13 Years Ago, Three Men Died at Guantánamo, Victims of a Brutal Regime of Lawlessness That Is Fundamentally Unchanged Today

Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami, two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006, in circumstances that remain deeply contentious. The US authorities insist that they committed suicide, but other troubling accounts have robustly questioned that conclusion. No photo publicly exists of the third man, Mani- al-Utaybi.

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On the night of June 9, 2006, three prisoners at Guantánamo died, their deaths shockingly and insensitively described by the prison’s then-commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., as “an act of asymmetrical warfare against us.”

The three men were 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. All three had been prominent hunger strikers.

Al-Zahrani, the son of a prominent Saudi government official, was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” who was recently released after 17 years in a US prison, also survived. Over 400 fighters, supporting the Taliban, had been told that if they surrendered, they would then be set free, but it was a betrayal. They were taken to a fort, Qala-i-Janghi, run by General Rashid Dostum, one of the leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, where some of the men, fearing they would be killed, started an uprising with concealed weapons. Over the course of a week, the prisoners were bombed, set on fire, and, finally, flooded out of a basement, and when they finally emerged, only 86 of the original prisoners had survived.

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The Lonesome Death of Haji Naseem, A Mentally Ill Prisoner at Guantánamo

An undated photo of prisoners praying in Guantánamo (Photo: Andres Leighton / AP).

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In the long and disgraceful history of Guantánamo, some of the most depressing occasions have involved the deaths of prisoners — nine in total — all of men completely deprived of justice, abused, imprisoned without charge or trial, and then lied about after their deaths by the US authorities.

I have covered these stories repeatedly over the years. The first deaths — three in total — occurred on one night in June 2006. These deaths — of Yasser al-Zahrani, Mani al-Utaybi and Ali al-Salami — were described by the US authorities as a triple suicide, although that claim has been challenged over the years, not least by former US personnel, present at the time, who have suggested that the men may have been killed in a secret prison within Guantánamo. 

Subsequent deaths at the end of May 2007 (of Abdul Rahman al-Amri) and the start of June 2009 (of Muhammad Salih aka Mohammed al-Hanashi) were also described by the authorities as suicides, but those claims have, in particular, been challenged by Jeffrey Kaye, a retired psychologist and investigative journalist, whose detailed analysis was featured in his 2017 book, Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the ‘Suicides’ of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri. I’ve known Jeff for many years, and for further background, I recommend a couple of articles I published in 2017, Death at Guantánamo: Psychologist and Author Jeffrey Kaye Speaks to the Talking Dog and Guantánamo Suicides “Unlikely,” Says Investigator Jeffrey Kaye in New Edition of His Book, “Cover-up at Guantánamo”.

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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 »

Guantánamo Suicides “Unlikely,” Says Investigator Jeffrey Kaye in New Edition of His Book, “Cover-up at Guantánamo”

Jeffrey Kaye and the cover of his book, Cover-Up at Guantanamo.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.





 

In the long and sordid history of Guantánamo, few people — if any — have devoted as much time to the horrors of the prison’s operations as Jeffrey Kaye, a US psychologist (now retired), who has assiduously investigated and reported on issues of human experimentation at Guantánamo, and the contentious deaths of prisoners, primarily for Truthout, for FireDogLake and Shadowproof, and on his own website, Invictus.

Last September, Jeffrey published an e-book, Cover-up at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri, also available as a paperback, in which, as he describes it, “using never-before-seen reports from government investigators, eyewitness testimony, and medical and autopsy records, including documents recently released by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS),” he documented, in extraordinary detail, how the formal investigations into the deaths of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri, who died in 2007 and 2009, respectively, allegedly by committing suicide, are “revealed as rife with problems.” He also set up an accompanying website, Guantánamo Truth, collecting online all the documents he has sought out and received in the course of his investigations.

