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 »

Remember Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, Who Died at Guantánamo A Year Ago, Despite Being Cleared for Release

Exactly a year ago, on September 8, 2012, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, died in circumstances that are still disputed. The US authorities claim that he committed suicide by overdosing on psychiatric medication that he had hoarded, but that has always seemed unlikely, given that the prisoners at Guantánamo are closely monitored, and it has become clear that he was moved around the prison on a number of occasions before his death, making the hoarding of medication even more unlikely.

Despite the inconsistencies in the US authorities’ account of Adnan’s death, it is undisputed that, throughout his ten years at Guantánamo, he had attempted to commit suicide on several occasions. A talented poet, and a father, Adnan also had severe mental health problems, the result of a car crash in Yemen many years before his capture. Adnan always claimed that he had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in search of cheap medical treatment for his head wounds, in contrast to the US authorities’ attempts to portray him as a member of al-Qaeda.

Those claims, however, evaporated over the years of Adnan’s long and pointless imprisonment, as he was cleared for release on three occasions, only to discover that decisions to release prisoners meant very little, especially in the case of Yemeni prisoners. At the time of his death, 87 of the remaining 167 prisoners had been cleared for release, by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009, but were still held, and 57 of these men were Yemenis. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: The Last Days in the Life of Adnan Latif, Who Died in Guantánamo Last Year

This article, published simultaneously here and on the “Close Guantánamo” website, contains exclusive information from the unclassified notes of a visit to Abdelhadi Faraj — a Syrian prisoner, and one of 86 men cleared for release from Guantánamo but still held — by his attorney, Ramzi Kassem, in October 2012. During that visit, Faraj spoke about the death of Adnan Latif, the Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo last September, and the notes from that visit, made available to me via Ramzi and his team at CUNY (the City University of New York) are compared and contrasted with the military’s own account, as described in a report released to the journalist Jason Leopold through FOIA legislation at the start of July 2013.

Ten months ago, on September 8, 2012, Adnan Latif, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, died in his cell. While no one at the time knew the circumstances of his death, it was clear that, however he had died, it was the fault of all three branches of the US government – of President Obama and his administration, of Congress, and of the Supreme Court and the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court).

Latif, who had severe mental health problems, had been cleared for release in 2006 by a military review board under George W. Bush, and again by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009. He also had his habeas corpus petition granted by a District Court judge in July 2010, but the Obama administration appealed that ruling, and the D.C. Circuit Court overturned it in November 2011. In 2012, when Latif appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land refused to accept his case (or those of six other prisoners), and three months later he was dead.

Two weeks ago, in response to a FOIA request submitted by the journalist Jason Leopold, the military released its report into Latif’s death, which found that the prison guards and medical personnel responsible for him had failed to follow the prison’s rules in dealing with him, and that Latif himself had “hoarded medications and ingested them shortly before he was found unresponsive in his cell.”

However, not everyone finds this explanation convincing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s Decisions on Who to Release, Try and Hold Indefinitely Are Finally Released

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email. Also, please see our updated Guantánamo prisoner list here, which now, for the first time, provides the status of all of the remaining 166 prisoners, based on the “Final Dispositions” of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (dated January 22, 2010, but only made publicly available on June 17, 2013) indicating whether they have been cleared for release, whether they have been designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, and whether they were recommended for prosecution.

On June 17, 2013, through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) legislation, a long-standing mystery was solved — the identities of the Guantánamo prisoners recommended for trial, for indefinite detention and for “conditional detention” by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in January 2009 — when the task force’s “Final Dispositions as of January 22, 2010″ were released by the Department of Justice.

The “Final Dispositions” document contains the names of 240 prisoners, one short of the total number of prisoners held when the the task force began its deliberations — that extra prisoner being Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who was convicted after a one-sided trial by military commission in November 2008, at which he refused to mount a defense, and given a life sentence.

Of those 240, the task force, in its final report in January 2010, recommended 156 for release, 36 for trials and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial, but did not reveal which prisoners were assigned to the various categories.

