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Serious Questions About Wikileaks’ Release of Purported Guantanamo SOP

5:17 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

On October 25, 2012, Wikileaks began to release what they indicated would be “more than 100 classified or otherwise restricted files from the United States Department of Defense covering the rules and procedures for detainees in U.S. military custody.” They labeled the release “The Detainee Policies.”

One of the first documents released was of the purported 2002 Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). According to the accompanying press release, this was “the foundation document for Guantanamo Bay (‘Camp Delta’).” Julian Assange is quoted in the press release as saying, “This document is of significant historical importance…. how is it that WikiLeaks has now published three years of Guantanamo Bay operating procedures, but the rest of the world’s press combined has published none?”

Assange, who has been fighting extradition to Sweden, and currently resides under asylum protection at the Ecuadoran embassy in London, also challenged the press and the public to read and analyze the documents. “Publicize your findings,” he asked.

But over three months later, there has been essentially zero analysis. Even though the Wikileaks “Detainee Policies” release had extensive world-wide coverage in the press and blogosphere, outside of a few tweets, there’s been practically no follow-up investigation of these documents.

The non-coverage after the initial release is in itself astounding, but even more surprising is the fact that when examined some of the documents appear to be problematic and of doubtful provenance. (In addition, strangely, the documents do not allow cut and paste commands to accurately reproduce text, which is not typical of Wikileaks documents.)

Sadly – since a good deal of reporters, myself included, have come to rely on the accuracy of what Wikileaks has posted over the years – an examination of the Camp Delta 2002 SOP raises serious reasons as to whether it is a reliable document. At best it is a very corrupted draft of an authentic document. At worst, it is a sloppy forgery.

In addition, there are further questions about other documents released as part of “The Detainee Policies,” as well questions as to whether Wikileaks personnel understood the material they were releasing. In the past, Wikileaks has used the resources of major media like the New York Times, the UK Guardian, El Pais, etc., and independent authoritative analysts, like Andy Worthington, for outside analytic assistance.

Wikileaks has been under significant economic and legal pressure from the US government and its corporate and other governmental allies, and it is no secret that the organization operates under serious constraints as a result. According to the organization, “An extrajudicial blockade imposed by VISA, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, and Western Union that is designed to destroy WikiLeaks has been in place since December 2010.”

Whatever Wikileaks has accomplished in other document releases and analysis, the failure to accurately report or vet the “Detainee Policies” documents, by either Wikileaks or the world press and blogging community, calls into dire question the accuracy of a good deal of what passes for reporting by media outlets and commentators.

The only expert I could find who had anything to say about the Camp Delta SOP document was Almerindo Ojeda, who posted a link to the purported “Standing [sic] Operating Procedures” at the website for the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA), along with his caveats on the document. Ojeda’s own independent analysis largely concurred with my own.

What Did Wikileaks Release?

We cannot know the source of the documents Wikileaks released. So any analysis of the documents must rely on a close textual perusal of the documents themselves. And thanks to Wikileaks, who released the 2003 and 2004 Camp Delta SOPs a few years ago, we can contrast and compare very similar documents.

The “2002” Camp Delta SOP does not look like other DoD documents of this type. It has no markings regarding its classification status, for instance. The formatting is often erratic, with whole paragraphs published with centered rather than justified or left aligned text. There is a good deal of missing, mispaginated, and misordered text. A number of pages begin with text that does not follow logically from the preceding page.

There’s no doubt we are not looking at the SOP itself, even if we were to grant it was a genuine document. The Wikileaks document is not presented in the discrete pages of an actual document, but as a long running text document, as if from a word processor, with headings within the text indicating what page number out of 48 supposed pages a given block of text represents.

In addition, the page headers do not appear at the top or bottom of actual pages, but are interspersed within the text. The text itself does not go beyond “Page 47 of 48″. The Wikileaks description of the document itself at the home page for the “Detention Poliicies” states that the document has 33 pages.

What Wikileaks calls the “Main [2002] SOP for Camp Delta, Guantanamo” states on its first page that it is a revision dated November 11, 2002. The subsequent SOP for Camp Delta is dated March 23, 2003, approximately five and one-half months later. That SOP, according to its text, was “reorganized” from the previous SOP, so it could consolidate “all aspects of detention and security operations” so the SOP could be “more efficient for its intended users.”

Indeed, the new Wikileaks release of the purported 2002 Camp Delta SOP refers to separate SOPs for relating to detainee matters in relation to the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as one for the “Use of IRF”. IRF refers to “Internal Reaction Force,” which according to this latest Wikileaks release is a 24 hour force available for “possible emergency response situations.” Over the years, the IRF teams have been implicated in brutal beatings of prisoners and violent cell extractions.

