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.”

She also explained, as AFP described it, that, although the allegations were of a “highly disturbing nature,” that alone “cannot be a sufficient basis in law” for the case to be heard, adding that the legal precedents established that “matters relating to the conditions of detention in Guantánamo remain the purview of Congress alone — not the courts — due to national security concerns.”

Buck-passing remains a key part of the US government’s ability to avoid scrutiny and accountability for its actions, and so, with no ability to challenge the executive branch or Congress on these abiding questions about the three deaths, the only available route to pursue is in the appeals court in Washington D.C., the generally deeply Conservative D.C. Circuit Court that, sadly, has singlehandedly gutted habeas corpus of all meaning in the Guantánamo cases. CCR’s press release is below, for those who wish to take part (I’ll be at a film screening in Shropshire), and for some further insight into the significance of the case on a human level, I’m also posting a statement made by Talal al-Zahrani in March 2010, when the case was submitted to the District Court.

Statement by Talal Al-Zahrani responding to newly discovered evidence about his son’s death at Guantánamo
March 17, 2010

May peace and God’s blessings be upon you,

First, I would like to introduce myself. I am the father of Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a young man who was detained at Guantánamo and who died there. The US government falsely declared that my son committed suicide along with two of his friends, contrary to all the evidence that has surfaced, including testimonies given by some of the prison’s guards.

I wish to address this brief message to President Obama, the US judicial authorities, and the American people.

First, I say: Mr. President, the killing of my son at the hands of his guards and under the supervision of the administration of the detention center is a serious and gruesome crime. It is against all human values and ideals, and whoever covers up this gruesome crime or obstructs the criminal and judicial investigations is a co-conspirator with those who have committed the crime itself.

It is not unusual in any society to find crime and criminals, but it is a catastrophe when a democratic society that raises the banner of defending human rights stays silent in the face of such a crime. Mr. President, neither you nor your government stand to gain anything by covering up this crime, unless you believe in the achievements of former President Bush and his Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and wish to share in their legacy.

I say to the judicial authorities: Why do you refuse to look into these flagrant violations of human rights, even though you hear cases and convict people who commit crimes against animals? Do you really believe that only Americans or Westerners are worthy of being considered human beings with rights?

Finally, American people, I would like to tell you that the reason negative feelings towards America continue to exist is because your government is disregarding people’s feelings and showing contempt and disrespect for the lives of others. Too often it lets criminals — from powerful politicians and decision makers to low-level perpetrators — get away with serious crimes. This damages your reputation and the best values you stand for. I am inspired by the many among you who continue to insist that your government and courts deliver truth and justice to families whose loved ones have died in US detention.

Finally, I hope that no one who reads my words will think that I am seeking sympathy for myself or for my son, for no matter what is done, nothing can bring him back to me. However, it is my firm hope that the criminals are held accountable and brought to justice.

I want to thank all those who remain concerned with fighting human rights violations.

Center for Constitutional Rights Appeals Guantánamo Deaths Case as Families Seek Answers

June 10, 2011, New York — Despite evidence that emerged last year suggesting an official cover-up of the cause and circumstances of the deaths of three Guantánamo prisoners whom the government reported as having committed suicide in June 2006, and suggesting that the men may actually have been killed at a secret site at Guantánamo, the District Court in Washington, DC denied the attempt by the families of these men to reopen their case, Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, which the court had previously dismissed, in order to consider the new evidence. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will hold a teleconference on Monday, June 13, 2011 at 12:00 p.m. to discuss the appeal of the case.

What: Telephone conference on Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld.

When: Monday, June 13, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Who: Talal al-Zahrani, father of Yasser al-Zahrani who died at Guantánamo in 2006 when he was 21 years-old; Scott Horton, author of “The Guantánamo suicides” (Harper’s Magazine) and recipient of the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) National Magazine Award; Pardiss Kebriaei and Gitanjali Gutierrez, Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorneys; formerly detained men who do not believe the deaths were suicides (invited); and other special invited guests.

