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.

Unlike the majority of the remaining 171 prisoners at Guantánamo, Inayatullah had not spent nearly ten years of his life in the prison. The penultimate detainee to arrive at Guantánamo, he was flown in from Afghanistan in September 2007, but no information about him had been released after a press release was issued by the Pentagon announcing his arrival.

It is not known if he had ever been subjected to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal — the review process used by President Bush to assess whether prisoners had been correctly designated, on capture, as “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely — but it was noticeable that, in the recent release by WikiLeaks of classified military documents relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, Inayatullah’s was one of 14 files that were missing from the documents that were initially handed over to WikiLeaks, suggesting that he had not, in fact, been subjected to any type of process that claimed to legitimize his presence at Guantánamo.

In describing Inayatullah after his death, the US military recycled information from its initial press release announcing his arrival at the prison three years and eight months ago, claiming that he was “an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations, and attested to facilitating the movement of foreign fighters, significantly contributing to transnational terrorism across multiple borders.” It was also claimed that he “met with local operatives, developed travel routes and coordinated documentation, accommodation and vehicles for smuggling Al-Qaeda belligerents through Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.”

Noticeably, however, what was missing was another claim, also aired in the military’s September 2007 press release, that he had “admitted that he was the Al-Qaeda Emir of Zahedan, Iran,” and that he had been transferred to Guantánamo “[d]ue to the continuing threat [he] represents and his high placement in Al-Qaeda.”

This was perhaps because that hyperbole had been punctured. Of the six prisoners who arrived in Guantánamo between March 2007 and March 2008, just two — whose files were also missing from the documents made available to Wikileaks — are regarded as “high-value detainees.”

These two are Nashwan Abd Al-Razzaq Abd Al-Baqi, more commonly known as Abd Al-Hadi Al-Iraqi, and Muhammad Rahim, an Afghan, and they join the 14 “high-value detainees” sent to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, who include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, as the only “high-value detainees” at Guantánamo — a grand total of 16 out of the remaining 171 prisoners.

It is too late for Inayatullah or Awal Gul to receive anything that resembles justice, as it is for the six other men who have died at Guantánamo in the last five years — the three disputed suicides in June 2006, the fourth alleged suicide in May 2007, the death by cancer of an unacknowledged Afghan hero in December 2007, and the fifth alleged suicide in June 2009.

More depressingly, it is unlikely that the evident truth about Obama’s Guantánamo — that the only way out is by dying — will shift public opinion either at home or abroad. Although the President is not entirely to blame for his failure to close the prison, as he has been confronted by unprincipled Republican opposition on a colossal scale, and also by cowardice in his own party, it ought to be unacceptable that his early promise has turned to such paralysis.

My hope is that there will eventually be a mobilisation of high-level international criticism about Guantánamo, as there was under President Bush, with international bodies and world leaders realizing that Guantánamo has become, once more, a place of indefinite arbitrary detention, and moreover, one that will remain open forever without concerted effort to close it.

Until that time, decent people must be wondering who, at Guantánamo, will be next to die, and reflecting 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.

The Obama administration cunningly dropped the use of the term “enemy combatant” in its legal dealings regarding the prisoners, but that is essentially what they remain, and if Inayatullah’s death were to be marked by words, he could, in all fairness, be described as follows:

Inayatullah — enemy combatant: held and died without charge or trial, to America’s undying shame.

Note: Also see the follow-up article, Guantánamo Suicide Was Severely Mentally Ill, And Was A Case of Mistaken Identity.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

57 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Chuck Parcell wrote:

    thank you

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    ‎”Inayatullah — enemy combatant: held and died without charge or trial, to America’s undying shame”. You summed this up well, Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Eric Gebert wrote:

    And Obama who was the head of the Harvard Law Review and now President does not care. SO SAD.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Khan Sohail wrote:

    well i call it murder not suicide. Most probably he was tortured, abused and harassed for years without any charges or evidence being proved against him (just like many others of Gitmo inmates turned out to be innocent), so that he preferred death over life. This is just another way of killing! He has been killed!!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, people who believe it is OK to kidnap other people, keep them indefinitely detained without trial have stopped believing that the people they do this to are human beings. By doing this they have diminished their own humanity to close to zero – “America’s undying shame” will have a ripple effect across the world as ever fewer people believe that the USA is a force for good. Most citizens of the rest of the world see the USA as a bad neighbour and the greatest threat to world peace in contemporary times.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Joe Anbody wrote:


  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Chuck, Ann, Eric, Sohail, Willy and Joe.
    Your support, your kind words and/or your perceptive analysis are all appreciated.
    Five years and two months ago, when I began working full-time on Guantanamo, I also started a process that, in some sense, involved me accepting a “family” of 779 prisoners, a handful of whom were allegedly involved in major acts of terrorism, but the overwhelming majority of whom were not.
    I have lived with their stories ever since, and when one dies, as happened on Tuesday, I take it personally. No one should die under these circumstances, and then be so unlamented that they are lucky to receive a mention in the mainstream media at all. The most powerful country in the world has treated all of its Muslim prisoners with contempt, and silence, in the face of any death at Guantanamo, is nothing less than complicity.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    Americans will be able to relate as time goes on as the gov’t arrests and holds them indefinitely without trial for things they never imagined.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Leonardo L Larl wrote:

    Andy, this story of “Gitmo” is going to be etched in the pages of the “Book of Shame” of the bloody US history together with the many others that this country with the conscious and un-conscious help of its citizens has been perpetrating during the centuries and no matter how many times we will “wash” our hands blood stains will be on them forever.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    The feeling is mutual Andy. We’re more dedicated to each other than anyone of either party are to themselves, their political partners in crime or their corporate/banking masters..

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m digging this now, Andy. Shall then share.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Naim AbdurRafi wrote:

    Andy, Muslims do not commit suicide. It is thoroughly ingrained in us that there is no hell in this life that compares to the Hell that becomes one’s abode if you commit suicide. Our lives are not ours to take.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    What a sad story and fine title.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Willy, about diminishment of American humanity, a very ex friend wrote a longwinded article in the Rev Moon’s Washington Times that might well have helped. When he proudly sent this to me, I discussed it with my then wife. We wrote a fitting email with some applicable Nazi terms (Untermenschen = Subhumans) and that was that. BTW, this person is a psychiatrist whose job was reassessing mental health patients in California. He made a fortune, told me that he wrote reassessments stating that the patients’ shrinks lied, and is a rabid neocon who tried and failed to run for Congress.
    Not irrelevant to last night’s discussion.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Siddique wrote:


  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to David, Leonardo, George, Naim and Michael, and thanks also to all the people who have shared this so far (111 shares in just two hours so far!)
    Naim, I understand what you’re saying, but i believe that there is a despair that can destroy the will (to which Muslims are not necessarily immune), and, more particularly, i believe that some Muslim prisoners have suffered from severe mental health problems, as was the case with this particular man, which explains more readily how he slipped the moorings of his faith. More on this tomorrow …

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Tom Krohmer wrote:

    Thanks for doing what you do Andy

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Palesks Méga wrote:

    et mr obama nous parle encore de démocratie et des Droits de l’homme !!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Karen Todd wrote:

    what a miserable thought – but by all actions to date seems sadly true…

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Zink wrote:

    I don’t blame you for feeling that way. I care. My husband cares. I hope my sons care. Perhaps this will give you some insight into the matter Andy & I really did think of you when this happened.

    About 2 weeks ago my one son Matt had 3 friends over. One was 19 in college, 2 were 18 years HS seniors, and the youngest was 17. They asked me what i thought of Obama and I said he is no different than Bush. and Andrew said, “no he’s not he closed Guantanamo”.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Umm Jannah Al-Halabi wrote:

    I still dont believe a muslim in gitmo would commit suicide from what i have heard and know from people that have come out of gitmo, they say that although it is the most difficult test, the strength and brotherhood in there is amazing and everybody reminds each other and they all lift each others spirits up. They sing nasheeds and recite quran, I am certain it is murder, or the prisoner is so weak, that any further beating causes his death, due to malnutrition and poor medical care amd poor living conditions.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom, Palesks, Karen, Mary and Umm Jannah — and everyone who has shared it. We’re now on 227 shares, which, of course, confirms that there are people who care.
    Mary, thanks specifically for your concern, and for that telling anecdote (which many of us involved in campaigning against Guantanamo have, sadly, heard all too often before), and Umm Jannah, I thoroughly agree about the solidarity within Guantanamo — although in this case it is clear that the man in question was severely mentally ill. As I mentioned last night, I’ll be publishing another article about this later today …

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Christine Casner wrote:

    SHARED w/ A HEAVY HEART. :(:(:(:(

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia P. Coley wrote:


  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamara Beinlich wrote:

    Closing Gitmo is the one thing that got Obama my vote. He has NEVER explained to me or told me truth of WHY he hasn’t closed it.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Stephen Calder wrote:

    Why can the USA never be prosecuted for violations of human rights and crimes against humanity? The ICC only prosecutes small fry.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Chris Cut Wars McCabe wrote:

    I think the US failed to sign up to the War Crimes agreement.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Stephen Calder wrote:

    So has Libya – hasn’t stopped them prosecuting Gaddafi though.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Karen Todd wrote:

    all of this isn’t over yet- they will probably only be able to prosecute them on tax evasion and fraud charges though- i am just guessing at this- but i do feel that eventually some of the guilty will see trials-for war crimes- but probably not on charges of the torture and terminal imprisonment—-

    i meant war crimes in aspects to money- not the torture crimes- ughh- it is early and i am still baking for the cafe this morning- have my baking panties on and not my ‘thinker pair’……….