The Wikileaks press release for the Detention Policies states, “The ’Detainee Policies’ provide a more complete understanding of the instructions given to captors as well as the ’rights’ afforded to detainees.” It also asks “lawyers, NGOs, human rights activists and the public to mine the ’Detainee Policies’” and “to research and compare the different generations of SOPs and FRAGOs to help us better understand the evolution in these policies and why they have occurred.”

Unfortunately, at least in the case of the purported 2002 Camp Delta SOP, it is unclear just what this document represents. Was it a faulty reconstruction of the original document, a draft of the SOP, a forgery based on some knowledge of the material? We can’t know.

Another problem with the initial analysis by Wikileaks concerns unfamiliarity with the larger world of relevant documents on interrogation. For instance, in their press release, Wikileaks touts one document as revealing “a formal policy of terrorising detainees during interrogations.” This 13-page interrogation policy document from 2005 describes interrogation policies “that apply to… all personnel in the Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF–I). Wikileaks points out as examples of “exploitative techniques” the use of “‘approved’ ‘interrogation approaches’” such as “Emotional Love Approach” and “Fear Up (Harsh).”

While it is interesting to see that these interrogation techniques were applicable to the MNF-I, they are not, as the press release implies, new or unique “interrogation approaches,” but are drawn from the Army Field Manual (AFM) for Intelligence Interrogation in use at that time. That particular version of the AFM came out in 1992. The two “approaches” remain in the current AMF as well, which was significantly updated in September 2006.

While Wikileaks may be wrong about the significance of discovering the use of Fear Up and other problematic techniques, the organization is correct that these are abusive techniques. In fact, such techniques in use by the Department of Defense’s interrogation manual only got worse after it was updated, with the addition of techniques of sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation that were not allowed in the earlier AFM, nor indeed, in the MNF-I document Wikileaks released. They are, however, allowed by the current Obama administration.

Wikileaks Responds

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David Remes on the Tragic Death of Adnan Latif: What is the Military Trying to Hide?

2:40 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The following is posted by permission. It was written by David Remes, an attorney for the late Adnan Farhad Abdul Latif.

The Tragic Death of Adnan Latif: What is the Military Trying to Hide?

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

by David Remes

A few weeks ago, as Truthout first reported, the US military began saying that my client Adnan Latif, a Yemeni at Guantanamo, who died in his cell on September 8, committed suicide by overdosing on medication he smuggled into his cell. On Saturday, December 15, the military further stated that acute pneumonia was a contributing factor in Adnan’s death. The government’s theory doesn’t stand up. It leaves urgent questions unanswered.

Extraordinary scrutiny

By way of background, my unclassified notes indicate that Adnan’s tragic saga unfolded between August 8 and September 8.

The tragic saga began when Adnan was in Camp 6, a medium security facility, where detainees are allowed to socialize and have other privileges. On August 8, Adnan was moved from Camp 6 to the psych ward, and from there to the camp hospital. On Friday, September 7, though suffering from acute pneumonia, Adnan was moved from the camp hospital to Camp 5, a maximum security facility. There, he was put in the “punishment” cellblock, in the cell where he was found “motionless and unresponsive” the next day.

Though he was slight in build, and his weight fluctuated between 100 and 120 pounds, Adnan could be difficult to control. Guards asked other detainees how to manage him. As many as six guards “escorted” him from place to place. He was searched repeatedly wherever he went. He was monitored in his cell day and night by an overhead dome camera. Instead of the usual solid steel door (0:50-0:60), Adnan’s cell door may have been toughened glass (0:40-0:45), designed for constant observation of “vulnerable prisoners.”

Adnan’s exit from Camp 6 illustrates this scrutiny-on-steroids. As he was about to be moved to the psych ward, Adnan asked to go back to his cell to change clothes. The guards would not allow it and instead sent another detainee to fetch the clothes. The guards watched Adnan change in the hallway. This scrutiny alone prevented Adnan from smuggling anything out of Camp 6.

Important Questions

Given these barriers, designed just for him, is it plausible that Adnan smuggled medication into his cell, much less kept and used it? Or did the military, perhaps, plant medication in his cell to facilitate his suicide? (Other detainees have reported such apparent suicide prompts.) Did Adnan actually commit suicide, or was he forced to take the medication? Was he tricked? Did he even die of overmedication?

What medications was Adnan administered? In what doses and on what schedule? How were the medications administered—By injection? Orally? If orally, how were they administered—As pills? Capsules? Liquids? Solutions? Where were the medications administered—in Adnan’s cell? The hallway? A dispensary? Somewhere else?

This past Saturday, September 15, the military disclosed, out of the blue, that acute pneumonia was a contributing factor in Adnan’s death. Why did the military wait to disclose that information? The military continues to withhold the other information in the autopsy report. Why the selective disclosure? And how could the military have discharged from the hospital a man with acute pneumonia?