As I explained in an article in April, after Jeffrey had been interviewed by The Talking Dog, we have “known each other for many years, meeting for the first time at Berkeley Says No to Torture Week (in October 2010) … and then again in January 2012, and again in January 2014, and I have long taken an interest in his work, cross-posting articles of his in 2011 and 2012 — see The Time is Right for Americans to Pay Attention to Human Rights Watch’s New Torture Report, New Revelations About The Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo, More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also two articles written with Jason Leopold, US Training Manual Used As Basis for Bush’s Torture Program Is Released by Pentagon and Pentagon Report into the Drugging of Guantánamo Prisoners Is Released, and, of particular relevance right now, Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009?,” his first investigations into the deaths of al-Hanashi and al-Amri. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Death at Guantánamo: Psychologist and Author Jeffrey Kaye Speaks to the Talking Dog

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture remind President Obama of the nine deaths that have occurred at Guantanamo at a protest in April 2013.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.





 

In my eleven years of researching, writing about and campaigning to close the US prison at Guantánamo, I have got to know some remarkable people — from lawyers and former prisoners to individuals who, often for little or no financial reward, have devoted considerable time to covering important aspects of the Guantánamo story that others — often in the mainstream media — have missed or ignored. Some of my supporters would put me in the category of those covering important aspects of the story for little or no reward, and I’m grateful to those who recognize this, but I’m pleased, today, to be able to promote the work of two other people I admire a great deal who also fit this category of truth-seeker — the New York-based blogger The Talking Dog, and the San Francisco-based psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, who was interviewed by the Talking Dog by email just a few weeks ago, for an interview first published here, and cross-posted below.

For over ten years now, The Talking Dog has been interviewing lawyers, former prisoners, former guards, journalists and other involved in the Guantánamo story, and over 70 interviews are posted and linked to at the end of this article, which are essential reading for anyone researching, writing about or just interested in Guantánamo. TD interviewed me back in the summer of 2007, just before my book The Guantánamo Files was published, and we have been friends ever since.

Jeff and I have also known each other for many years, meeting for the first time at Berkeley Says No to Torture Week (in October 2010), which was my third visit to the US, and then again in January 2012, and again in January 2014, and I have long taken an interest in his work, cross-posting articles of his in 2011 and 2012 — see The Time is Right for Americans to Pay Attention to Human Rights Watch’s New Torture Report, New Revelations About The Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo, More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also two articles written with Jason Leopold, US Training Manual Used As Basis for Bush’s Torture Program Is Released by Pentagon and Pentagon Report into the Drugging of Guantánamo Prisoners Is Released, and, of particular relevance right now, Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009? Read the rest of this entry »

Great New York Times Exposé of How Torture, Abuse and Command Indifference Compromised Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

A prisoner, in the early days of Guantanamo, being moved on a gurney, as prisoners were in the prison's early years.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.

The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”

The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. Read the rest of this entry »

My Six-Part Definitive Guantánamo Prisoner List: Updated for the First Time Since 2014

Andy Worthington and a poster for the We Stand With Shaker campaign at the protest against Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2015, the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Medea Benjamin for Andy Worthington).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

I’m currently in the process of updating my six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, which I first created in March 2009, and have updated five times since — in January 2010, July 2010, May 2011, April 2012 and March 2014.

To date, I have updated Part 1 (covering ISN numbers 1-133), Part 2 (ISNs 134-268, including Shaker Aamer), and Part 3 (ISNs 269-496), and I will be completing the updates of Part 4 (ISNs 497-661), Part 5 (ISNs 662-928) and Part 6 (ISNs 929-10029) over the next few days.

This update to the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list — like so much of my work — is only possible with your support. I have no institutional or media backing for it, so if you can support me at all, please do. I’m currently still trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my work on Guantanamo for the rest of the year if you can help. Please click on the ‘Donate’ button above to make a donation via PayPal (and see here for further information). 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 »

Video: After Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer’s 90-Minute BBC Interview with Victoria Derbyshire

Shaker Aamer, in a screenshot from his interview with the BBC, broadcast on December 14, 2015.On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.

Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. 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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