protest against unjustified incarceration may well have led to some type of organ failure that caused his death.
  • If he was killed by US personnel — intentionally or otherwise — then what does this mean for those left behind with no hope of release or a justified solution to their incarceration?

The United States needs to understand how yet another unsatisfactorily explained death in its most infamous prison is going to be interpreted in the Muslim world.

We need answers.

Note: For a recent report on hunger strikes and deaths at Guantánamo, see: Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation.

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 and deaths at Guantánamo, see Suicide at Guantánamo: the story of Abdul Rahman al-Amri (May 2007), Suicide at Guantánamo: a response to the US military’s allegations that Abdul Rahman al-Amri was a member of al-Qaeda (May 2007), 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), The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo (November 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), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Forgotten: The Second Anniversary Of A Guantánamo Suicide (May 2009), Yemeni Prisoner Muhammad Salih Dies At Guantánamo (June 2009), Death At Guantánamo Hovers Over Obama’s Middle East Visit (June 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).

9 Responses

  1. Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] — seems to have been prompted more by the recent death of Muhammad Salih, a Yemeni prisoner (who allegedly committed suicide), than by any great desire to empty the prison as soon as [...]

  2. The Jeff Farias Show: Sasha Abramsky + Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] questions regarding the deaths of two other prisoners in May 2007 and in June this year (see here and here). I also talked about the darkness at the heart of Guantánamo, to this day, in which [...]

  3. Murders at Guantanamo: Exposing the Truth About the 2006 Suicides. By Andy Worthington « Kanan48 says...

    [...] year – a 31-year-old Yemeni named Muhammad Salih – also raises disturbing questions (as was reported by former prisoner Binyam Mohamed in an op-ed for the Miami Herald), and to this he could have [...]

  4. The Third Anniversary of a Death in Guantánamo 31.5.10 « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] long-term hunger strikers, and all died in circumstances that provide more questions than answers. In the case of Muhammad Salih, despite apparently being in sound mental health, he was removed to a secure psychiatric unit [...]

  5. Guantanamo: Alle Zeichen deuten auf Ermordung eines Gefangenen « Ticker says...

    [...] Guantánamo, provided an explanation of the circumstances of his death that was deeply shocking. In an article for the Miami Herald, he stated that he and al-Hanashi, who, at the time, weighed just 104 pounds (and at one point had [...]

  6. The season of death at Guantánamo | San Francisco Bay View says...

    [...] described the deaths in my book “The Guantánamo Files,” published in 2007, after a fourth death at the prison, of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May [...]

  7. The season of death at Guantánamo | Happily Natural says...

    [...] described the deaths in my book “The Guantánamo Files,” published in 2007, after a fourth death at the prison, of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May [...]

  8. The season of death at Guantánamo | Moorbey'z Blog says...

    [...] described the deaths in my book “The Guantánamo Files,” published in 2007, after a fourth death at the prison, of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May [...]

  9. Murders at Guantánamo: Scott Horton of Harper’s Exposes the Truth about the 2006 “Suicides” | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] year — a 31-year old Yemeni named Muhammad Salih — also raises disturbing questions (as was reported by former prisoner Binyam Mohamed in an op-ed for the Miami Herald), and to this he could have […]

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