Also on Saturday, the military announced that it had repatriated Adnan’s remains to Yemen. Until then, the military held the remains at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Why did the military hold onto Adnan’s remains in the first place? Why did it repatriate them now? Did the military let Adnan’s body decompose to a point that an independent autopsy cannot be performed?

A Cover-Up?

The autopsy report undoubtedly answers many of these questions. Yet the military will not release the report.

Why is the military stonewalling? What is the military trying to hide?

On Sunday, the family buried Adnan’s remains.

Rahmato Allah Aleih

رحمة الله عليه

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Gitmo Detainee Death Mystery Deepens with News of Drug Overdose

11:37 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

Charlie Savage at the New York Times reports that “several people briefed on a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry” into the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was found unresponsive in his cell last September, have revealed that the prisoner “died from an overdose of psychiatric medication.”

As Savage notes, the military autopsy has reportedly declared Latif died a suicide. Accordingly, investigators are said to be following up a scenario wherein the Yemeni detainee, recently moved from the psychiatric ward to a disciplinary solitary unit at Camp 5, hoarded medications somehow, and used them to overdose last September 8.

To date, we do not know what kinds of medications were involved, except they were “psychiatric” in nature. Nor do we know how many different medications were supposedly involved. While the Times article implies investigators are looking at pills, as explained below, Latif also received forcible injections of drugs at various times.

Jason Leopold broke the story labeling Latif’s death a suicide in a November 26 article at Truthout. The autopsy report itself has not been publicly released, and has been the subject of wrangling between U.S. and Yemen authorities, a dispute that has left the former Guantanamo’s body in limbo (allegedly frozen) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Cause of Death vs. Manner of Death

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New York Times Decides Guantanamo Detainee Committed Suicide

8:24 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Jason Leopold continues to do superb reporting on the mysterious death last September of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. Monday, Leopold posted breaking news that a government autopsy report on Latif, not yet officially released, concludes that the 36-year-old prisoner died of suicide.

Guantanamo protesters in prisoner outfits with 'CLOSE GUANTANAMO' Banner

Despite years of pressure (& a presidential promise) Guantanamo remains open.

Leopold sourced the revelation to Yemeni government officials and “a US military investigator close to the case.” The Department of Defense has not yet officially stated any cause of death for Latif, who was discovered inert in his cell at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 on September 8.

Leopold wrote that a “spokesman for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Task Force-Guantanamo’s (JTF-GTMO) higher command” told Truthout that DoD would “issue a statement as soon as [Yemen] accepts [Latif's] remains.” Just two days after Latif’s death, a Guantanamo spokesman told Associated Press, “There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted.”

But none of this stopped the New York Times from stating in an editorial Sunday calling for Guantanamo’s closure that Latif had in fact committed suicide. Coming out of nowhere, such a statement was, frankly, bizarre.

Here’s what the Times wrote, some 12 hours before Leopold even posted his story at Truthout, and with no published source anywhere definitively reporting Latif’s cause of death as suicide (bold emphasis added):

In September, a member of this stranded group, a Yemeni citizen named Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court. It was the kind of price a nation pays when it creates prisons like Guantánamo, beyond the reach of law and decency, a tragic reminder of the stain on American justice.

Narratives R Us

There is a lot wrong about the claims in the NYT op-ed, as much as I might agree with the overall thrust of the editorial about shutting down Guantanamo. The Times editors may have thought the latest death of a prisoner at Guantanamo highlighted the crime of keeping Guantanamo open. And they are right about that, but their conclusion — their narrative of Latif’s death — closes off inquiry into what actually occurred, and in doing that they are not acting as a watchdog upon possible government abuse.

First of all, there is no affirmative statement by the government that Latif’s cause of death was suicide. In fact, as Leopold points out in his article, all the earlier statements from DoD led one to believe that suicide was not a cause of death. The only recent article to claim otherwise was by Leopold, and it was not published until many hours after the NYT made their claim.

Secondarily, not only does the New York Times supposedly know how Latif died, they also imply they know why he killed himself, i.e., he “killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court.”

Well, yes, he did die after the appellate court ruling — nearly eleven months afterward, as the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in October 2011. A subsequent appeal by Latif’s attorneys to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected last June, also approximately three months before Latif died.

Since no one reads articles very carefully, and it is enough to spread a particular narrative in mainstream media sources to manufacture a version of Truth, the NYT does its readers a disservice by producing a bogus narrative of the death of Adnan Latif. According to the Times, Latif killed himself, and it was likely because his court case was overturned.

