Death at Guantánamo: Psychologist and Author Jeffrey Kaye Speaks to the Talking Dog

10.4.17

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture remind President Obama of the nine deaths that have occurred at Guantanamo at a protest in April 2013.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

In my eleven years of researching, writing about and campaigning to close the US prison at Guantánamo, I have got to know some remarkable people — from lawyers and former prisoners to individuals who, often for little or no financial reward, have devoted considerable time to covering important aspects of the Guantánamo story that others — often in the mainstream media — have missed or ignored. Some of my supporters would put me in the category of those covering important aspects of the story for little or no reward, and I’m grateful to those who recognize this, but I’m pleased, today, to be able to promote the work of two other people I admire a great deal who also fit this category of truth-seeker — the New York-based blogger The Talking Dog, and the San Francisco-based psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, who was interviewed by the Talking Dog by email just a few weeks ago, for an interview first published here, and cross-posted below.

For over ten years now, The Talking Dog has been interviewing lawyers, former prisoners, former guards, journalists and other involved in the Guantánamo story, and over 70 interviews are posted and linked to at the end of this article, which are essential reading for anyone researching, writing about or just interested in Guantánamo. TD interviewed me back in the summer of 2007, just before my book The Guantánamo Files was published, and we have been friends ever since.

Jeff and I have also known each other for many years, meeting for the first time at Berkeley Says No to Torture Week (in October 2010), which was my third visit to the US, and then again in January 2012, and again in January 2014, and I have long taken an interest in his work, cross-posting articles of his in 2011 and 2012 — see The Time is Right for Americans to Pay Attention to Human Rights Watch’s New Torture Report, New Revelations About The Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo, More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also two articles written with Jason Leopold, US Training Manual Used As Basis for Bush’s Torture Program Is Released by Pentagon and Pentagon Report into the Drugging of Guantánamo Prisoners Is Released, and, of particular relevance right now, Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009?

In that last article, published in March 2012, Jeff scrutinized autopsy reports released in 2011 by the Department of Defense, which, as he noted, “raise stark questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two prisoners at Guantánamo” — Abdul Rahman al-Amri, who died in May 2007, and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al-Hanashi (aka Muhammad Salih), who died in June 2009. Five years later, Jeff has not stopped investigating aspects of Guantánamo that are generally overlooked by mainstream journalists — of the prison as a place of human experimentation, a continuation of horrendous covert policies conducted by the US over many decades, and last September he published his first e-book, a more detailed investigations of these deaths — and, peripherally, of others — entitled, Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri.

Like Jeff, I have long taken an interest in the deaths at Guantánamo — nine in total, and mostly described by the authorities as suicides, even though there are serious reasons for doubting the official version of the story with reference to some, if not all of these deaths. The first articles I wrote after completing the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files in May 2007 (see here and here) were about the death of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, and in February 2008 the New York Times published a front page story by myself and Carlotta Gall, about another death, that of Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, who died of cancer in December 2007.

I also wrote about the death of Muhammad Salih (Mohammed al-Hanashi) at the time, and, for many years, have paid close attention to the first Guantánamo suicide story — that of three men who died in what was described by the authorities as a triple suicide in June 2006 — first in my book, and then in June 2008, in Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo. In January 2010, when a major investigation of the alleged suicides was published in Harper’s Magazine, I followed up on it, and have generally revisited it every year — see June 2010, a June 2011 cross-post of another article by Jeff Kaye, The Season of Death at Guantánamo (in June 2013), and other articles from June 2014, June 2015 and June 2016. I also wrote about the other deaths — two in 2011, and the most recent, in September 2012, of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a mentally troubled prisoner whose death could and should have been prevented — through his release, if nothing else.

The Talking Dog and Jeff Kaye discussed the deaths at Guantánamo in detail, in a wide-ranging interview whose depth puts most of the mainstream media’s efforts at covering Guantánamo to shame. I could pick out some highlights, but I think this introduction is already long enough, so I hope that you have time to read it, and that you’ll share it if you find it useful.

The Talking Dog Blog Interview with Jeffrey Kaye, March 26, 2017

Jeffrey S. Kaye is a native Californian and is a practicing psychologist in San Francisco, Calif. Dr. Kaye has a bachelors degree from the University of California, Berkeley and he received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley. After working as a cab driver, an assistant casting director, a proofreader, a typographer, and assorted odd jobs, he settled down and became a clinical psychologist in his middle age. He still has a full-time psychotherapy practice in San Francisco, California. Dr. Kaye also taught Adult Development and History and Systems of Psychology to Bay Area graduate students in psychology. For 10 years he worked part time with Survivors International, conducting both assessment and psychotherapy of torture victims. After 9/11, he became involved with other psychologists in protesting the use of psychological expertise in the CIA and Department of Defense interrogation programs, which have widely been exposed as including torture and other forms of cruel treatment of prisoners. “Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri” is his first eBook. He has published articles on torture and other subjects at Truthout, The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Alternet, and other online websites, and he maintains the blog “Invictus” and the website Guantánamo Truth (where he posts the results of his Guantánamo related Freedom of Information requests and key source documents.)

On March 25, 2017, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Kaye by email exchange.

