Remembering Guantánamo’s Dead, 12 Years After the Three Notorious Alleged Suicides of June 2006

10.6.18

Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami, two of the three Guantanamo prisoners who died in June 2006, allegedly by committing suicide. No photo of the third man, Mani al-Utaybi, has ever surfaced.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Today, as we approach a terrible milestone in Guantánamo’s history — the 6,000th day of the prison’s existence, this coming Friday, June 15 — we also have reason to reflect on those who were neither released from the prison, nor are still held — the nine men who have died there since the prison opened, 5,995 days ago today.

On June 10, 2006 — exactly 12 years ago — the world was rocked by news of the first three of these deaths at Guantánamo: of Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, of Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and of Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni.

The three men were long-term hunger strikers, and as such had been a thorn in the side of the authorities, encouraging others to join them in refusing food. Was this enough of them to be killed? Perhaps so. The official story is that they killed themselves in a suicide pact, their deaths, as Guantánamo’s commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., ill-advisedly claimed at the time, “an act of asymmetrical warfare against us,” and “not an act of desperation.”

I commemorate the men’s deaths every year, as they remain significant, and they otherwise tend to have become forgotten, remembered only by the likes of writer and retired psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, and former US Staff Sergeant Joe Hickman.

Hickman is the leading witness in a case against the US military that has never been allowed to proceed — on which alleges that the three men did not kill themselves sin a suicide pact, but were killed. Hickman’s testimony, as the head of the guard watch in the prison’s towers, is that the story of the men’s deaths emerged only after vehicles that he had seen coming to and from a remote site — a secret facility he and other guards dubbed “Camp No,” had brought back what he presumed were their bodies, already dead, from that location, where they had either been deliberately killed, or had been accidentally killed as part of a torture session that went too far.

Hickman’s recollections, and his assessment of what happened on the night of June 9-10, 2006, was the main driver of lawyer and journalist Scott Horton’s article “The Guantánamo Suicides,” published in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010, which caused a stir — and won a journalism award — but which was never adequately followed up on, and which also received undue criticism from other media outlets.

And yet the gist of Hickman’s recollections remains a powerful rebuke to the official story, and has become part of a narrative amongst alternative US media that make a point of investigating the actions of their government. Just days ago, for example, the AllGov website recalled the alleged “suicides” in a story about Harris (recently nominated as ambassador to South Korea by Donald Trump), noting how, although he had “quickly declared the deaths to be suicides … an investigation by Harper’s magazine cast considerable doubt on that verdict, pointing out the near simultaneous times of death while held separately; the improbability of the prisoners’ ability to kill themselves in the manner described (stuff rags down their throats, and then climb up on a counter and hang themselves); and bruises and other injuries suffered by the prisoners. The article suggested that the three were killed during a torture/interrogation session held in a secret part of the base.”

In revisiting the deaths this year, I also came across a well-written article in Newsweek from January 2015, “To Live and Die in Gitmo,” by Alexander Nazaryan, published to coincide with the publication of Hickman’s book, Murder At Camp Delta.

Nazaryan provided the following helpful profiles of the three men who died:

Mana Shaman Allabardi al-Tabi (588) was a Saudi national who joined a religious charity called Tablighi Jamaat, which was believed to have links to Al-Qaeda. On January 17, 2002, “detainee was captured with four other individuals who were dressed in burkas trying to avoid capture” as he was leaving the Pakistani city of Bannu, on the border with Afghanistan, his Department of Defense file reads. On March 8, 2002, he was handed over to American forces and shipped to Guantánamo Bay, where he was described as “belligerent, argumentative, harassing, and very aggressive”—and useless when it came to intelligence about Al-Qaeda. He was cleared to be “transferred to the control of another country for continued detention.”

Yasser Talal al-Zahrani (093), also Saudi, was the son of a prominent government official. Jihad tugged at him in the early summer of 2001, when he had finished the 11th grade. “After sitting at home for approximately two months and hearing that sheiks from neighboring towns were saying jihad in Afghanistan was a religious duty, [al-Zahrani] decided to travel to Afghanistan,” his Pentagon file says. He went to Pakistan, then Afghanistan. Instead of starting his senior year of high school, he learned at a Taliban training center how to use a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a Makarov pistol. He served as “a fighter on the front lines of [the Battle of Kunduz]” during the American invasion of Afghanistan, where he was captured by the Northern Alliance. Al-Zahrani was turned over to American forces on December 29, 2001. His intelligence value was also minimal.

