Guantánamo Suicide Was Severely Mentally Ill, And Was A Case of Mistaken Identity

22.5.11

There is cruelty. There is stupidity. And far too often, when it comes to the activities of the US government in the “War on Terror,” there is both.

In my previous article, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin, I wrote about the death at Guantánamo — reportedly as a result of committing suicide — of an Afghan prisoner identified by the US military as Inayatullah, who was the penultimate prisoner to be brought to the prison in Cuba, arriving in September 2007.

Noting that the US military had recycled information from a press release issued when he arrived at Guantánamo, describing him as “an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations,” but dropping a claim that he had “admitted that he was the Al-Qaeda Emir of Zahedan, Iran,” I suggested that he had never, in fact, been appraised adequately since his arrival, as no tribunal had been held to assess him as an “enemy combatant,” and noted, moreover, that his file was one of 14 missing from the classified military assessments of 765 prisoners, which were recently released by WikiLeaks.

In addition, I lamented that it was “unlikely that the evident truth about Obama’s Guantánamo — that the only way out is by dying — will shift public option either at home or abroad,” and also noted that, “whatever Inayatullah’s alleged crimes, it was inappropriate that, because of President Obama’s embrace of his predecessor’s detention policies, he died neither as a convicted criminal serving a prison sentence for activities related to terrorism, nor as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions.”

As is now known, however, the unlamented death of a man held in such a disturbingly aberrant manner only scratched the surface of the horrors surrounding his death.

As his attorney, Paul Rashkind, a federal defender in Miami, told the Associated Press on Thursday, he had tried to kill himself twice at Guantánamo, and was severely mentally ill, with what the AP described as “a long-term mental illness that predated his time in custody.” Rashkind said, “This was a young man who suffered significant psychosis, a paralyzing psychosis beginning many years ago, long before he got to Gitmo.”

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Rashkind explained that his client’s psychological problems were “so severe” that he had “arranged to bring a civilian psychiatrist to the base to work with him” — although this had not happened by the time of his death. “I have no doubt it was a suicide,” Rashkind also said, adding, “This is really a sad mental health case … starting from childhood.”

In his discussion with the AP, Rashkind also explained that he was “not permitted to provide details” about either of his client’s two previous suicide attempts, “except to say both were serious,” although he did explicitly state, “He was close to death the first time.” The Miami Herald also noted that “[l]egal sources familiar with the case” had explained that he “had spent long stretches in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo,” although Rashkind was at pains to point out that the authorities in Guantánamo “treated him pretty humanely, I’d have to say,”

Disturbingly, however, Rashkind also claimed that, as well as failing to recognise that his client’s mental health issues had made suicide a strong possibility, the US authorities had seized the wrong man.

His real name, according to Rashkind, was Hajji Nassim, and as the Miami Herald put it, “he had never been known as Inayatullah anywhere but in Guantánamo, had never had a role in al-Qaeda and ran a cellphone shop in Iran near the Afghan border.” In addition, as the AP described it, he had “finished school up to the fifth grade [and] was married,” and “there was no evidence to support the allegations against him.”

As Rashkind described it, “I will tell you as far as I’m concerned he never did a violent act, he never planned a violent act. He was not a terrorist. His mental health issues made it difficult to address why he was there.”

Adding that he was “still trying to contact family members in Iran and Pakistan to notify them of the death,” Rashkind told the AP that he was not at liberty to discuss the case openly because “some evidence is classified and because of US government secrecy rules.” He did, however, explain that he visited Nassim “every three months, along with a Pashtun translator,” and that he had last spoken to him by phone just two weeks before his death to discuss his ongoing habeas corpus petition.

After telling the AP that he had also planned to visit him again in June, after a hearing in the District Court in Washington D.C. regarding his habeas petition, Rashkind also said, “I can tell you he was fine at that time. In his conversations he seemed like he was doing well and he was looking forward to our visit that was coming up.”

Speaking to the Miami Herald, Rashkind called the case “an outlier” in Guantánamo’s history, “partly because Nassim was brought there so late in the camps’ history and partly because of his mental health issues.” According to Rashkind, he had, literally, fallen between the cracks, and was “never designated for trial, indefinite detention or release.”

His closing words echo what, to me, is the particular sadness and injustice I feel whenever anyone dies in Guantánamo, that cruel aberration created by the Bush administration, whose continued existence — and Obama’s failure to close it — mocks any attempt America might make to present itself to the world as a force for good, and an upholder of justice.