The Talking Dog: Where were you on 9/11?

Jeffrey Kaye: I was living in San Rafael, California at the time. I’m not a very religious or superstitious person, but on the morning of 9/11 I was awoken around 6pm with a nightmare. People and cars and cows (!) and other items were falling down out of the sky. It was bizarre, and scary enough to wake me up. I felt creepy, but shook it off as I had to start the day: get my daughter ready for school and myself ready for the commute to work in San Francisco. I never watch TV in the morning, nor did I listen to the news in those days. But after I dropped my daughter off, I got on the freeway and quickly was in the typical commute crawl. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people making strange faces. One woman had her mouth agape in shock. I turned on the news and heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center and Pentagon. This was before the buildings had collapsed. I rushed home to watch some on TV, and then headed into work late. I figured my daughter was safe at school, and my wife would pick her up later. I remember thinking, this is so strange, so bizarre. I thought about my dream. I imagined that thousands were dead (after the buildings collapsed). It all felt unreal. Amazingly, in my psychotherapy practice that day, not one person mentioned the terror attack. That added to the surreal atmosphere of the day.

The Talking Dog: Your book, “Cover-Up at Guantánamo,” is a detailed takedown of the official story surrounding three prisoners’ suicides-while-in-detention-at-Guantánamo, in three separate incidents spanning a five year period (or, if you like two suicides and a “bonus” chapter on a third), noting, among other things. deliberate decisions to turn off the detainee data management system moments after the discovery of a suicide, documents (and forensic physical evidence, such as fabric that may have been implicated in the death) missing, or apparently deliberately suppressed, from investigative records, along with the usual overarching redactions and secrecy that define Guantánamo as the default. Before we take them on, I have a couple of pet theories I’d love to hear your take on. As you know, the first alleged suicides at Guantánamo, three simultaneous, took place on the night of 9 June 2006 (reported on 10 June 2006), four and a half years into the operation of the prison. By then, the Supreme Court opened up the possibility of habeas and lawyers were running around Guantánamo. It was also obvious that so called actionable intelligence from non-high value prisoners was a fantasy, and that the bulk of GTMO prisoners were, as feared, taxi drivers and farmers and missionaries and otherwise people of no “intel” value, actionable or otherwise. Oh — Dubya got reelected as well. That said, I wonder if, to be brutally blunt about it, the compelling need to keep prisoners alive kind of dissipated. Further, I wonder if, by 2006, the staff that rotated into GTMO, particularly in the medical and psychological areas, was, well, just less top-notch (if that term ever applied) than staff earlier, and this was a factor in the “suicides”. While Joe Hickman believes that those first three deaths were homicides, and he’s likely right, I posit whether it could be gross negligence homicide rather than intentional murder … In other words, let’s hypothesize that some sick game of dry-boarding for example which earlier would have been stopped well before the edge of death, by ’06 could be pushed just a few seconds or inches further … just a little less quality control … It was less of a “catastrophe” as it were, if GTMO prisoners died on site. Can you comment on any of that? I’d also like to toss out an “Occam’s Razor” explanation: after years and years of extreme boredom (even boredom at having to inflict the sort of abuse they were ordered to do), prison and medical staff just suffered periodic breakdowns in doing their jobs — they just fell asleep at the wheel, whether of keeping contraband out or watching prisoners on schedule and so forth or taking steps to prevent suicides. Can you comment on any of this?

Jeffrey Kaye: It’s worth remembering at every stage that so much has been shrouded in secrecy, that we really don’t know. I think Joe Hickman is right and the three prisoners in 2006 were murdered. It may have been “accidental,” but I don’t think so in their case. After the first died, there should have been some concern by interrogators, or whoever was torturing these prisoners, about what they were doing. But three died, and there was more than one trip in and out to Camp No. Why were these detainees given disorienting drugs (at least one was tested for mefloquine)? Were they dryboarded, or was it even worse than that? The same goes for one of the prisoners whose death I examined, Abdul Rahman Al Amri. He was likely murdered himself. In fact, it seems he was executed (hands tied behind his back, a former compliant prisoner, perhaps even an informant, turned hunger striker, his file was very heavily redacted, with hundreds of pages withheld).

Now, we know (or believe we know) that there were many suicide attempts in the first few years at Guantánamo, or at least there were actions attributable to self-harm. Did the strenuous efforts to prevent suicide wane as the years wore on? Perhaps. There is the possibility that those who were difficult mental health cases (Al Hanashi, Al Latif, and Inayatullah) were killed or allowed to die by withdrawal of care or allowance of self-harm as a result of counter-transference hatred among guards and/or clinical staff. I remember I volunteered at San Francisco Suicide Prevention in the early 1990s. I read about a case where two suicide prevention workers in Sacramento were so incensed and fed up with a “chronic” suicide caller that they drove to his house and tried to strangle him. When I brought up the subject in my own agency, no one wanted to discuss it. I thought that strange. But then later I learned that hostility towards difficult patients is a real problem in hospitals. The way Guantánamo was staffed, possibly with poorly trained and less talented staff, but more importantly, with heavy turn-over and therefore poor institutional memory and lousy esprit de corps. I also believe, due to the fact medical decisions were subordinated to military or intelligence officials’ needs, there was a deterioration in the culture of caring that took place. I saw some nurses from the Behavioral Health Unit at Guantánamo speak at the 2007 American Psychological Convention. They seemed like automatons to me, as they lied about the pronounced evidence of personality disorders and the lack of PTSD at Guantánamo.

