Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court

Late on Sunday evening, I publicized a conference call taking place on Monday to discuss an appeal in a court case brought by the families of two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006 under mysterious circumstances. The supposed triple suicide of the three men — Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi — was questioned when it took place five years ago by former prisoners who knew the men, as I reported in an article last year, Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues, and the official story was challenged in the most spectacular manner last January, when law professor and Harper’s columnist Scott Horton drew on the testimony of four soldiers who were manning the watch towers on the night in question. Their accounts indicate that the men could not have committed suicide, as alleged, and that there must be some other explanation — possibly that they were killed either by accident or design during torture sessions at a remote facility, identified as “Camp No,” located outside the main perimeter fence of the Guantánamo prison.

Despite the gravity of these allegations, there has been no independent investigation into the soldiers’ claims, as aired in Harper’s Magazine, and the families’ attempts to have their questions about the deaths answered in a US court have also been thwarted. Although the families of Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami launched a case in January 2009, and later resubmitted it with new material from the Harper’s story, a judge in the District Court in Washington D.C. — Judge Ellen Huvelle — declared last September that she was unable to proceed with the case, because existing legislation (the Military Commissions Act) prevented a court from “‘hear[ing] or consider[ing] any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant,” and also because the courts have accepted the government’s arguments that judges must not intrude on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Teleconference: Five Years After Disputed “Suicides” at Guantánamo, Father of Dead Man Appeals Court’s Refusal to Consider His Case

Friday June 10, as I explained in an article at the time, marked the fifth anniversary of the disputed triple suicide of three prisoners at Guantánamo, and on Monday June 13, to mark the filing of new legal documents as part of the families’ attempts to secure justice, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York are holding a telephone conference, open to the public, with the participation of Scott Horton and Talal al-Zahrani.

Scott Horton is the lawyer and Harper’s columnist who, last January, wrote a shocking exposé about the alleged suicides, revealing contrary accounts from soldiers who had been present at the time, and Talal al-Zahrani is the father of Yasser al-Zahrani, one of the three prisoners who died — and was himself an official in the Saudi Interior Ministry. As I explained in an article on Saturday, WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo, Yasser al-Zahrani was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan and taken to Guantánamo.

Yasser al-Zahrani’s family, and the family of Salah al-Salami, another of the three men who died, have been seeking justice in the US courts since January 2009, but lost their case last September, in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge Ellen Huvelle found her hands tied. She wrote that “the section of the MCA [Military Commissions Act] removing from the courts ‘jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant by the United States is still valid law.” Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo

In May 2008, in a submission to the 48th Session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (PDF), the Pentagon claimed that it had only held eight juveniles — those under the age of 18 when their alleged crimes took place — during the life of the Guantánamo Bay prison. This, however, was a lie, as its own documents providing the names and dates of birth of prisoners, released in May 2006 (PDF), showed that the true total was much higher.

In November 2008, the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas published a report, “Guantánamo’s Children: Military and Diplomatic Testimonies,” presenting evidence that 12 juveniles had been held, and this was then officially acknowledged by the Pentagon.

The next week, however, I produced another report, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo,” providing evidence that at least 22 juvenile prisoners had been held, and drawing on the Pentagon’s own documents, or on additional statements made by the Pentagon, to confirm my claims.

Two and a half years later, I stand by that report, and am only prepared to concede that up to three of the prisoners I identified as juveniles may have been 18 at the time of their capture. In the meantime, I have identified three more juvenile prisoners, and possibly three others, bringing the total back to 22, and possibly as many as 28. 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 (The State of London).
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