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 »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Limbo of Guantánamo under Trump and Obama’s Failure to Close the Prison with Scott Horton

Andy Worthington speaking to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, who hosts a weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts on January 14, 2015.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.

 

A few days ago, I was delighted to speak to an old friend with whom I haven’t spoken for over a year — Scott Horton, formerly of Antiwar Radio, who now runs his own website, the Libertarian Institute, where he continues to make and broadcast hard-hitting radio interviews about every aspect imaginable of America’s insane foreign policy, as he has for the last 13 or 14 years, with over 4,000 conducted to date.

Scott and I have spoken many times since I was first interviewed by him in the summer of 2007, but for some reason we hadn’t spoken for 14 months until last week. I’d been going through my archives, updating links and trying to work out which articles to include in a forthcoming collection of the best of my writing about Guantánamo over the last ten years, and I realized we hadn’t spoken for some time, so I sent him an email and he got back to me almost immediately.

Our half-hour interview is here — and here as an MP3 — and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find useful. We spoke about Donald Trump and what he has threatened to do regarding Guantánamo — keeping it open and bringing new prisoners there — but as with so much this lamentable imitation of a coherent president says and does, it’s difficult to know quite what he will end up doing. He has already backed down on his ludicrous intention to bring back torture and “black sites,” after all but his own most deranged advisers told him that was not on the cards, but on Guantánamo we will have to wait and see if he is told that federal court trials are preferable to bringing anyone new to Guantánamo, if he gets told that he doesn’t have the authorization to bring ISIS prisoners to Guantánamo, and if, as I hope, someone he listens to tells him that, given how ridiculously expensive Guantánamo is, he really ought to close it and bring the men still held to the US mainland. 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 »

Radio: As the Prison at Guantánamo Begins Its 15th Year of Operations, Andy Worthington Speaks on US Radio

Andy Worthington outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2016 at a protest marking the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Debra Sweet).From January 8-18, I was in the US for a brief tour to highlight the importance of closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, coinciding with the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on January 11. I visited Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and videos of my various escapades can be found here, including appearing with my friend and supporter, the music legend Roger Waters, on Democracy Now!

I also took part in a number of radio shows, and am making those available below. I hope you have time to listen to them, and to share them if you find them useful. I’m keeping my description of them quite brief, as I’m snowed under with other Guantánamo-related work right now — in particular the launch of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, a new initiative, via the Close Guantánamo campaign I set up with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, asking people to print off a poster calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo before he leaves office in a year’s time, to photograph themselves standing with the poster, and to send it to us to put up on the website and to publicize via social media. I hope you will get involved!

On the morning of January 11, just before I took part in the annual protest outside the White House, and a panel discussion at New America, I spoke to Jerome McDonnell on his show “Worldview” on WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago. The show is available on Soundcloud, and is posted below, and this is how Jerome described it: Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Shaker Aamer’s Release and the Future of Guantánamo with Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins

Andy Worthington on the radio: in this instance, speaking to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the Western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, who hosts a weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts. Photo taken on January 14, 2015, during Andy's US tour.In the wake of the wonderful news that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has finally been released from the prison, and returned, a free man, to his family in the UK, a couple of old friends from the US — Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins — interviewed me for their radio shows.

Scott and I have been talking — generally several times a year —  since 2007, primarily about Guantánamo, but also about torture, Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and other aspects of the “war on terror” that George W. Bush launched after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that President Obama has failed to fully repudiate.

Our 20-minute interview is here, as an MP3. Scott’s own website has been having problems for the last week — it was down for many days, and now it’s back up, but the last few years’ interviews are still missing. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Imminent Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with Scott Horton

A previously unseen photo of Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) with Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker, at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Dot Young).On September 25, as the news broke that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, the radio host Scott Horton got in touch to ask for a quick interview, and I was, of course, delighted to speak to him, as we have spoken numerous times over the years since he first interviewed me in 2007. Our 15-minute interview is here, as an MP3, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. You can also find it on Scott’s website here.