The Talking Dog: I’d like to acknowledge the nine prisoners who died in custody at Guantánamo. I haven’t been able to find the descriptions of all nine men in the same place, so I’ll try to put it together in this question. Let’s do a quick overview of the ultimate “forever prisoners” — the nine men whose life ended as prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Ali Abdullah Ahmed (Salah Ahmed al-Salami) (June 10, 2006) suicide [by hanging]
Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi (June 10, 2006) suicide [by hanging]
Yasser Talal al Zahrani (June 10, 2006) suicide [by hanging]
Abdul Rahman Ma’ath Thafir al Amri (May 30, 2007) suicide [by hanging- hands tied behind]
Abdul Razak or Abdul Razzak Hekmati (December 30, 2007) [cancer]
Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi (June 1, 2009) suicide [self-strangulation]
Awal Gul (February 2, 2011) [cardiac arrest]
Inayatullah, born Hajji Nassim (May 18, 2011) suicide [details not disclosed, but found “hanging by bedsheet”]
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (September 8, 2012) suicide [apparent drug overdose]

I’m going to defer to Joe Hickman on Ahmed, al-Utaybi and al-Zahrani (my interview with Joe is here) and I think it’s fair to say that your book is the definitive work on the controversial deaths of al-Amri, al-Hanashi and Latif. I’m wondering if you have done any research or have any particular take on the other three deaths — Inayatullah, so mysterious that we’re usually not even given a cause of death besides “suicide” (I suppose “hanging by a bed sheet” is an explanation), or the cardiac arrest of a man my age [I was born in 1962] on an elliptical machine of Awal Gul, something that his family believes is a cover-up of something more insidious, and of course, the death of a 68 year old prisoner Abdul Razzak Hekmati by cancer while undergoing treatment? Whether or not you have specifically researched the other deaths, can you comment on overall media reaction to them, including international media, and can you comment on what I’ll call the extraordinarily helpful irony that, but for their deaths, we might be looking at 50 prisoners still at GTMO rather than 41 (even though a couple of the “suicides” were “cleared for transfer”)? Also, with respect to the other deaths by suicide, including those you profile, in an inordinate number of cases, the prisoners somehow managed to tie their own hands before hanging themselves … is that common in suicides, and does that not dramatically make one question whether, at minimum, these were “assisted” suicides [if not, as Joe Hickman suggests, murders]? Also, please comment on “the suicide note” of al-Hanashi.

Jeffrey Kaye: I have indeed looked briefly at the deaths of Awal Gul and Inayatullah/Nassim. Both raise questions even upon a superficial look. I have not had the time to really dig into their deaths. The timeline around Gul’s death seems suspicious. And how did Inayatullah/Nassim ever get past guards to carry a blanket into the recreation yard, which he supposedly used then to hang himself? It’s not like you can hide a blanket!

The media reaction to the deaths has for the most part been awful. Harper’s did open up their pages to Hickman and Scott Horton. But when in 2010 the story got an National Magazine Award there was significant growling from the rest of the media. Most amazing, to me, was the tirade of abuse coming from the pages of Adweek, an advertising industry stalwart. That must have thrown editors into a frenzy, with what I believe was a practically explicit warning to stay away from these kinds of story, derogated as irresponsible conspiracy-mongering. From that time forward, you did not see stories about the deaths at Guantánamo. A year earlier, Al Hanashi’s death had garnered a good deal of attention. But there was, except for myself, no follow-up. It was as if marching orders had been given. Major journalists who had worked on the torture story — Mark Benjamin at Salon, Jane Meyer at The New Yorker — were either condemnatory of the Harpers piece, or silent.

In general, the press does not attempt to look beyond the official story at Guantánamo, and this is especially true when it comes to the deaths at Guantánamo. I’ve never seen the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, for instance, question the government narrative around any of these deaths, or at least I’ve seen nothing in print. I tried to get people interested in the fact I discovered a government meeting in February 2002 where the deaths of early arrivals at Guantánamo, from “battlefield wounds,” was casually discussed, even after I verified with the government official that he had in fact been told of such deaths. It was as if such evidence fell like sterile seeds onto a hard, barren rocky and soilless field. I write about that in my book, too.

You ask about the tying of hands in the case of four of the suicides. Uniquely, Al Amri’s hands were tied behind his back. The three 2006 prisoners found dead had hands bound in front, and some sort of masks on their faces, not to mention rags stuffed down their throats. None of this seems natural. The government alleges that the 2006 deaths were really a form of Al Qaeda mass suicide, conducted in a ritualistic manner as a form of “asymmetric warfare.” They are totally silent about Al Amri, even seemed to try and hide the circumstances of his death. I did some research on whether hands tied behind the back was a typical finding in suicide cases. No, it is rare. Apparently it can be done. But the authorities I consulted said that you would have to take seriously the possibility also of foul play. I see no indication that government investigators ever considered such a possibility. Indeed, in Al Amri’s case, actual evidence was thrown away or destroyed.