71 were subsequently released, and three died, leaving 166 men still held. 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 »

Andy Worthington Discusses the Urgent Need to Close Guantánamo with Peter B. Collins

As the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches (on January 11, 2013), I wanted to make sure that I made available an interview I undertook recently with the respected progressive radio host Peter B. Collins, in San Francisco. Peter’s site is here, and our 50-minute interview is here, as an MP3.

Peter and I have spoken many times over the years, and it is always a pleasure to talk to him, as he is such a well-informed host, and his shows allow complex issues — like Guantánamo — to be discussed in depth.

Out latest conversation followed the reelection of Barack Obama, and gave us an opportunity to catch up on where we stand nearly four years on from the President’s failed promise to close Guantánamo within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

An Impossible Suicide at Guantánamo

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email. 

Even in death, injustice stalks former Guantánamo prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who died at the prison in September, six years after he was cleared for release. At “Close Guantánamo,” we covered Adnan’s story at the time of his death, and quoted his lawyers, who stated, “However he died, Adnan’s death is a reminder of the injustice of Guantánamo, and the urgency of closing the prison. May this unnecessary tragedy spur the government to release the detainees it does not intend to prosecute.”

We continue to believe that the death of Adnan Latif is the most powerful reminder of why President Obama must take the lead on releasing the 86 surviving prisoners cleared for release by his interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its report in January 2010, and, in particular, the 55 cleared prisoners whose names were publicly made available for the first time ever by the government in a court case in September, as we explained in our exclusive report, “Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?Read the rest of this entry »

The Banality of Evil: How the US Killed an Innocent Man at Guantánamo

Now that the all-consuming, and insanely expensive Presidential election is over for another four years, President Obama’s in-tray still contains Guantánamo, where, of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Consisting of officials from the relevant government departments and the intelligence agencies, the Task Force analyzed the cases of all the remaining prisoners in 2009, and recommended them for trial, continued detention, or release.

These men have now been held for at least three years since the Task Force reached its conclusions, and many were previously cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration — in many cases in 2006 or 2007, and in 2004 in others.

Although the public’s interest in the long-term injustices of George W. Bush’s horrendous experimental prison has dwindled, some people still remember that the President promised to close the prison within a year, when he first came to office in January 2009, but failed to do so. That is a failure that those concerned with justice will not let him forget, not least because it perpetuates the notion, introduced by the Bush administration, that certain people — those labelled as “terrorists” — can be subjected to indefinite detention. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Horrors of Guantánamo at Aafia Siddiqui Protest in London

On Sunday, in torrential rain, I cut short a dry afternoon in the Catford Bridge Tavern — a formerly notoriously rough pub reborn after its recent takeover by the Antic group, which is spacious, friendly, well-decorated, and which also does excellent food, including Sunday roasts — to take my bike on the train to Charing Cross, and, from there, to cycle up to Piccadilly and through Mayfair to Grosvenor Square, to speak at a protest outside the US Embassy to mark the second anniversary of the sentencing, in a court in New York, of Aafia Siddiqui.

The story of Aafia Siddiqui, which I have been covering for many years, remains one of the most disturbing in the whole of the Bush administration’s brutal “war on terror.” A Pakistani neuroscientist, she is currently two years into a horrendously unjust 86 year sentence in a prison hospital in Texas for allegedly having tried and failed, in August 2008, to shoot a number of US soldiers who were holding her in Ghazni, Afghanistan. This followed her resurfacing after a mysterious five and a half year absence, in which many people believe she was held in one or more secret CIA “black sites,” where she was severely abused and lost her mind.

Although the turnout for the protest, organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, was only moderate, numbers were swelled by the many thousands of people who had turned up for a protest about the terrible racist and Islamophobic video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which, to my mind, like all examples of bigotry, is best ignored, to avoid providing the oxygen of publicity to those peddling such filth. However, the organisers of the Aafia Siddiqui protest were presented with an excellent opportunity to inform numerous people about the plight of Dr. Siddiqui, which was obviously useful. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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