To be fair to the Times, there were stories in the press that speculated upon just such a scenario, as the Reprieve spokesperson in this Alternet article from last September appeared to do. In addition, the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International wrote about the Latif death on November 1, and indicated that the Guantanamo prisoner had died of suicide. (“Le suicide du détenu yéménite Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif en septembre 2012 nous rappelle la cruauté de ce régime de détention qui permet une détention illimitée et illégale.”).

But statements by human rights groups are not the same as statements by the editorial board of the New York Times. One wonders what led them to assert that Latif had died from suicide, when no public source, indeed no story in their own paper had reported the same, until Truthout published Leopold’s story nearly 12 hours later.

“Questions Remain”

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Omar Khadr Leaves Guantanamo, While Press Refuses to Report His Water Torture

10:00 am in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Omar Khadr as he looked when he was first sent to Guantanamo. (photo: Sherurcij / wikimedia)

On a pre-dawn Saturday morning, September 29, the youngest prisoner in Guantanamo, Omar Khadr left the harsh US-run prison where he had been held since October 2002. At the time of his incarceration he was fifteen years old. According to a CBC report, Khadr was flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where he was to be transferred to the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security prison in Bath, Ontario.

Khadr is supposed to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence, part of a deal his attorneys made with the U.S. government, with Khadr agreeing to plead guilty to the killing of SPC Christopher Speer during a firefight at the Ayub Kheil compound in Afghanistan, in addition to other charges such as “material support of terrorism” and spying. Khadr essentially agreed to participate in what amounted to a show trial for the penalty phase of his Military Commissions hearing. For this, he got a brokered eight year sentence, with a promise of a transfer out of Guantanamo to Canada after a year.

The Khadr deal was made in October 2010, but the transfer promise was dragged out as seemingly the Canadian government balked at accepting the former child prisoner, who was also a Canadian citizen. The entire affair became a magnet for right-wing propaganda in Canada, while human rights groups also fought for Khadr’s release. But not long after Macleans leaked U.S. documents related to the Khadr transfer, including psychiatric reports by both government and defense evaluators, the Canadians appeared to move more quickly to accept Khadr into Canada.

CBC reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was “satisfied the Correctional Service of Canada” (CSC) could administer Khadr’s sentence, presumably six more years of imprisonment. Speaking no doubt to those fear-mongerers who suggested Khadr’s safety somehow threatened the average Canadian, he also noted the CSC could “ ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration.”

For those looking for an early release by Canadian authorities, Toews said, “Any decisions related to his future will be determined by the independent Parole Board of Canada in accordance with Canadian law.” According to Carol Rosenberg’s report, Khadr could be eligible for early release because he was a juvenile at the time of his supposed crimes.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Legal Director Baher Azmy released a statement calling for Khadr’s immediate release, and for President Obama to close Guantanamo and release the 86 known detainees already cleared for transfer.

Khadr never should have been brought to Guantanamo. He was a child of fifteen at the time he was captured, and his subsequent detention and prosecution for purported war crimes was unlawful, as was his torture by U.S. officials.

Like several other boys held at Guantanamo, some as young as twelve years old, Khadr lost much of his childhood. Canada should not perpetuate the abuse he endured in one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Instead, Canada should release him immediately and provide him with appropriate counseling, education, and assistance in transitioning to a normal life.

Azmy also suggested that Canada could “accept other men from Guantanamo who cannot safely return to their home countries,” such as Algerian citizen Djamel Ameziane, who lived legally as a refugee in Canada from 1995 to 2000. Ameziane fears persecution if he were transfered back to Algeria. Read the rest of this entry →

DoD Cover-up: Gitmo detainee found hanged with hands tied behind back

2:24 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

The government has withheld for years the actual facts surrounding the deaths of two of the six completed Guantanamo “suicides” to date. For instance, they hid the fact that one of the detainees was supposedly found hanged with his hands tied behind his back. Another detainee supposedly used an underwear elastic band (or “ligature”) to strangle himself — except the type of underwear described was not used by the detainees, and the ligature itself has gone missing. It was not provided to the autopsy examiners.

I have found that my ground-breaking investigation into the deaths of two Guantanamo detainees, Abdul Rahman Al Amri and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, based on hitherto-unexamined autopsy reports, has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and the blogosphere. Except for Jason Leopold, Andy Worthington, Marcy Wheeler and the good folks at Eurasia Review, there has been a decided reluctance to report what I have found.

So I must go public all on my own, and the powers that be know that I will not be silent. Whether it is former Guantanamo officials, or well-known journalists who regularly cover Guantanamo, none have disputed what my investigation found, not publicly, and not privately. I believe that purposeful inattention to the crimes at Guantanamo, facilitated by both government cover-up and the vagaries of the electoral season, which discourages anything that would embarrass the Obama administration and the Democrats as a whole, are responsible for this inattention to important new documented facts.