Al Hanashi’s so-called suicide note written on the last day of his life indicated that he was tired of living because of the prospect of abuse of the Koran and Islam in general, and the threat to turn the psychiatric unit at Gitmo over to harsher forms of discipline. He also that very day been pointedly rejected by a leading medical provider when he complained of being tortured. All of this could have led to a decision to kill himself. But as I show in my book, the means by which he killed himself, if he did so by himself, came from unauthorized access to materials he should not have had. Meanwhile, an earlier document, written about a month before, suggested he had consulted with Islam authorities inside Guantánamo and they had said suicide was acceptable to God under the conditions they were in. Internally, Guantánamo officials told medical personnel that Al Hanashi was on some sort of directed suicide list. Certainly Al Hanashi had indicated a wish to die and made multiple suicide attempts in the weeks and months leading up to his death. The “suicide note” never indicates that he was going to kill himself that very day, so I don’t think we can call it a suicide note strictly speaking.

The Talking Dog: One subject I found of interest was the crazy weight fluctuations you have described from the available unredacted records — how a prisoner might go from, say, a thin 130 lbs. to Auschwitz survivor level of 80, sometimes even, 70 lbs. in a matter of weeks, and then back. You have noted a few possible explanations for this, including deliberate withholding of food in an effort to break the men or otherwise psychologically control them as part of broader psychological experimentation and torture, force-feeding, including pumping detainees up with fluids, hunger striking, or of course, mis-recording, whether as a result of outright negligence or incompetence in weighing or recording or for some more deliberate purpose. You hinted at it in your book, but do you have your own working theory on what the hell was going on with these wildly disparate weight readings?

Jeffrey Kaye: I know there have been some in the medical and legal community who have examined this issue. I’m not at liberty to discuss their research. Thus far it has not been published, and I’m not certain it ever will be. I’ve shown that some of the weight fluctuations seem almost impossible to believe. I’m not sure it’s even physically possible to gain 30 or 40 pounds in a matter of days. The forced-feeding is abusive, it goes without saying. They certainly didn’t want a Gitmo version of Bobby Sands on their hands.

The primary misunderstood fact about Guantánamo was that it was a facility for experimentation. Top Pentagon brass referred to it themselves as a “Battle Lab in the War on Terror.” Later this embarrassed them and they tried to suppress that fact, even redacting the term in a FOIA document I received. But I was able to cross-check that document with a quote from it in the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse, and successfully appeal that redaction.

The reference in the book is to a decades-old meeting of CIA and military-linked health scientists, one of whom, Josef Brozek, who conducted something called the Minnesota Starvation Study in 1944-45, considered then and even now as the definitive study on human starvation and semi-starvation. At a psychiatry symposium on “forceful indoctrination” in 1956, Brozek told those present, who included the former Chief Medical Officer at Alcatraz, that differential offerings and withdrawals of food, combined with “other forms of deprivation and insults” can induce a “breakdown” in most people. I truly believe the U.S. government analyzed everything that happened at Guantánamo, and that food, even the forced feedings and the prisoners’ own hunger strikes, were used to collect data in their insatiable effort to gain knowledge about human beings so they can be controlled. It is a fantasy that they will ever achieve total control, but that doesn’t keep them from trying.

The Talking Dog: Let’s talk about record-keeping, such as the mysterious disappearance of the seemingly omniscient “DIMS” (Detainee Information Management System) that invariably failed right around the time of any prisoner deaths. In particular in the case of al-Hanashi, it seems an order (from NCIS? Or was it Langley, VA?) came down to stop making recordings in a DIMS system whose instructions included “‘Relevant observations’ of detainee behavior to be recorded includ[ing] requests for copies of the Koran; refusals to let their cell be searched; refusal of a meal; visits by non-block personnel; and anything deemed a ‘significant activity.’” And something near and dear to both of us professionally, I suppose, forensic records — in this case, criminal, psychological, medical and so forth … even in the redacted form you received some of them, there was left a great deal to be desired. You also noted, that even with “DIMS” in place, there was an apparent false entry concerning a headcount concerning the three simultaneous 2006 “suicides.” Please comment on this, and if you have had a chance to observe other military records, or in the civilian context, can you compare and contrast with what is clearly endemic — somewhere between “lapses of protocol” and outright deliberate cover-up, quite probably criminal in nature?

Jeffrey Kaye: The DIMS system did not fail. It was deliberately sabotaged in the case of al Hanashi, as you note — ordered turned off — and manipulated with false information in other cases. In the case of Al Latif, evidently the failure was to enter necessary data, in other words, a human failure, if indeed it was a failure and not a deliberate obfuscation of evidence.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you an opinion as to the legality of such shenanigans, as I am not legally trained. The only contemporary documents I have experience with are medical records and reports, as well as psychotherapy notes. I also have experience looking at government documents of various sorts, but I don’t believe I have seen anything to match the situation with the DIMS. It would be as if a bank had its security monitoring systems turned off just as a major hack was taking place and money stolen. In this case, men’s lives were stolen from them.