Ali Abdullah Ahmed (693) was a Yemeni who, according to his Department of Defense record, was “a street vendor who sold clothing…and was prompted to travel to Pakistan to receive [a religious] education upon hearing God’s calling.” He was captured at a safe house in Faisalabad that was alleged to be under the control of Abu Zubaydah, then believed to be one of Osama bin Laden’s top officers. Branded by the Pentagon as “a mid-to-high-level Al-Qaeda” operative, Ahmed arrived in Cuba on June 19, 2002. Later, government investigators realized there was “no credible information” tying him to terrorism. But this wasn’t the Palookaville slammer: If you tell the world, as the Pentagon did, that your island prison is home to “the worst of the worst,” you won’t want to advertise your errors and hyperboles. So they kept Ahmed.

Nazaryan also noted, aptly, “Much of what happens at Guantánamo, why it happens and who orders it to happen lurks in the shadowy realm of ‘unknown unknowns,’ in the famous formulation of former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld,” and, in the course of describing Hickman’s journey from Staff Sergeant to key witness in a thwarted prosecution, also revisited the investigation into the deaths by the Seton Hall Law School, published just before Scott Horton’s Harper’s article, which forensically took apart the official NCIS investigation, noting, in particular:

There is no explanation of how each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell — a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation.

The season of death

The deaths of the three men on the night of June 9-10, 2016 are not the only suspicious deaths at this time of year. I reported at the time about the alleged suicides of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi, on my 30, 2017, and Muhammad Salih (aka al-Hanashi), a Yemeni, on June 1, 2009, and I have since written about their cases, but for many years now — probably more years than he cares to remember — Jeffrey Kaye has investigated their cases, reaching the conclusion that the story of their suicides is “unlikely,” as he explains in his book, Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri.

These are not the only deaths at Guantánamo, and not the only suspicious deaths either. In September 2012, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who had serious mental health problems, died, reportedly by committing suicide — although, again, serious doubts have been expressed about the official narrative, and, as I explained at the time, in an article entitled, Obama, the Courts and Congress Are All Responsible for the Latest Death at Guantánamo, his death was not just a problem involving the military at Guantánamo; it also involved failures by all three branches of the US government in relation to his case. As I stated at the time:

I felt sick when I heard the news: that the man who died at Guantánamo … was Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni. I had been aware of his case for six years, and had followed it closely. He had been cleared for release under President Bush (in December 2006) and under President Obama (as a result of the Guantánamo Review Task Force’s deliberations in 2009). He had also had his habeas corpus petition granted in a US court, but, disgracefully, he had not been freed.

Instead of being released, Adnan Latif was failed by all three branches of the US government. President Obama was content to allow him to rot in Guantánamo, having announced a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane in December 2009. That ban was still in place when Latif died, and had been put in place largely because of pressure from Congress.

Also to blame are the D.C. Circuit Court and the Supreme Court. Latif had his habeas corpus petition granted in July 2010, but then the D.C. Circuit Court moved the goalposts, ordering the lower court judges to give the government’s alleged evidence — however obviously inadequate — the presumption of accuracy. Latif’s case came before the D.C. Circuit Court in October 2011, when two of the three judges — Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Karen LeCraft Henderson — reversed his successful habeas petition, and only Judge David Tatel dissented, noting that there was no reason for his colleagues to assume that the government’s intelligence report about Latif, made at the time of his capture, was accurate, as it was “produced in the fog of war, by a clandestine method that we know almost nothing about.” In addition, Judge Tatel noted that it was “hard to see what is left of the Supreme Court’s command,” in 2008’s Boumediene v. Bush ruling, granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, that the habeas review process be “meaningful.”

Despite this, when the Supreme Court had the opportunity to take back control of the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas petitions in June this year, through a number of appeals, including one by Latif, they refused.

Before Latif, Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, a profound case of mistaken identity — an Afghan who had actually helped significant individuals opposed to the Taliban and al-Qaeda escape from an Afghan prison — died of cancer in December 2007, and I wrote about the US government’s callous refusal to investigate his story (as they also did in numerous other cases) in a front-page story for the New York Times in February 2008, which I wrote with Carlotta Gall, entitled, Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S.

in February 2011 an Afghan, Awal Gul, died after taking exercise, and in May 2011 another Afghan, known as Inayatullah (although that was not his real name, which was Hajji Nassim, and he too appeared to be a case of mistaken identity) also died, reportedly by committing suicide. Like Latif, he too had profound mental health issues, which were largely — and, in the end, fatally — ignored by authorities.

In closing, while reminding readers that Jeffrey Kaye has uncovered evidence that there were other deaths shortly after prisoners’ arrival at Guantánamo that have never been properly investigated, and marveling, frankly, that no one has died at the prison since Latif in September 2012, I’d like to point out that prisoners will, at any time, begin dying of age-related illnesses at Guantánamo unless we can find a way to get Donald Trump to shut it down, and, with that in my mind, I do urge you to get involved in our campaign to mark the 6,000th day of Guantánamo’s existence on June 15.