But the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heynes, has informed me he is looking into these matters. I don’t care if the grand poohbahs of the MSM and the blogosphere are going to ignore this story. “Murder will out,” and I will remind the villains involved in these affairs that murder has no statute of limitations. The changes to the war crimes laws implemented by both the Bush and Obama administrations will not protect you. Hence, I understand why you wish to sweep all this under the rug. Maybe you will succeed. Let’s see what readers think when actually informed of these materials.

*************

Originally posted at Truthout.org

Autopsy reports released last year by the Department of Defense raise stark questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two prisoners at Guantanamo. Both deaths – of Abdul Rahman Al Amri in May 2007 and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009 – were labeled suicides by Department of Defense (DoD) investigators.

But the details in the autopsy reports show that Al Amri was found dead by hanging with his hands tied behind his back, calling into question whether he had actually killed himself. (He is referred to as Abd al-Rahman al-Umari in the report.) Al Hanashi was found wearing standard-issue detainee clothing, the undergarments from which he supposedly used to kill himself, and not the tear-proof suicide smock issued to detainees who are actively suicidal. It remains an open question if he were in fact under suicide watch, even though he had been repeatedly banging his head on prison walls, and had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.

Both Al Amri, who was housed in isolation at Guantanamo’s high-security Camp 5, and Al Hanashi, who was resident at the prison’s Behavioral Health Unit, were supposed to be under constant video surveillance, and according to camp officials, someone was supposed to be checking on them every three to five minutes.

A number of outside observers had deemed both prisoners’ deaths suspicious, but the autopsy reports are the first public documentary evidence of what possibly occurred. The autopsies were declassified by the DoD a year ago, but apparently went unexamined, part of a 1,100-plus-page release of documents inresponse to an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Al Amri was a 34-year-old former member of the Saudi Arabian Army. According to his May 2006 Detainee Assessment (released by WikiLeaks), he allegedly had “knowledge about, and connections to many high-level Al-Qaida members and operations.” He was also accused of making a film about the USS Cole bombing, a charge he denied. He was reportedly considered a “high-value” detainee, and had been at Guantanamo since February 2002. Al Amri told the Combatant Status Review Tribunal that examined his case that he had not gone to Afghanistan to kill Americans, and that if it had been his intent, he would have had ample opportunity when he was in the Saudi Army.

Al Hanashi was a 31-year-old Yemeni national who, as a young man, had left Yemen to join the Taliban side in the Afghan civil war. His father is said to be the leader of the 4,000-member Hanashi tribe in Yemen. Like Al Amri, DoD claims he was affiliated with al-Qaeda, a charge al Hanashi had denied. Captured after the Qala-i-Jangi prisoner uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif, he was transferred to Guantanamo, arriving two days before Al Amri. According to one prisoner who last saw him six months before his death, Al Hanashi had agreed to be a representative for prisoners’ grievances before camp officials.

Both prisoners had been on long hunger strikes, and at times had weighed at or under 90 pounds. Each had been force-fed while on hunger strike. Both prisoners had never met with an attorney.

“They Covered Up the Crime”

Al Amri’s autopsy (PDF) states that the “male civilian detainee” was “found hanging by his neck in his cell with a ligature made of braided strips of bed sheet. By report, similar fabric bound his hands loosely behind him.”

Despite the fact that Al Amri’s hands were bound behind him, the media was kept unaware of this fact. But it apparently was not unknown among some of the other detainees.

In a 2010 letter to his attorney, released as part of a court filing, longtime Guantanamo hunger striker Abdul Rahman Shalabi told his attorney, “You know what happened to (Abdul Rahman Al-Amri) who was killed in camp five two years ago, hanging while his hands were tied behind his back, and he was in solitary confinement…. When the Americans released the news of his death, they said that they found him dead in his cell and he was on hunger strike and they covered up the crime.”

Authorities consulted for this article agreed, as one source put it, that having hands tied behind one’s back in a hanging “does not necessarily indicate homicide but certainly requires additional investigation.”

>Al Amri’s relatives, as well, were highly dubious about the suicide verdict and, according to a report in Arab News, demanded an inquiry into his death. A Saudi official involved in monitoring “the condition of Saudi nationals being held in Guantanamo … also ruled out the suicide theory.” A follow-up story for Arab News claimed that a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesperson had indicated “a special medical committee would do an autopsy and then prepare a report that will be sent to US authorities on any particular inquires.” No such report has ever surfaced publicly. A request for comment by the Saudi Interior Ministry had not been returned by press time.

There are other curious aspects to the details surrounding Al Amri’s death. Authorities state that a ligature – the rope or other cord-like devise, in Al Amri’s case possibly torn or cut-up bed sheets, used in strangulation – must be long enough for the purpose of hanging. According to the autopsy report, the ligature in Al Amri’s case was only 22 and on-half inches long, inclusive of the portion around the neck.