I think your readers and the common man would hear about all this and think, where there’s smoke there’s fire. This kind of obvious destruction of or tampering with records, or the creation of records, is sadly nothing new. We have the example of the destruction by the CIA of the torture videotapes. Over 40 years ago, just as the revelations around the CIA’s notorious MKULTRA program was taking place, the CIA destroyed massive amounts of documents related to that program. No one was prosecuted or indicted for that. Back in 1999, a U.S. academic told Congress that documents he was seeking about the U.S. biowarfare program and its collaboration with the World War II Japanese war criminals of Unit 731 and similar operations were being destroyed upon his inquiry. The charge was entered in the Congressional Record, and helped lead to the passing of the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act a few years later, and the declassification of the documents. But no one was held to account for what was destroyed.

Of course, I believe the destruction of records in a criminal case, especially a case of possible murder, would, you’d think, carry even greater penalties and merit greater attention from authorities. But it didn’t, although my book does document an internal investigation by NCIS into the turning off of DIMS in the al Hanashi case. That investigation, however, went nowhere, or its findings were covered-up.

The Talking Dog: You are, of course, a practicing psychologist. In that light, can you describe some of the stresses (or stressors) these men were under — we can talk about the three men [al-Amri, al-Hanashi and Latif] you have profiled, and then talk about the more general “treatment” that men at Guantánamo have been, and as far as we know, still are subjected to. Americans, being on the whole, not very imaginative (or perhaps this is just what the media tells them) generally assume that “torture” has to mean “waterboarding” or some overt act that, say, Torquemada might have employed during the Inquisition, rather than, oh, sleep deprivation, or “stress positions,” or constant cell moving, or denial of dignity or indefinite detention itself or any of the other “degrading treatment” that, along with torture, is barred by international and domestic law (including treaty). So … bottom line it, please, for the three guys your book discusses, and then, as a practicing psychologist, describe the likelihood that such treatment might result in suicide attempts.

Jeffrey Kaye: The autopsy report for Mohammad al Hanashi stated that he suffered from “adjustment disorder, anti-social personality disorder and stressors of confinement.” What did the military mean by “stressors of confinement”? They do not say, but it can only mean the stressors of an imprisonment that was precisely calculated to break down men psychologically. This was done by applying the formula of DDD — Debility, Dependency, and Dread. This form of torture was codified in a 1950s article by famous U.S. psychologist Harry Harlow, CIA-linked psychiatrist Louis Joylon West, and another researcher. By debility, they meant the physical weakening of the prisoner.

We’ve already discussed starvation and differential food intake. Other major factors inducing physical weakness included solitary confinement, forms of sensory deprivation and sensory overload (loud music, strobe lights), constant lighting or deprivation of light, exposure to cold, use of drugs, beatings, sleep deprivation, forced exercise, and stress positions. This is likely not a definitive list. By dread, of course they mean induction of fear. This was done by threats to life, to the life and safety of family members, threats of physical harm, use of the sanctioned Army Field Manual technique, used even today, of “Fear Up,” manipulation of phobias (as determined by psychologists), and again, likely more. The whole idea, you see, is to break the prisoner’s sense of self by an attack on the body, its autonomic nervous system, and its sense of personal self and connection to the world in order to produce total dependency, the third D, in the prisoner for purposes of “exploitation.”

By “exploitation,” the CIA and Pentagon mean not only the gathering of information, but the use of prisoners for other purposes as well: as experimental subjects, as informants, as propaganda tools in show trials.

But the government had one problem. Individuals exposed to these “stressors of confinement” experienced intolerable pain via the induction of such breakdown. Some, many turned to self-harm to reduce that pain, even at the expense of their own lives. Government documents speak to a rash of suicide attempts in the early years at Guantánamo. Government psychiatrist Elspeth Ritchie, who later gave talks on the neurological effects of mefloquine, and also did government assessments of detainees at Guantánamo, was supposedly sent to Guantánamo in late 2002 to deal with a spate of suicide attempts or “gestures” there. Ritchie later was involved in the training of psychologists and other mental health professionals in the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams used to assist interrogators and Guantánamo camp officials. Even later yet, she became chief clinical officer for the District of Columbia’s Department of Mental Health. I believe she is now retired.

In clinical work, each person’s situation is unique and their response to environmental stressors, even torture, is also individual to them. Not everyone tortured gets PTSD or tries to commit suicide. People also try to commit suicide, or succeed in doing so, who have never been tortured or experienced extreme environmental insult or trauma.

In the case of the Guantánamo detainees who died by purported suicide, all we can do is look at the evidence we have. In the case of the three detainees who died in 2006, there is no evidence that they were suicidal prior to their deaths. Even the so-called suicide notes were not really suicide notes.

In the case of the 2007 death of Al Amri, the government has chosen to withhold hundreds of pages of documents from the NCIS investigation into his death. What little information we have is contradictory. There’s a possibility that he was in poor health, and that might have inclined him, along with torture and “conditions of confinement,” to have considered suicide. Additionally, we know there’s a good likelihood that he, along with 2006 “suicide,” Ali Abdullah Ahmed, were administered mefloquine for reasons having nothing to do with malaria or prevention of malaria. Mefloquine is a controversial antimalarial drug that has been documented to cause extreme neurological and psychological side effects, including suicidal behavior. Both Al Amri and Ahmed were tested for the presence of mefloquine in their systems. This was not a routine lab test.