Note: For further information, see: Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (in 2008), Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues (in 2010), The Season of Death at Guantánamo (in 2013), New Evidence Casts Doubt on US Claims that Three Guantánamo Deaths in 2006 Were Suicides (in 2014), Remembering the Season of Death at Guantánamo (in 2015) Remembering Guantánamo’s Dead (in 2016), and, last year, Another Sad, Forgotten Anniversary for Guantánamo’s Dead. On the third anniversary of the men’s deaths, in 2009, I produced a report about hunger strikes and the strikers’ devastating weight loss in Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation, and in 2011 I cross-posted a detailed defense of Scott Horton by the psychologist Jeff Kaye.

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

18 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, remembering the three men who died at Guantanamo exactly 12 years ago, on the night of June 9-10, 2006, reportedly by committing suicide, although the official story has repeatedly been challenged ever since, in particular by former US Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman​, who was in charge of the guard towers on the night, and has always maintained that the three men were probably killed – whether accidentally or not – in a secret facility off-site, and their corpses then returned to the prison, where the suicide story was concocted. I also remember the other two men who died at this time of the year, in what I long ago dubbed Guantanamo’s “Season of Death,” whose alleged suicides, in 2007 and 2009, have been thoroughly investigated by Jeffrey Kaye​, who has concluded that the official story is “unlikely.” I also remember the other four prisoners who have died throughout Guantanamo’s 16-year history, and hope you will join me in remembering all of these men, victims of the US’s brutal “war on terror,” who paid for America’s post-9/11 thirst for vengeance with their lives.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    I read Jeffrey’s book. Very good one. Of course these men were murdered.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’s extremely difficult not to reach that conclusion, Natalia, and yet the authorities rather effortlessly closed ranks on it.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    How dreadful…but the Truth will out one day…remembering all of them..how shaming it is.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Lindis.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Thank you to you Andy for keeping this horrific place and what goes on in there in the public eye. xx

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again for caring, Lindis. As you know, I greatly admire your tenacity at RAF Menwith as well.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Errrrr…NOT RAF Menwith Hill Andy. I have some interesting documents disclosed in a High Court case I was involved with in 1993. These show how the Treasury Solicitor was very concerning about handing over base to the US. So the pretence that they are British bases was hatched. CAAB always did and I continue to refer to “the US bases” to reflect who is really in charge. So MH is NSA/NRO Menwith Hill eg. xx

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    My apologies, Lindis – yes, NSA/NRO Menwith Hill, as you say.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Barbara Cummings wrote:

    My “go to” piece on this sordid topic. https://harpers.org/archive/2010/03/the-guantanamo-suicides/

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, such an important article, Barbara.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    And please do join in the campaign to mark 6,000 days of Guantanamo’s existence this coming Friday, June 15, by sending us a photo with a poster. Details here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2018/06/07/june-15-marks-6000-days-of-guantanamo-join-us-in-telling-donald-trump-not-one-day-more/

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Brigid Mary Oates wrote:

    Thank you x

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Brigid. Thanks for your continued dedication to bringing this shameful injustice to an end.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    My respect Joe Hickman, this is a very brave and decent man! Thank you for your work, Andy.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Aleksey. Yes, Joe is indeed a very decent man. I spoke to him before he had gone public with this, when he was explaining the burden he had felt carrying this knowledge around with him, and how he had also felt – mistakenly, as it turned out – that the election of Barack Obama would allow justice to be served. He was very troubled by the way he had been drawn into shooting rioting prisoners with rubber bullets at short range – an incident in Camp 4 that preceded the suicides, which is referenced in the Newsweek article I linked to.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Jeffrey Kaye wrote:

    Hi! Thank you – and commenters – very much for mentioning my work. That research did lead me to see that one thing that connected the 2006 deaths to those in 2007 and 2009 is that the official Guantanamo computer record for all of these deaths was altered. There is documentary evidence of that. I posted the evidence on the 2007 and 2009 deaths at http://guantanamotruth.com, and of course the analysis on all this is in my book. – Thanks, Andy for all your work on this, both your original research, and also your advocacy. You have made a real difference by your work!

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    A powerful conclusion, Jeffrey – “one thing that connected the 2006 deaths to those in 2007 and 2009 is that the official Guantanamo computer record for all of these deaths was altered.”
    It is a sad indictment of the politics of the post-9/11 United States that no one in a position of power and authority is interested in fighting for the truth to be exposed.

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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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