Curiously, the ligature also had toward its more distant end “a 4-inch area of dark soiling with attached dark hairs.” The report does not state whose hairs these are or why they are there. Since a DNA test was run to verify the prisoner’s identity, presumably the hairs could have been identified as well, but there is no indication they were so identified.

The autopsy examiners assume that altered bed sheets were used for the hanging. But according to a summarized witness statement (pg. 7) by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mike Dunleavy, who became commander of Guantanamo’s interrogation Task Force 170 in February 2002, the sheets used at Guantanamo were “changed” under his order “to the sheets in the federal prison system so they can’t be torn or tied.”

This previously unreported fact calls into question the narrative on Al Amri’s death, as well as that of the three 2006 Guantanamo “suicides,” who were said to have fashioned nooses, in part, out of torn bed sheets. Indeed, former detainees have questioned the suicides of these prisoners, in part, because they did not have “bed sheets that could easily be constructed into a noose.” Harper’s writer Scott Horton and a team of legal investigators at Seton Hall’s School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research have each conducted critical investigations of the 2006 deaths. More recently, Almerindo Ojeda, principal investigator at the  Guantánamo Testimonials Project, made a compelling argument that the 2006 deaths could have been examples of a torture technique called “dryboarding.” Another book by former Guantanamo guard Joe Hickman examining the 2006 deaths is due out later this year.

Important information appears to have been kept from Al Amri’s autopsy examiners. The examiners remark that the fact Al Amri’s hands were tied behind his back was something only known to them “by report,” but there should have been photographs taken and available to them.

The autopsy report, which does not provide a timeline for the events it describes, explains the supposed circumstances of Al Amri’s death:

“Investigation reveals that a razor blade from a razor was used to cut strips from one or more bed sheets and a ligature was fashioned by braiding these strips together…. The free end of the ligature was attached to a ventilation opening, and [redacted] likely stood on his bedroll to place the noose over his head.”

But, according to the official 2004 Camp Delta “Standard Operating Procedures” manual, razors were contraband items. Razors for shaving were allowed only during shower period, but guards were instructed to “Ensure the return of intact razors.” Moreover, detainees in “segregation” units, i.e., isolation, as was Al Amri, are not supposed to be issued razors during shower period at all, raising questions how he ever obtained a blade, if he did at all.

The autopsy report gives no explanation as to how Al Amri obtained a razor blade. It does mention a “superficial, incised wound” on the forefingers of each of his hands, and these could have come from a razor, although the autopsy report does not conclude what their source is. Neither does the report describe the ventilation opening or how the ligature was attached to it.

Finally, in the toxicology section of the report, the examiners note Al Amri was tested “for screened medications (including mefloquine) and drugs of abuse.” It is odd that screening for mefloquine is specially singled out. Mefloquine is a controversial antimalarial drug, which was mass administered to all detainees upon in-processing at Guantanamo. Over a year ago, Truthout examined the use of this drug, which may have been used for abusive purposes or as part of an illegal, secret experiment.

While no drugs were found, it is strange that Al Amri, who had been in Guantanamo for five years, mostly or entirely in solitary confinement, would be possibly thought to have mefloquine in his system. Only a small handful of Guantanamo prisoners were ever found to have malaria, and they came to the prison with the disease. Cuba is not considered to be malaria endemic, and US service personnel and contractors are not routinely administered mefloquine. Interestingly, one of the three purported Guantanamo suicides in 2006, but not the other two, was also tested for mefloquine.

“Stressors of Confinement”

The autopsy report of Guantanamo detainee number 78, Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, similarly raises serious questions about the circumstances surrounding his death. The prisoner was said to have strangled himself using elastic bands from his underwear.

The report provides details about the medical and psychiatric condition of the Yemeni detainee at the time of his death. According to the report, Al Hanashi had a “long history” of psychiatric problems at the Joint Task Force penal facility, including “adjustment disorder, anti-social personality disorder and stressors of confinement.” (Emphases added.)

The presence of psychiatric problems is consistent with a reported “history of suicide gestures and multiple failed suicide attempts” going back to 2003. The previous attempts included methods of killing oneself such as hanging, “self-inflicted sharp force injuries and frequent blunt force trauma to the head,” as well as “neck ligature,” which is the kind of self-strangulation that was the manner of death found by the autopsy examiners, whose identities were redacted in both Al Hanashi and Al Amri’s reports.

The autopsy document notes that Al Hanashi made five suicide attempts in the four weeks preceding his death. While the report’s authors describe medical authorities’ diagnoses given to the prisoner, including “anti-social personality disorder,” no diagnosis of depression is given, despite the history of serious suicidal behavior.