I think my book adequately documents the persistent suicidal behaviors and thoughts of both Al Hanashi and Al Latif. They suffered greatly and were certainly depressed. It is also certain that their conditions were caused by or exacerbated by mistreatment at Guantánamo. We don’t know the full extent of the harm caused, and we don’t know if their suicides were truly spontaneous. I make a case that they were allowed to happen. In that case, we have murder by medical negligence, or by clever design. I think one would need to see the full panoply of evidence as presented in my book and the documents I published to judge for oneself if that conclusion is merited.

I’d like to add some convergent evidence to my own findings. In a recently released 2012 psychiatric assessment of the purported USS Cole bomber, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, held at Guantánamo since 2006, after years of torture in CIA black site prisons, Dr. Sondra Crosby stated he lacked “appropriate mental health treatment at Guantánamo.” Dr. Crosby said that Al Nashiri’s medical and psychiatric care was “woefully inadequate to his medical needs.” She found that Guantánamo medical professionals, including those in mental health care, were instructed not to inquire into the basis of his mental distress, and to ignore protestations of torture. They misdiagnosed Al Nashiri to cover-up the real nature of his condition and provide stigmatizing diagnoses, like Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (See PDF page 129)

The Talking Dog: Your book observes that, certainly with the three suicides you profile, that there was “contraband” in the cells (be it in general population camps, or in the “Behavioral Health Unit,” a euphemism if not oxymoron), including sheets or underwear one could hang himself with, razors to cut said sheets (or self) or drugs, and then let’s juxtapose that with monitoring of cells, supposedly by camera and direct visual observation. Both from the documents you have obtained, people you’ve talked to, and your own surmise, what do you think was going on? In particular, I’m wondering if we’re looking at “gross negligence,” “failure to follow standard operating procedures,” intentional-assisted-suicide (i.e. homicide) or something else?

Jeffrey Kaye: I believe that certain detainees were singled out for harm. The reasons are murky. I’d guess that the guards were responsible, if not at least complicit. Al Hanashi and Al Latif were in particular considered troublesome and problematic. It was also believed Al Hanashi was some kind of leader or spokesperson for the other detainees. I think they were hated by medical and guard personnel, if not command officials, and their deaths were therefore facilitated. In other words, it was known they were suicidal, or that they could be driven to suicidal desperation, and the means were provided to them. Can I prove it? No, although there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. There is also testimony that such contraband material was provided to detainees, as well as testimony that in the case of Al Hanashi, Al Amri and Al Latif that they had materials or drugs that could be used to harm themselves, materials that were heavily monitored and controlled by prison authorities. Speaking of monitoring, there is also the fact these detainees were under constant surveillance and searched repeatedly. How they found time to render complex modes of killing themselves without being observed is a mystery to all who have looked at these cases.

The Talking Dog: Let’s talk about Col. John Bogdan, whose command pretty much precipitated the most widespread (in terms of percentage of participation) of the many hunger strikes that broke out at GTMO — a hunger strike so widespread that it captured the public imagination and made Barack Obama start to pick up the pace of periodic reviews and prisoner transfers out. In particular, we’re talking about the context of Latif, as it seems that Bogdan wanted him punished for his behavior issues, and so, notwithstanding that he should have been on suicide watch and probably had pneumonia, was transferred back to a camp 5 solitary cell, rather than held in a medical facility. Bogdan seemed unusually martinet-like, even for an unpleasant place like Guantánamo. We should note that, interestingly, no prisoner actually died during the tenure of the notorious Gen. Geoffrey Miller. But Bogdan in particular seemed hellbent on making life hell for his prisoners, and while he may have been at an extreme, I think other commanders — and you note at least one psychologist who evidently walked away from a prisoner/patient in the middle of a consult — had their role in the prisoner suicides. Can you comment on this (what I call “personnel = destiny”)?

Jeffrey Kaye: If I read your question correctly, you are asking about the personal culpability of individuals at Guantánamo for the abuse and the deaths. Bogdan is a convenient, if not an apt, scapegoat. He made the decision to move Latif to a cell as punishment, even as he was warned by others that Latif was going to commit suicide. Oddly, Bogdan says he didn’t get the high priority email warning him, but says even if he did, it wouldn’t have changed his mind. Bogdan ran the prison with a heavy hand, and his insensitivity to the distress of the prisoners is clear in what we have of the documentation. But I say Bogdan is a scapegoat, because while he is certainly responsible at least in part for Latif’s death, I’d lay the responsibility more at the hands of the doctors and medical personnel who cleared Latif for transfer out of the detainee hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit. And Bogdan needed that clearance to transfer Latif. These doctors should have seen the signs, for instance, of pneumonia. They also know how distressed Latif was, and how mentally ill he was. They were in charge of watching that medications were actually taken and not hoarded or disposed of. It was even known that Latif was being sent back to a cell where he had previous bad experience causing significant mental distress. Apparently there was some kind of generator hum or something causing constant noise that set him on edge. Interestingly, the high-value prisoner, former CIA prisoner Ramzi bin al Shibh has also protested the use of vibrations and noise in his cell at Camp 7 at Guantánamo. A recent article at the Miami Herald described his accusation of the use of noise and vibrations as a form of sleep deprivation, as it makes it very hard to concentrate or sleep. Did something similar happen to Latif? It seems very possible. Other detainees as well have complained about such sensory disturbance.