“I don’t think he belonged there at all,” Rashkind said, adding, “To me, this is a human tragedy.”

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

75 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Gene Hernandez wrote:

    sad

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, thank you, again, Sharon, and thanks also, Gene, for the most succinct assessment of the situation.

  3. Connie says...

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Linda Le Bon wrote:

    So cruel and inhuman – then reflecting on the crap obama was spouting in Ireland today about how the yanks lead the world and fight for truth and humanity – all rhetoric – didnt expect anything less – but seeing sth like this hurts – the chap was even mentally ill – how incredibly incredibly cruel !!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Linda. And such is the state of politics now that no one would even think of interrupting Obama’s hollow PR talk with anything like an awkward question — even if you could find a mainstream journalist able to formulate an awkward question. Politicians have become like actors — you have to be nice to them or they won’t keep you on their list of favored media outlets.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Linda Le Bon wrote:

    well at least the IRA had him on his toes and kept him in a little perspex box !! 😉 how come irish dissidents/terrorists arent sent to guantanamo ??? because they are white ? there are many issues with the whole war of terror – but seems that racism is pretty central too when you make certain analysis – great they have a black guy doing the talking for them now – and although i think yes he may provide a good role model for young black kids – it makes you think would we ever say that madeline albright, clinton or benazir were good examples for young girls ?? not me in the same way – the ethics that the black liberation movements across america stood for are eroded by a black president who speaks with white mans forked tongue.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I suppose if you’re not white you have to sell out for power. Racism does indeed play such a big part in everything. The US engenders hate in Muslim countries through its foreign policy, and then, when attacked, draws on a “clash of civilizations” narrative that dates back centuries …

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Linda Le Bon wrote:

    tricky thing is though – in many cases – regardless of huntingtons ‘prognosis’ 😉 the muslims are now beginning to see themselves as ‘terrorists’ who deserve to be killed like animals – a chap from Parachinar (in pakistan – but not part of waziristan) had passed comments on my wall that left me falling off my perch !! to the extent that he said that the people in waziristan were mostly terrorists – that 99 percent of the suicide bombers were kids and that the people (women and children) who were blown up by the US drones deserved to be killed for harboring terrorists !!! a turkish guy started to argue with him – so he accused the Turkish chap of being a wahabi and said he should be blown up !! I was very dissapointed and thought well if this is what people close to the region think no wonder the yanks get away with it – absolute brainwashing- very problematic to mind. He later erased all of his comments – which was bizarre too!! 🙁

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s interesting, Linda, although I wouldn’t underestimate the struggle between different schools of thought — and in certain places, including much of Pakistan, the influence of Wahhabism, via Saudi money. It may be less self-hatred and much more to do with severe ideological differences.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Elly Malka Faden wrote:

    my gosh – where were all of you presidential haters when Bush was in office? Obama is a gazillion times more transparent, dignified, rational, and intelligent than him. Well, I guess social networking wasn’t around then, but I don’t think we will ever be able to have another buffoon in office – we are running them out, like Palin and Trump. I just wish that liberals, posting on this board would remember how insidious Bush was at getting Blackwater all of those contracts and giving up on getting bin Laden. At least Obama is making an effort.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Elly, thanks. It’s probably too late on this thread for that to cause a discussion, although I’d expect people to argue, as I do, that Obama is largely a pawn of the vested interests — Wall Street, the military-industrial complex. The problem, as I see it, is that with both Republicans and Democrats largely indistinguishable when it comes to favoring corporate interests at the expense of the people, there’s little room for maneuver: not voting for the Dems helps republicans, voting for the Dems is scarcely better, and no third party exists that has a chance of winning. The rot is with the entire political system, and what we need, I suspect, is a Tahrir Square.

  12. Kabuli says...

    “This was a young man who suffered significant psychosis, a paralyzing psychosis beginning many years ago, long before he got to Gitmo.”

    According to a rough psychological assessment made around 2003, about 70% of the Afghan population was in need of psychological help after more than 20 years of war they had been through: the PTSD that is so much lamented when it concerns our soldiers, but completely ignored when it concerns their victims …

    Of course they never received that psychological help, as Afghanistan simply does not have the number of psychologists to perform this mammoth task. In fact, it hardly has any at all.

    May he rest in peace, this umptiest innocent human being mangled by our governments’ paranoia, greed and boundless stupidity.