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    That is so sad, Andy! I wish all people were as deeply caring as you and had a conscience as attuned as your own. Leaders seem bent on vengeance rather than fairness. I can only (uncomfortably) imagine the despair of these poor souls (enemy combatants – or whatever title we label them). In my mind, they are just regular people (human souls), imprisoned by the ‘superior-civilized’ westerners, with no hope of justice. And no matter who they are or what they have done, they are people none the less, and they deserve – hope!

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    D J Michael Sanchez wrote:

    Thanks, Andy… Sharing.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Ornella Saibene wrote:

    definitely murder which ever way you look at it …sharing

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Chenae Meneely wrote:

    Andy, I think there are many who care deeply. We just see no quick and clear actions to end this…. sharing, the least I can do.. When Obama said that the first thing he would do was close Gitmo, I had tears of joy streaming down my face. It is hard not to despair.. but if those in this place can continue, with hope and life, then so must we

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Kenneth J Parkes wrote:


  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Liz Parker Siebeck wrote:

    shared and added to the argument against Obama. Whether he is personally capable or not of closing Guantanamo, that was one of the first things I noted in his presidency. I thought for sure he would end this mockery but no, now they are talking again of opening the prison in Illinois and I fear they are going to bring “enemy combatants” here and those who do not object will be calling us terrorists for wanting people to have their rights. The word terrorist is the brainwashing tool used to make people live in fear and forget human rights and disdain other humans.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    John H Kennedy wrote:

    Getting Rep. Dennis Kucinich to run against Obama would guarantee that Obama is forced to debate this issue at length.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Estrella wrote:

    Thank you, Andy, for sharing this very disturbing story of a travesty of justice that we all know goes on, but is so easy to put out of our minds. Your conclusion “Inayatullah — enemy combatant: held and died without charge or trial, to America’s undying shame” says it all. I will repost, also. ♥

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you again, my friends — so many of you commenting this afternoon while I was out with my family! I’m impressed that this has touched such a nerve — shared by 380 people so far!
    And my apologies if I gave the impression that no one cares. I know that people here do. I know that people who read my work in general do, and I know that people elsewhere — in the US, in other countries, reading about this in newspapers, perhaps hearing about it on the radio, or perhaps even seeing it mentioned on TV (although the latter seems unlikely) — also care.
    What upsets me is that we have been failed — by Obama, by the Democrats, by the US mainstream media — when it comes to shutting this damned place down, and I can’t for the life of me work out how to revive the need for its closure as the sort of topic that it was in Bush’s second term and at the start of Obama’s Presidency.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Well it is murder if this man was ill and authorities withheld treatment. Add in torture and etc., then it’s doubly murder. There are plans for independent investigative probes into the deaths. Sometimes revealing how bad something is, historically speaking . . . .

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Perhaps, Mui, although most investigations have ended up being whitewashes. As was seen from the government’s response to the allegations that the three deaths in June 2006 cannot possibly have been suicides, from the refusal, ever, to release any medical records, and from the refusal to unclassify any of the exchanges that have taken place between the “high-value detainees” and their attorneys, there’s an extreme reluctance on the part of the US government to engage openly and honestly with anything that’s taken place at Guantanamo.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:
    If it’s not independent, I agree. But the families of the detainees theoretically have so much law on their side. I think in cases of “suicides” at prisons & or mental hospitals state or local (don’t know about fed), the burden rests on the institution to prove they did everything right and nothing wrong. And now that I think about it. endless litigations might be another way to free up documents as opposed to FOIA.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    Yeah, true, re: 2006. I find it hard to believe that three “suicides” would bound and gag themselves, plus everything else, like broken teeth and other stuff that doesn’t make sense.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    And yeah, I know laws regarding state and local prisons haven’t exactly been applied to Gitmo, but the laws are there and I think people need to start using them, otherwise it’s just bad mojo all around.

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Kricket Schurz wrote:

    The laws that are supposed to protect American prisoners are too easily circumvented – atrocities occur in our own backyards continually and they are simply ignored. The common belief is: if the inmate did not do something to deserve the worst treatment, they would not be imprisoned. The mainstream media wants no part of biting the hand that feeds them and so the truth simply remains hidden, with tough on crime and criminals touted as the only viable means of dealing with the problems our society creates.

