The 15th Anniversary of the Contentious “Triple Suicide” of Three Prisoners at Guantánamo

Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami (aka Ali Abdullah Ahmed), two of the three prisoners who died at Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006, in what was described by the authorities as a “triple suicide,” an explanation that has been robustly challenged on numerous occasions in the years since. No known photo exists of the third man, Mani al-Utaybi.

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There are some days that are so significant that everyone remembers what they were doing. September 11, 2001 is one such day, when planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York, and for those paying attention to the US response to the 9/11 attacks, January 11, 2002 is also significant, when the first prisoners — “detainees,” in the Bush administration’s words — arrived at Guantánamo.

Almost immediately, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the release of photos taken by a serving US soldier — photos that showed US soldiers shouting at men who were kneeling on gravel under the burning sun at a US naval base in Cuba, half a world away from the battlefields of Afghanistan, men who were wearing orange jumpsuits, and who had their eyes, ears and mouths covered, creating the vivid impression that they were being subjected to sensory deprivation.

For US viewers, the photos were not necessarily noteworthy. Prisoners on the US mainland often wear orange, and the clearly abusive conditions captured in the photos were part of a depressingly successful narrative that the Bush administration was selling to the American people — that these men were, as Rumsfeld described it, “the worst of the worst,” terrorists so hardened and so bloodthirsty that, as General Richard E. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it, they “would chew through a hydraulics cable to bring a C-17 [transport plane] down.”

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Remembering Ibrahim Idris, the Only Guantánamo Prisoner Freed Because of Illness, Who Has Died Aged 60

An image about the death of former former Guantánamo prisoner Ibrahim Idris, created by DOAM (Documenting Oppression Against Muslims).

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There was some sad news recently from Sudan, as Carol Rosenberg, for the New York Times, reported the death, at the age of 60, of former Guantánamo prisoner Ibrahim Idris.

Idris was repatriated from Guantánamo in December 2013, almost 12 years after he first arrived at the prison, in the first group of 20 prisoners to arrive by plane from Afghanistan in January 2002. To secure his release, his attorney Jennifer Cowan successfully argued in court that he was so mentally ill and so morbidly obese that he could not be regarded as a threat, and that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law justifying imprisonment at Guantánamo, only allowed the government to hold a prisoner “for the purpose of preventing him from returning to the battlefield.”

As Cowan described Idris’s situation in her submission to Chief Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington, D.C., “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated. When interpreted in accordance with domestic law and the principles of international law, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (‘AUMF’) does not permit the continued detention of Mr. Idris.”

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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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