According to the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, used by all government medical doctors and psychologists, a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder is only given to individuals who show “a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years.” It is difficult to believe that Guantanamo medical staff had this kind of information available to them, raising the possibility the diagnosis was given to taint the prisoner’s behavioral profile.

In addition, the autopsy examiners describe the presence of “dark small raised lesions” on Al Hanashi’s forehead, which they explained were “consistent with reported history of witnessed repeated self-inflicted hitting/banging of the head on the detention facility walls.”

Self-injurious and suicidal behavior are two serious psychiatric symptoms long associated with the kinds of detention conditions found in Supermax prisons, or prisons using special administrative measures, where long-term solitary confinement and forms of sensory and social deprivation are the norm.

Suicide Watch?

Despite the very recent multiple suicide attempts, it is unclear if Al Hanashi was on suicide watch at the time of his death the evening of June 1, 2009, in a cell in the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. The autopsy report states he “has been on a suicide watch at BHU, where he is seen daily by medical staff.” (Emphases added.)

But was he on suicide watch the day he died? Multiple email requests for clarification from the DoD on this issue, as well as a number of others – such as what was meant by “stressors of confinement” – have gone unanswered. A Truthout FOIA request for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) report on his death is pending.

A June 2008 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the procedures used after some Guantanamo suicide attempts. One detainee was “stripped naked, dressed in a green plastic rip-proof suicide smock, and placed in an individual cell under constant monitoring,” after a single December 2007 suicide attempt. Nothing was allowed in his cell that could be used to injure himself. He was questioned by BHU personnel daily, and only released after two months. Another detainee on suicide watch was also dressed in the suicide smock and allowed nothing “other than a mat for sleeping, a Koran and toilet paper” in his cell.

It is not known how long Al Hanashi had been at the BHU, but if he was on suicide watch, he was not wearing the special suicide smock worn by those typically held under special suicide surveillance. The 31-year-old was discovered on the floor of his cell in a fetal position under a blanket, dressed “in khaki shirt and pants without undergarments.” According to the autopsy report, the clothes were “general issue of the detention center.

The lack of undergarments is unexplained, but since the autopsy posits that Al Hanashi strangled himself using the elastic found in typical underwear distributed to detainees, it is possible that the undergarments are missing because they were used to construct the device by which it is said he asphyxiated himself.

Yet, there is some question about the type of underwear distributed to the detainees at this time. According to an October 17, 2007, article by Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald, after the three “suicides” in 2006, camp officials changed “procedures, including more careful monitoring of captives’ belongings, and the changing of captives’ underwear from more elastic briefs to cotton boxers less liable to be used in a hanging.” The report consistently refers to the underwear Al Hanashi supposedly altered as “briefs” or “white briefs.”

The autopsy does not mention any discovery of altered remnants of the undergarments. It says NCIS agents supplied the medical examiners with a replica of the “white brief” issued to the prisoners. The examiners found the ligature on Al Hanashi’s neck to be “identical to the elastic band of the examined brief.”

The autopsy states that “a civilian detainee” (Al Hanashi’s name is strangely redacted at this point in the document) “of unknown age, died from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation by tightly wrapping the elastic band of his underwear around the neck and apparently securing it with a twist on the right side of the neck and a head tilt.” Interestingly, on page 2 of the report, the autopsy examiners state the ligature was twisted “on the left side.” The method of securing the ligature is somewhat obscure.

An expert on asphyxiation, Dr. Steven Miles, told Truthout, “The description of the ligature, suggests garroting of a type that can be done by a person to themself or by another person, i.e., a rod, pen, utensil etc. is put into the ligature and given several twists and then it is removed.” The ligature marks are “consistent with but not conclusive of the use of an underwear band and quite unlike what would be seen with the use of a wire or cord.” Accordingly, along with other medical evidence as reported, Dr. Miles, who criticized the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for “substandard investigations and reporting of prisoners’ deaths” in his 2006 book “Oath Betrayed,” concurs with the conclusions of the autopsy examiners that the cause of death for Al Hanashi was most likely suicide. He adds the phrase “stressors of confinement” in the report clearly is “a euphemism.”

Timeline Questions

The autopsy report redacts the date of death, but combining the hourly timeline provided in the report with news accounts, it is almost certain Al Hanashi died sometime in the hour prior to midnight on June 1, 2009.

According to the report, approximately 25 minutes elapsed from the time of the last observation of the prisoner to the discovery of his body on the cell floor. In the examiner’s narrative, at “approximately 2120 hours” (9:20 PM) Al Hanashi asked to speak to a nurse, asking for a “sleeping aid.” Indeed, there were two tranquilizers found in the toxicology reports done post-mortem. Both Lorazepam and the metabolite for clonazepam, two common benzodiazepine drugs commonly known as Ativan and Klonopin, were found in the dead man’s urine and blood.