Where: For further information, contact the Center for Constitutional Rights.

For more information on the case, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ legal case page.

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 June 2011, 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.

33 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Imrana Shaheen wrote:

    I am shocked the liar Obama hasn’t shut down Guantanamo bay!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Liz Parker Siebeck wrote:

    I used to be but not any more Imrana.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m digging this and will soon share and retweet.

  4. Leili Kashani says...

    Thank you for posting this Andy. And for all your important work, as always.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Imrana, Liz and George.
    As I have been explaining over the last few days, what distresses me is how Obama’s ownership of Guantanamo has now become the new normal, even though it had become despicable under Bush. We need to judge Presidents on their policies, and on what they achieve, and Obama needs to be told that his failure to close Guantanamo, and his compromises and his cowardice, endanger the rule of law in America, and possibly do so more than under Bush because he is normalizing what was obviously wrong under his predecessor.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks also, Leili. I hope the call goes well tomorrow. I’ll be thinking of you all. I’m showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo” to an Amnesty International group in Bishop’s Castle, near the Welsh border, and as you know I don’t have a cellphone (!), so i won’t be able to be with you. We’ll talk again soon, hopefully.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote:


  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    That was a powerful letter from Talal Al-Zahrani, very impressive! I agree 100% – if anyone knowingly covers up a crime, they too are morally responsible for that crime. And Obama has knowingly and publicly declared that Guantanamo is an abomination – and yet, has kept it open. So where is the accountability? Shouldn’t Americans hold him up to his own words and beliefs? What was the point in so strongly standing against an issue and then backing off completely when it comes time to act? It doesn’t add up.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger ‎wrote:

    Tashi. I think that one point, perhaps the point, was to get elected.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ciudadano and Tashi and George (again). I’m with you, Tashi — and George, all that makes me reflect on is how, three years ago, there was more conscience in action in the US than there is now, if Guantanamo was actually an issue of importance then, as now it’s not. I know that Obama didn’t mention it after he became the sole contender, so that no one spoke about it at all after August 2008 until he came to office in January 2009, but it remains clear that it was regarded as significant to more than just a minority of people throughout that period. The decline in interest is very sad, and continues to preoccupy me.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Imrana Shaheen wrote:

    I wish there was something MORE we could all do, we see all of the injustices happening and are unable to make a change..we need to be the voice for the voiceless..Andy Worthington may God reward you for all of your hard work and efforts in letting others know the pain and suffering GITMO prisoners are facing! its just so heartbreaking the fact his lieing policy hasnt changed anything!! He’s worse then Bush in the making, nasty hybrid dog! When will they shut down Bagram? All they are doing is picking up innocent ppl, torturing them and forcing them to sign confessions! It physically disgusts me in how they can treat other human beings!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    George, that is true enough and truly sad. To deceive people just to get elected. It is so classic, it is as though, that is what we have come to expect from politicians! If we don’t raise the bar any higher, or hold them to their word (in any country), then we are partly to blame for what happens – because technically they work for us, ‘the people’ or so they should (in an ideal world).

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Imrana, thanks for mentioning Bagram, which is so often forgotten about or overlooked. My most recent reports are here:

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    People have become complacent. Maybe all this ‘Islamic terrorism’ and ‘war on terror’ ideology that has been pressed so heavily into the minds of people, since 9/11 especially, has really impacted their will. Or as you once brilliantly stated, Andy – brainwashed the nation.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    It could be worse, I fear, Tashi, as the resurgence of a kind of racism that was actively being combated while I was growing up, with the punk/reggae crossovers, and with Rock Against Racism. But that was already in decline by the 90s when I noticed that racism and xenophobia about immigrants was becoming more widespread. it seems to me that nothing makes people more fatheaded and racist than the wealth obsession and entitlement culture of the last 15 years, which confirms only that the more people have, the more they want to live in gated communities. They didn’t even exist in the UK 20 years ago!