The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the quality of care — both medical care in general and mental health care in particular — as you have observed it at Guantánamo, whether from the records you have seen, anecdotal evidence, or otherwise? I note that I have some familiarity with the case of Candace Gorman’s client al-Ghizzawi, who, at various times, was told he might have tuberculosis, AIDS, assorted liver problems and other ailments, but who, thankfully, was released before GTMO killed him.

Jeffrey Kaye: I think I have touched on this point already. I will only add that the quality of care at Guantánamo was fatally compromised by the secret nature of the prison, and the subordination of medical care to command and intelligence decision-making. Medical records at Guantánamo, despite many complaints and exposure over the years, remain available to investigators. There is no privacy for the “patients” there. Moreover, the diagnoses of patients was also used to stigmatize prisoners, not to accurately assess condition and thereby treatment. How can you have humane care for prisoners in a torture prison? The answer is you can’t. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t moments of caring by individual providers. Some detainees have testified to that. But these were the exceptions, moments of respite in an inexorable regime of cruelty. The providers involved, by giving themselves over to care, legitimized such cruelty, in my mind. They compromised their ethics and became parties to torture and war crimes, such as illegal experimentation. The academic medical ethics professionals call the problem one of dual loyalty, split loyalty, that is, to the military or CIA and to the canon of medical care. They would like to believe that this divided loyalty could be worked out somehow. But in practice, the individual almost always bows to the coercive authority. In all the years at Guantánamo, we only know of one medical protest, the nurse who a few years ago decided he would not participate in the inhumane forced feedings there. He was threatened with court martial, and while that didn’t happen, his military career was certainly destroyed or fatally compromised.

The Talking Dog: Your book ends on an interesting note that might strike some as discordant, noting a “holdback” by progressives to criticize the handling of GTMO issues by a Democratic Administration, for short-term electoral benefit. I note that [my college classmate!] Barack Obama actually had charge of Guantánamo for about a year longer than George W. Bush did, and unlike Dubya, Obama promised — consistently — that he would close the prison at Guantánamo (in practice, he really meant move it, but he didn’t even manage to do that). In any event, the point, I suppose, is that once Guantánamo ceased to be a partisan issue associated solely with Dubya, overall public interest waned dramatically, as (you noted) no one it seems wanted to risk undermining Democratic electoral chances by criticizing the policy of a sitting Democrat, notwithstanding, of course, that this is exactly how you end up with Donald Trump, and of course, we did. All that said, we’re over 15 years into this, and there are 41 poor bastards still there, of whom three are “convicted” of something by the dubious military commissions, another seven charged in the commissions system (including the alleged 9-11 plotters) will probably die before their commission trials are ever completed, five are “cleared for transfer” (good luck, guys) and 26 are “forever prisoners” — too dangerous, blah blah blah. It’s fairly obvious that, at least for the foreseeable future, Trump is such a target rich environment that getting the public imagination focusing on Guantánamo again seems a long-shot. You and I have been interested in this subject a long time, and neither us nor anyone else seems to have come up with a narrative that Americans care about, even though we believe this will be a blemish of historical proportions, like the Japanese internment, for example. And yet … Obviously, your work, and the work of others interested in running down the horrifying truth about prisoner deaths at Guantánamo is essential to establishing “the story.” Do you see anything else on the horizon that can alter the present moribund (I swear, Obama said he would close GTMO so many times, most people believe he already did) narrative?

Jeffrey Kaye: Unfortunately I do not. I cannot, however, limit the question of indifference to Guantánamo. What about the pervasive ill treatment of prisoners in U.S.-sited prisons? What about the pervasive racism? The neglect of the homeless? The lack of remorse or moral quandary over the literally millions killed by the U.S. military in my own lifetime?

The record, to be sure, is ambiguous and not one-sided. There is plenty of mistrust and scandal around the record of CIA torture. But it only goes as far as official Washington or the mainstream press of record shapes the boundaries of acceptable scandal. So while the anal rape of prisoners has finally broken through to public consciousness and has been written about, the drugging of prisoners remains something barely mentioned, and even, at this point, pointedly suppressed.

I do believe, as I’ve written, that the entire subject of torture has been subordinated to political concerns: first, the need to present the United States as some kind of beacon of human rights in the world, especially in contrast to its “enemies.” And second, as a club to wield over one’s domestic political opponents. In the latter matter, the Democrats, including most of their so-called progressive supporters, have buried protest over torture and crimes committed by Democratic administrations, and tried to present the issue has one of purely GOP perfidy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Torture is bipartisan. Nowhere is this greater represented than by the total failure of the press and, well, nearly everyone, to ignore the recent UN Committee Against Torture report on the use of torture and “ill-treatment” in the Army Field Manual on interrogation. If such a report was made about Bush or Trump, we’d not hear the end of it. But because it was about activities of the Obama administration, nothing is said or reported. This is criminal and immoral.

