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

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.” 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 »

Don’t Forget the Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared for Release But Still Held

Last week, Guantánamo briefly resurfaced in the news when one of the remaining 171 prisoners, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned for his planned trial by Military Commission, for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Al-Nashiri’s trial will not begin for a least a year, and his fleeting appearance was not sufficient to keep attention focused on Guantánamo, especially as the 24-hour news cycle — and people’s addiction to it — now barely allows stories to survive for a day before they are swept aside for the latest breaking news.

As a result, the opportunity to ask bigger questions, such as, “Who is still at Guantánamo?” and “Why are they still held?” was largely missed. These are topics I have been discussing all year, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media, so it was refreshing, last week, to see Peter Finn in the Washington Post address these questions.

In “Guantánamo detainees cleared for release but left in limbo,” Finn, with assistance from Julie Tate, began by revisiting the final report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, the 60 or so officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies who reviewed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009, and who, as Finn noted, cleared 126 prisoners for transfer out of Guantánamo (PDF) — and also recommended 36 for trials, and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files

In the classified US military files recently released by WikiLeaks, and identified as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs), files relating to 765 of the 779 prisoners held at the prison since it opened on January 11, 2002 have been released. The other 14 files are missing, and this article addresses who these prisoners are and why their files are missing, and also, where possible, tells their stories. As of May 18, this list includes an Afghan prisoner, Inayatullah, who “died of an apparent suicide” at the prison, according to the US military.

Two suspicious omissions: Abdullah Tabarak and Abdurahman Khadr

Of the 14 missing stories, just two are overtly suspicious. The first of these is the file for Abdullah Tabarak Ahmad (ISN 56), a Moroccan who, according to a Washington Post article in January 2003, “was one of [Osama] bin Laden’s long-time bodyguards,” and who, in order to help bin Laden to escape from the showdown with US forces in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains in December 2001, “took possession of the al-Qaeda leader’s satellite phone on the assumption that US intelligence agencies were monitoring it to get a fix on their position.” Whether or not there is any truth to this story is unknown, as the Post‘s source was a number of “senior Moroccan officials,” who have visited Guantánamo, and had interviewed Tabarak. One official said, “He agreed to be captured or die. That’s the level of his fanaticism for bin Laden. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it was enough.” Moroccan officials also stated that Tabarak, who was 43 years old at the time, “had become the ’emir,’ or camp leader,” at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

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

The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin

Despite sweeping into office promising to close Guantánamo, President Obama now oversees a prison that may well stay open forever, from which the only exit route is in a coffin.

The last living prisoner to be released from Guantánamo was Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, an Algerian who was repatriated against his will in January. Since then, an Afghan prisoner, Awal Gul, died in February after taking exercise, and on Wednesday the US military announced that another Afghan prisoner, Inayatullah, who was 37 years old, “died of an apparent suicide,” early on the morning of May 18.

A US Southern Command news release explained, “While conducting routine checks, the guards found the detainee unresponsive and not breathing. The guards immediately initiated CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and also summoned medical personnel to the scene. After extensive lifesaving measures had been exhausted, the detainee was pronounced dead by a physician.”

Later, a Guantánamo spokesperson, Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher, said that Inayatullah was discovered “hanging from his neck by what appear[ed] to be bed linen” in one of the prison’s recreation yards — a scenario that surely raises the question of how, in a prison where the detainees are closely monitored all the time, he was allowed to spend enough time unmonitored in a recreation yard to be able to kill himself. 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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