Scott asked me to run through Shaker’s story, so I explained how he is a charismatic, eloquent man who always resisted the injustices implemented by the Bush administration in its “war on terror,” and, as a result, came to be regarded as a dangerous individual.

However, although he has persistently caused trouble — righteous, indignant trouble — in US custody, his captors never had a case against him for any activities prior to his capture at the end of 2001 in Afghanistan, where, he has always maintained, he had traveled to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. As a result, in 2007, under the Bush administration, he was told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and in 2009 he was approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama shortly after taking office. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Season of Death at Guantánamo

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death on June 9, 2006.On June 9, Joseph Hickman, a former guard at Guantánamo, posted the following tweet: “9 years ago today I was at Guantánamo Bay. Three detainees were murdered while I was on duty. All should remember those three men today.”

It was a poignant message, and a reminder of how, at Guantánamo, the years may pass but the injustices — horrible injustices involving unexplained deaths, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial — remain or are inadequately addressed.

On June 9, 2006, as Joe Hickman pointed out, three prisoners died at Guantánamo — 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a Saudi, and 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, another Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. The Bush administration claimed that they died in a suicide pact, by hanging themselves, but that always seemed unlikely. How were men who were scrutinized incessantly supposed to get the materials to hang themselves and then do so without anyone noticing? And could it really not be relevant that all three men had been long-term hunger strikers, and a thorn in the side of the authorities at Guantánamo?

I wrote regularly about the men who died in June 2006 — on the second anniversary of their death, when no one in the mainstream media noticed, and in August 2008, after an official and unsatisfactory statement based on the NCIS investigation of the men’s death was released  — and then, in January 2010, came a dark and powerful revelation: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides,'” an article in Harper’s Magazine by the law professor and journalist Scott Horton, based on interviews with former guards, including, in particular, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who had been in charge of the guard towers on the night the men died, and who swore that the official story could not have been true. My immediate response to Horton’s article is here. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Speaks to Michael Slate and Scott Horton About Guantánamo, David Hicks and Shaker Aamer

Andy Worthington speaks at a meeting in Northampton, Massachusetts on January 14, 2015 (Photo: Debra Sweet for Andy Worthington).I’m pleased to report that, in the last week, I have taken part in two radio shows in the US with two radio hosts that I have known for a long time and who I admire — Michael Slate and Scott Horton.

Michael’s show was entitled, “From the Torture Chambers of Guantánamo to the Deadly Streets of the US: American Thugs on the Rampage,” which is a great title, and I was delighted to be on the same show as Larry Siems, the editor of Guantánamo Diary, the extraordinarily powerful book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who is still held at Guantánamo (Larry and I were previously on another show, in Chicago, which you can find here). Also on the show was the activist Carl Dix.

The hour-long show is here, and I’m on for the first 16 minutes, bringing Michael’s listeners up to date on the current situation at Guantánamo, and also speaking about We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I launched in November with the activist Joanne MacInnes. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Senate Torture Report, Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker with Scott Horton and Pippa Jones

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).As I mentioned yesterday when I posted two videos of TV coverage of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which aims to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, it’s been a busy three-week period — firstly with the launch of the campaign outside Parliament on November 24, and then, last week, with the release of our short film for Shaker for Human Rights Day, featuring Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey, reading from Shaker’s Declaration of No Human Rights, which he wrote in Guantánamo in response to the US betrayal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also, last Tuesday, with the release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, which I wrote about here for Al-Jazeera.

Last week I undertook a couple of radio interviews to discuss all of these issues, speaking for on the Scott Horton Show, with the Texas-based interviewer with whom I have been talking about the horrors of Guantánamo, executive overreach, arbitrary dentition and torture for more than seven years — a duration of time that has probably come as a surprise to both of us.

Our latest encounter — 23 minutes in total — is here, and I hope you have time to listen to it.

On Friday, I spoke to British ex-pat Pippa Jones, for her show on Talk Radio Europe. Pippa and I have spoken before — although we don’t have quite the history that Scott and I have. It was a pleasure to talk to Pippa as well — about the torture report and We Stand With Shaker — and our 20-minute interview is here. The interview begins at about 7:45 and runs through to 28:15. 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 »

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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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