The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you about but didn’t, or anything else the public needs to know on these critically important issues, particularly as we seem to be heading into even darker times of an ignorant, feckless President who wants to fill Guantánamo with “bad dudes” and facilitate torture?

Jeffrey Kaye: I want to mention before I go that I don’t believe all is dark. I don’t want to ignore the many, many people who are incensed by and have acted to stop torture. That includes former detainees, certain members of the armed forces and even the CIA. It especially includes the attorneys for the detainees and the organizations that employ them, including law firms and human rights organizations. Most prominent of the latter include the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Reprieve. The attorneys have gone over and over into the heart of the beast in an effort to represent their clients and try to win their trust. Some have come back and been outspoken in their outrage, even as the government puts legal shackles on what they are allowed to say: attorneys such as Candace Gorman, David Remes, David Frakt, Nancy Hollander, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, Shayana Kadidal and many, many others, too long a list to name. There are also the journalists who have kept the issue alive, and the publications that support their work. While I am critical of some of these journalists, and have said so in this interview, I am also grateful to them for attending to the exposure of these crimes. Journalists such as Jason Leopold, Carol Rosenberg, Michael Otterman, Sheri Fink, Bill Morlan, Mark Benjamin, James Risen, Doug Valentine, Greg Miller, Jane Mayer, Charlie Savage and others. The criticism is that some of these journalists have been too quick to accept the government’s limited hangout of events. By limited hangout, I mean that governmental admissions are often too easily accepted as the full narrative, whereas often further crimes are ignored, and the real criminals left off the hook.

The government’s criminal justice system is the worst villain in this tale, as it has failed to do what it is supposed to do, hold government officials responsible for crimes, and the investigation of those crimes. That is one reason I concentrated on the failures of one of those investigatory agencies, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, in my book on Guantánamo. If we are going to get to the heart of the suppression of the truth, it should start with a close look at those officially responsible for the search for truth. That includes the need for a full declassification of the reports and associated documents of the Congressional investigating committees that have looked into this issue, none of which have recommended any kind of punishment for anyone involved in crimes they themselves documented.

I finally have to thank you as well, as an excellent example of someone who for years has pursued the truth, and tried to bring what evidence you could to bear before the public to expose these crimes. The interviews you have conducted have been invaluable. It is up to the American people to act. It is part of our historical dilemma that the need for action is acute, while the road to effect such action is unclear or even blocked.

The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Dr. Jeffrey Kaye for that thorough and thought-provoking interview. Interested readers should check out Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri.

Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the “war on terror” may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantánamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantánamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantánamo combatant status review tribunal/”OARDEC” officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Pardiss Kebriaei, Nancy Hollander, Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O’Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart “Buz” Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson, Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantánamo detainees and others held in “the war on terror”), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing “unlawful combatant” Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantánamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantánamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantánamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantánamo sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, with former Guantánamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantánamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantánamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of “The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days,” with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of “The Guantánamo Effect,” documenting the experience of Guantánamo detainees after their release, with John Hickman, author of “Selling Guantánamo,” critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantánamo, and with Rebecca Gordon, author of “The New Nuremberg,” identifying potential war crimes prosecutions arising from the conduct of the War on Terror, and with Naomi Paik, author of “Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in US Prison Camps since World War II,” to be of interest.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s a cross-post, with my own introduction, of a detailed interview conducted by the New York-based blogger The Talking Dog with the San Francisco-based psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, who has been investigating human experimentation at Guantanamo – and the deaths of prisoners under dubious circumstances – for many years, and who recently published an e-book about two of those deaths, in 2007 and 2009, meticulously taking apart the official story that they were suicides. I hope you have time to read the interview, and to share this article if you find it useful.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Please do consider buying Jeffrey Kaye’s important book, Cover-up at Guantanamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri, available as an e-book or in a paper edition: https://www.amazon.com/Cover-up-Guantanamo-Investigation-Suicides-Mohammed-ebook/dp/B01LWTOWRI
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cover-up-Guantanamo-Investigation-Suicides-Mohammed-ebook/dp/B01LWTOWRI

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    I do hope this is getting out to readers, as it’s a very worthwhile interview – as, to be honest, are all The Talking Dog’s 70-plus interviews about Guantanamo conducted over the last ten-plus years. This is the interview with me from 2007: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2007/09/18/the-guantanamo-files-the-talking-dog-interview/
    I also cross-posted an interview with former military attorney Darrel Vandeveld in 2009: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/02/21/the-talking-dog-interviews-darrel-vandeveld-former-guantanamo-prosecutor/
    And another with Todd Pierce from 2014: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/12/01/former-guantanamo-military-defense-attorney-todd-pierce-interviewed-by-the-talking-dog/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jeffrey Kaye wrote:

    Thanks for the coverage, Andy. Your pioneering work is mentioned numerous times in the book, and also noted in the Acknowledgements section. Readers here might be interested to know that new documents pertaining to the deaths of Al Amri and Al Hanashi have just come across my desk, and I promise there will be even more new revelations on these cases in the days and weeks to come.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff. Keep me posted, and I’ll do what I can to promote your updates.

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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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