    This is the same situation that has held true throughout our history. Native Americans still fight to see the official version changed concerning massacres that earned medals of honor for those who brutally slaughtered women and children. Read the newspaper accounts from that time – just as today the American “enemy” was demonized and the country cheered their torture. That we as a nation bear the shame for the cruelty and barbarity that continues with Guantanamo is the cost of mass ignorance – that state of mind which the majority among us prefers over facing the truth of what we are…

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mui. I still think openness and Guantanamo are mutually exclusive, but I can’t possibly argue with your exhortation, “the laws are there and I think people need to start using them, otherwise it’s just bad mojo all around.”
    And Kricket, thanks for that thoughtful and devastating analysis. Much appreciated.

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    Liz Parker Siebeck wrote:

    I agree Kricket and there is a definite pattern which can be traced from “A good Indian is a dead Indian”, to the treatment of Africans, then the “gooks” in Vietnam and the “hajis” in Iraq. American boys, if not already racist, are taught to demean and dehumanize the “enemy” who are often people trying to protect their country, land or resources. That the law SHOULD be followed is obvious, but it rarely has been and there is no improvement on the horizon that I can see. I admire all that you have been doing for the past few years Andy Worthington and keep being that voice in the wilderness.

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Liz. I appreciate your kind words, and I also appreciate your insights into racism and dehumanization.

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    I probably should have said it’s bad dope all around. I like to stay optimistic about the value of lawsuits and court ordered openness in particular. It’s part of this country’s civil rights history.

    If I could, I’d find this comment an old civil rights person made in a thread years ago. That’s a generation that encountered the really evil side of people (segregationists and politicians.)

    And I think part of what’s happening is an extension of that evil side of people/history in this country, segregation, apartheid, imperialism plus war industry.

  49. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mui. Yes, it’s all part of a rightward drift, I think, which is particularly alarming, as it has echoes of the late 20s and the early 30s.

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    Kricket Schurz wrote:

    Andy can it really be limited to any era? – my knowledge of history is not what it should be – but I do know we fought a revolution primarily to free the corporate owners here from the control of other nations so that they alone could rape America – we slaughtered the Indians to take the natural resources that should have belonged to them and give them to wealthy corporate owners – we fought the civil war to allow northern corporations to take over the southern resources they could not take otherwise – Korea can be associated with keeping the flow of oil and other resources stolen abroad flowing – Vietnam was an act of imperialism – and God only knows exactly how many millions of civilians (mainly indigenous peoples) we have murdered abroad to allow corporations to take over in other countries and rape their land and exploit their people.

    We certainly have no qualms with overthrowing democratic governments with leaders who fight to protect their people and then to install tyrants who are American puppets. We are not held to any international law that shows our leaders are tyrants and war criminals – and it seems – all we do now is a reflection of a less than glorious past. But, also a past that we have never once tried to change as we have allowed American capitalism to cannibalize others at will.

    Why would a nation that cheers the massacres of women and children, as long as the majority can believe we are winning against the evil overlords of the world, be concerned with the torture of a few guys our politicians label Muslim demons – after all – the majority is still waiting on that “trickle down ” which will come from the enormous profit the upper 1% will earn from the slaughter.

  51. Andy Worthington says...

    Those are very, very valid points, Kricket, but I do fear that permanent war and a police state at home are particularly current issues, which are certainly a cumulation, in many ways, of that bloody history, but in other ways are new — partly as lawmakers give up on an ever larger section of their own population, because there are no more jobs, and never will be, and partly because the warmongers are so influential.

  52. Andy Worthington Discusses WikiLeaks and Guantánamo with Linda … » WeNewsIt says...

    […] a discussion about the man who recently died in Guantánamo, whose story I covered in my articles, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin and Guantánamo Suicide Was Severely Mentally Ill, And Was A Case of Mistaken Identity, and the […]

  53. Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List - OpEd says...

    […] in my articles, Guantánamo Prisoner Dies After Being Held for Nine Years Without Charge or Trial, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin and Guantánamo Suicide Was Severely Mentally Ill, And Was A Case of Mistaken Identity, provide a […]

  54. On 5th Anniversary Of Disputed Guantánamo “Suicides,” Jeff Kaye Defends Scott Horton - OpEd says...

    […] mysterious purported suicide at the Guantánamo prison camp. Inayatullah was a 37-year-old prisoner found dead either in a recreation yard or in his cell, depending on the news account. The Naval Criminal […]

  55. Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo [Summer 2011 - July 24th Deadline] « aseerun says...

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  56. A Testimony of Death | Matt Keefe says...

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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