Another Sad, Forgotten Anniversary for Guantánamo’s Dead

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death in June 2006.

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Today, June 10, is an important date in the Guantánamo calendar — the 11th anniversary of the deaths, in dubious circumstances, of three men at Guantánamo in 2006: Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni.

According to the US authorities, the three men committed suicide, hanging themselves in their cells, after having stuffed rags down their own throats, but that explanation has never seemed convincing to anyone who has given it any kind of scrutiny. Even accepting that the guards were not paying attention, how did they manage to tie themselves up and stuff rags down their own throats?

An official investigation by the NCIS yielded an inadequate statement defending the official narrative in August 2008, and then, in January 2010, an article in Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton presented the US authorities with a powerful critic of the official suicide narrative, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who was in charge of the guards in the towers overlooking the prison. On the night of June 9, 2006, just before the deaths were acknowledged, Hickman had noticed unusual movements by vehicles traveling to and from the prison, in the direction of a secret facility he and his colleagues identified as “Camp No,” where, he presumed, they had been killed — whether deliberately or not — during torture sessions. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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? Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Guantánamo’s Dead

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture remind President Obama of the nine deaths that have occurred at Guantanamo at a protest in April 2013.Every year, I publish an article remembering the men who died at Guantánamo in what, in 2013, I first described as “the season of death” at the prison — the end of May and the start of June, when six men died: three on June 9, 2006, one on May 30, 2007, another on June 1, 2009, and the last on May 22, 2011.

Of the six, only the last death — of Hajji Nassim, an Afghan known in Guantánamo as Inayatullah — appears very clearly to have been a suicide. Nassim had profound mental health issues (as well as being a case of mistaken identity), but although there was no reason to suspect foul play, it is, as I explained last year, “disturbing and disgraceful that a profoundly troubled man, who was not who the authorities pretended he was, died instead of being released.”

Doubts have also been raised about the deaths in 2007 and 2009, as I also explained last year, when I wrote:

My very first articles, in May/June 2007, were written in response to the alleged death by suicide, on May 30, 2007, of a Saudi prisoner, Abdul Rahman al-Amri. Former prisoner Omar Deghayes later told me that al-Amri had been profoundly upset by the sexual harassment at Guantánamo — enough, perhaps, to lead him to take his own life — but Jeff Kaye (psychologist and journalist) later looked into the investigation into his death and found another murky story, as he did for Muhammad Salih (aka Mohammed al-Hanashi), another long-term hunger striker and agitator who died on June 1, 2009.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Evidence Casts Doubt on US Claims that Three Guantánamo Deaths in 2006 Were Suicides

Eight years ago, on June 10, 2006, the world awoke to the news that three men — Yasser Al-Zahrani, Ali Al-Salami and Mani Al-Utaybi — had died at the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The authorities claimed that the three men had committed suicide, and, notoriously, as I explained in an article last year, “The Season of Death at Guantánamo,” the prison’s commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., “attracted widespread criticism by declaring that the deaths were an act of war. Speaking of the prisoners, he said, ‘They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.'”

Doubts were immediately expressed about whether it was possible, in a facility well-known for the persistent monitoring of the prisoners, for three men to manage to kill themselves without any guards noticing, and questions were also asked about how, even if the men had evaded surveillance, they had actually managed to kill themselves when they were allowed almost no possessions in their cells.

It took until August 2008 for the official report on the deaths, conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), to be made available, but as I explained in an article at the time, the investigators “unreservedly backed up the suicide story” by reporting that “Autopsies were performed by physicians from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Naval Hospital Guantánamo on June 10 and 11. The manner of death for all detainees was determined to be suicide and the cause of death was determined to be by hanging, the medical term being ‘mechanical asphyxia.'” Read the rest of this entry »

The Season of Death at Guantánamo

Seven years ago, late in the evening on June 9, 2006, three prisoners — Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni, and Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, both Saudis — died at Guantánamo, in what was described by the authorities as a triple suicide, although that explanation seemed to be extremely dubious at the time, and has not become more convincing with the passage of time.

At the time, the prison’s commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., attracted widespread criticism by declaring that the deaths were an act of war. Speaking of the prisoners, he said, “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”

I described the deaths in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, after a fourth death at the prison, of Abdul adman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May 30, 2007 (see here and here), and I wrote my first commemoration of the men’s deaths on the second anniversary of their supposed suicide, followed, in August 2008, with a skeptical analysis of the report of the deaths by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which took over two years to be made available.

The next year, 2009, the anniversary was overshadowed by the death of a fifth prisoner, Muhammad Salih, another Yemeni.

I call this the season of death because all five men died in a two-week period at the end of May and the start of June, and to this day none of the deaths have been adequately explained. It is also, I believe, significant that all five men had been long-term hunger strikers. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering a Death at Guantánamo, Six Years Since I Began Writing About the Prison as an Independent Journalist

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Six years ago, on May 31, 2007, I posted the first article here in what has become, I believe, the most sustained and comprehensive analysis of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo that is available anywhere — and for which, I’m gratified to note, I was recently short-listed for this year’s Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In these six years, I have written — or cross-posted, with commentary — nearly 2,000 articles, and over 1,400 of these are about Guantánamo.

I had no idea it would turn out like this when I began writing articles about Guantánamo six years ago. I had just completed the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, which consumed the previous 14 months of my life, and which was published four months later, in September 2007.

I was wondering how to follow up on the fact that I had lived and breathed Guantánamo almost every waking hour over that 14-month period, as I distilled 8,000 pages of US government allegations and tribunal and review board transcripts, as well as media reports from 2001 to 2007, into a book that attempted, for the first time, to work out who the men held at Guantánamo were, to explain where and when they were seized, and also to explain why, objectively, it appeared that very few of them had any involvement whatsoever with international terrorism.

As I was wondering how to proceed, I received some shocking news. A Saudi at Guantánamo, a man named Abdul Rahman al-Amri, had died, reportedly by committing suicide. I knew this man’s story and decided to approach the Guardian, explaining who I was and why I felt qualified to comment, but when I was told that they weren’t interested, and would be getting the story from the Associated Press, I realized that the WordPress blog that my neighbour Josh had set up for me, initially to promote my books, provided me with the perfect opportunity to self-publish articles, and to see what would happen. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Four of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will hopefully be completed by 2013, although that is contingent on finding new funding.

This is Part 34 of the 70-part series. 422 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April last year, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released.

This, as I explained, was the period in which, after the prisoners won a spectacular victory in the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, when the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights (in other words, the right to ask an impartial judge why they were being held), lawyers were allowed to meet the prisoners for the first time, and the secrecy that was required for Guantánamo to function as an interrogation center beyond the law was finally broken. Read the rest of this entry »

Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009?

My friend and colleague Jeff Kaye, a full-time psychologist who somehow also finds time to conduct research into Guantánamo and America’s post-9/11 torture program, had a fascinating — and disturbing — article published last week on Truthout, in which, after stumbling upon the autopsy reports of two prisoners who died at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009, reportedly by committing suicide, he “found irregularities, unanswered questions, and startling new facts the government has withheld from the public for years,” as he explained in a follow-up article on his blog, Invictus.

Summing up the core of his findings, he added, “For instance, one detainee, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, was found hanged with his hands tied behind his back. The other deceased prisoner, Mohammad al-Hanashi, was said to have strangled himself to death with a type of underwear not used by detainees at the time.”

I’m cross-posting the article below, as I believe Jeff has indeed exposed some previously unexplored, and genuinely troubling “irregularities, unanswered questions, and startling new facts” regarding these two deaths, which have long troubled me as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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