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Matt Diaz wrote:

    Sadly, with Obama’s reelection campaign gearing up, we’ll see him latch on to Guantanamo, as his opponent will be demanding more, larger GTMOs. Surely, he cannot be bold enough to try and convince us that he’s fighting for American values. Like all presidents at this stage, he’s fighting to stay in power and will say anything to remain there. Stand by for lots more false promises.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t even want to think about that, Matt. One round of that hope and change schtick — and wanting to believe it — was enough for me. Given the vile government we have here in the UK, I’m moving beyond even a residual belief in the traditional political set-up of two major parties (and here a third who couldn’t wait to sell out, apparently), but unfortunately there’s just a blank slate at present to fill the void left by refusing to engage with any of these lying, manipulative, power-crazed people. I want to take my world back from the psychopaths!

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Well, I couldn’t agree with you more! It is very creepy, and we should know better by now. I think if I had been born a few decades sooner, I would have been a tree hugging hippie! 🙂 Peace and love and flower power… what happened to people? I blame the 80’s! I blame all those hippies who became executives and lost their ‘loving’ principles – trading them in for ‘wealth and security’ instead. What a let down!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi, I think the rot set in when the hippies lost their fusion of politics and spirituality, in the early 70s. Without a political angle involving a commitment to major change, the spiritual side became the search for the self, which, although not necessarily a terrible idea in and of itself, paved the way for the triumph of the individual above everything, which dominates our lives today, and which has contaminated almost everything. Politicians can’t do anything brave, even if they wanted to, because selfish voters wouldn’t go for a green policy, or a curb on car use, or on unlimited air travel, for example — although few politicians can think this way either, as they’re also contaminated by the triumph of the individual. And I suppose that, in a world of atomized individuals, who have no faith in society, and no rooted notion of community, it’s easy for everyone to start fearing that terrorists are out to get them on a permanent basis, when I really don’t think that’s objectively true at all.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathleen Kelly wrote:

    Andy–thank you for your continued work on this subject. Other journalists should be ashamed.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Tamara Beinlich wrote:

    there is no justice in the world. I believe justice comes in the next world!

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Kathleen and Tamara. Your words of encouragement are much appreciated, Kathleen. What a pity, as you note, that journalists (or, more probably, editors and proprietors) refuse to focus on newsworthy themes on a permanent basis, pretending instead that life consists essentially of a series of unrelated incidents.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Esteban Chavez wrote:

    they are paid to do just that. everything by design.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Thank you, Andy. Thank you for being a journalist. We need you.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary, for the lovely supportive words, and Esteban, yes, I like that: “they are paid to do just that.” I often think that, like much in this world, the rewards are for the people who put on the suits, turn up on time and essentially do what they’re told, and the number of mainstream journalists queueing up to write about/comment on the Royal Wedding was a good example of that …

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    I will never understand the celebrity obsession people have, when you see all the junk on the news and tv – it is such a waste of time. How many stories are being overlooked, just so we can hear who got divorced, who is cheating on their wife and who is sleeping with whom. Meanwhile people are suffering all over and living under poverty and repression. What is more important?

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Carolyn Pascoe wrote:

    It’s called we don’t care, we put our heads in the sand and it goes away.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    I was going to reply, but Carolyn said it all!

  29. Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal In US Court - OpEd says...

    […] = 'wpp-257'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};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 […]

  30. Families say Guantanamo ‘suicides’ were killings « Sheep Pee! says...

    […] Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court  –  (First paragraph)  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 […]

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    It’s escapism and a general dumbing-down of the society via the media. Chris Hedges wrote a wonderful book on the subject, “The Empire of Illusion.” People would rather read about what some actress wore to the Oscars than about the loss of their country’s Rule of Law.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary. I hadn’t come across Chris’s book. That’s good to know.

  33. » Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld Appeal Filed says...

    […] Teleconference: Five Years Aft&#1077r Disputed “Suicides” &#1072t Guantánamo, Father &#959f Dea… […]

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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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