  13. Kabuli says...

    Dear Mary Neal you have my sincere sympathy, not only for the terrible fate of your brother, but also for the life-long torture of not knowing what really happened which has been inflicted on you and your loved ones.

    ‘ […] they manipulated the approach to suicide attempts so that the victims came to be regarded as the aggressors, […] It’s almost unspeakably cynical, but typical for Guantanamo.”

    Not only for Guantanamo Andy. Civilian victims of the US army (and most other NATO countries in their wake) in Afghanistan are also systematically accused of being themselves responsible for having been murdered: they came too close to a military convoy -on a congested public road-, they happened to be home when having their house raided in the middle of the night, they happened to have the same name as someone on the US hit list, so they could only blame themselves for being shot or having their house ransacked or bombed and their loved ones killed …

    Being ‘presumed guilty’ and criminal nonsense such as ‘preemptive self-defence’ have become the rule and too many of the wrong computer games have shaped minds to believe that shooting random people in cold blood is the normal thing to do for the military.

    A supposedly university educated military woman who is writing Petraeus’ biography (!), wrote on her blog that ‘[…] the locals were pissed that we bombed their mud huts […]’, after the US army had bombed into oblivion a village in Kandahar province with (judging from the picture) solid rural houses surrounded by (presumably) pomegranate orchards.

    But what else can we expect, as she belongs to a society in which INTEGRITY has been reduced to being the ‘Value of the Week’ (sic) on an interchangeable signboard stuck on a billboard at the staff entrance to Camp Delta, as could be seen on a Guantanamo picture on one of the links from your blog.
    Wonder what the other ‘Values’ are with a one-week-expiry-date:
    ETHICS, MORALITY, JUSTICE, HONOUR, FAIRNESS, EMPATHY, COMPASSION, BROTHERHOOD, HUMANITY …?

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kabuli. I’m very glad that you’re able to access the comments section of my website, as I know historically you’ve had problems. Your insight from the ground in Afghanistan is very important, and your compassion is always welcome.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kabuli. Wonderful to hear from you, as always, and thanks for the insights. Petraeus’ biographer shows a mindset that has not changed at all from the 19th century. it’s what has always upset me about the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq — the extent to which they reveal the colonial mindset of far too many citizens of Western nations, who, it seems, are incapable of empathizing with the anger felt by those whose countries are occupied, because they think that everything they do is an improvement on these people’s otherwise wretched lives. Closely related to this — and also showing an inability to empathize — is the shocking self-absorption of Westerners who are incapable of considering that people of occupied countries might feel exactly as Westerners would if their countries were occupied by foreign powers.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia P. Coley wrote:

    Thank you, Andy for this information. Look forward to your comments everyday. So sad!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sylvia. Always good to hear from you.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Elly Malka Faden wrote:

    Wow, Tahrir Square in the U.S. How will that happen, now that youtube has been forced to remove some content? Who will rise up? I envision more of a dust-bowl scenario, or some saint who comes forward with LOTS of work!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    I guess we never know what MIGHT happen, Elly. 100,000 protestors in Madison, Wisconsin sounded inconceivable until it happened …

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    From what I can gather They’ve tortured or sent for torture, various people later to find they had got someone completely different.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Malcolm. On far too many occasions, I believe, although we’ve never heard anything from official US sources about the many dozens of unknown prisoners who passed through the CIA’s secret prisons, many of whom were obviously not who the CIA thought they were.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Lance Ciepiela wrote:

    Bush Jr = “he broke the law”, President Obama, ALL the laws on the books violated by this sleaze, a liar, a chief of torture, so terribly, so horribly, so totally, President Obama, but “we’re a nation of law” as you say, President Obama, proceed and prosecute George W. Bush for war crimes torture..read more
    http://tinyurl.com/6yhg2lp

  23. liberata says...

    I’m in awe of the dedicated, selfless attorneys who do work so hard trying to secure basic human rights for the detainees. They work at their own expense and are often maligned for it ( à la Liz Cheney’s video bashing the “al Qaeda Seven”), not to mention all the barriers the military puts in their way.

    Thank God for attorneys like Paul Rashkind, Candace Gorman, and others!

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, indeed. Good to hear from you.

  25. Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo [Summer 2011 - July 24th Deadline] « aseerun says...

    […] “Ramadhan and Eid spent tortured,” and a fresh appeal for people to write to the remaining 171 prisoners in Guantanamo — that’s just ten less than a year ago, and two of those ten left in coffins, having died at the prison. […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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