However, it is not known if this is what Al Hanashi was given for sleep, or what drugs, if any, he was prescribed at this time. No other drugs are listed in the toxicology section of the report, except for acetaminophen and pseudoephedrine.

It was “10-15 minutes later,” after his request for medications, that Guantanamo personnel had their last communication with Al Hanashi. This would have been between 2130 and 2135 hours, or between 9:30 PM and 9:35 PM, when the prisoner asked the guard if he could close his “bean hole cover.” The report opines that this was a “sign he was ready to go to sleep.” (The “bean hole” was the slot through which food was given to prisoners.) According to guards, who presumably were interviewed by NCIS, Al Hanashi was in “in ‘good spirit’ and did not appear upset.”

Only “a few minutes later,” the prisoner was “viewed through the cell window and noted to not be breathing.” The report never states the exact amount of time elapsed, though the autopsy examiners report the time of discovery as “approximately 2155 hours,” or 9:55 PM. This would mean that 20 to 25 minutes elapsed before guards or medical staff checked personally on Al Hanashi in his cell, a period that seems to be more than “a few minutes.”

The efforts at resuscitation apparently lasted approximately an hour, as Al Hanashi was pronounced dead at 2259 or 10:59 PM. Medical intervention included use of an external automatic defibrillator, an endotracheal tube and the placement of a central venous line.

Whatever the timeline of the guards’ observations of Al Hanashi, press reports have stated there is “constant video surveillance” inside prisoner cells in the BHU. Furthermore, Guantanamo spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt told Truthout in November 2009 that, while he couldn’t comment on whether Al Hanashi had been videotaped in his cell, no Guantanamo detainee goes more than “three minutes” without being checked, one way or another. That would be consistent with the “few minutes” noted in the autopsy report, but not with the narrative that presents a lapse of 20 minutes or more. It also tallies with what a prison doctor told journalist Naomi Wolf, who had visited the cells where Al Hanashi had been held in the day or so prior to his death. “They check on prisoners every three minutes,” he told her.

In addition, Wolf reported, “Cortney Busch of Reprieve, a British organization that represents Guantánamo detainees” told her “there is video running on prisoners in the psychiatric ward at all times, and there is a guard posted there continually, too.”

“Tougher Methods” Used on Hunger Strikers

By many accounts, Al Hanashi, like Al Amri, had participated along with other detainees in hunger strikes to protest their situation and treatment. As a result, Al Hanashi, like the other strikers, was forcibly fed at times. Indeed, the autopsy report states, “On January 2009 he started a hunger strike and has been fed enteraly,” that is, fed via a feeding tube. According to the autopsy report, Al Hanashi’s stomach was “distended with partially digested food.” The report does not say what this food could have been, or whether it was liquid food, such as would be fed through a tube. Some of this material was vomited up during the attempts to revive him.

While press reports state the Yemeni prisoner was a long-time hunger striker, Lt. Commander De Walt told reporters shortly after Al Hanashi’s death that the prisoner’s hunger strike had ended in mid-May. In an article for The Associated Press, Guantanamo attorney David Remes, who had a client in the Guantanamo BHU at the same time as Al Hanashi, told reporter David McFadden that “all the prisoners in the ward had been force-fed a liquid nutrition mix through a tube inserted in their noses and down their throats and that al-Hanashi had been the only one force-fed in a restraint chair.”

In another Associated Press article, Remes said there were seven detainees total in the BHU at the time of Al Hanashi’s death.

Guantanamo chronicler Andy Worthington noted in a 2010 article on the “shocking statistics of starvation” at the US “war on terror” Cuban camp that, up to and including Al Hanashi’s death, all the supposed suicides at Guantanamo had been hunger strikers.

A February 2006 story by Tim Golden at The New York Times noted, “tougher measures to force-feed detainees engaged in hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay,” implemented by US authorities at the time. This includes the period when Al Hanashi was on his final hunger strike. Military authorities have maintained that force-feeding is conducted “in a humane and compassionate manner.”

Golden wrote, “In recent weeks … guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into ‘restraint chairs,’ sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Detainees who refuse to eat have also been placed in isolation for extended periods in what the officials said was an effort to keep them from being encouraged by other hunger strikers.”

The “tougher measures” had reduced hunger strikers to only four by December 2005, suggesting that Al Hanashi was one of a handful of hunger strikers. Moreover, it means Al Hanashi initiated his 2006 hunger strike when the harsher methods were already in place. Attorney Elisabeth Gilson, who had a client on the psychiatric ward at the same time Al Hanashi was there, called the force-feeding “abusive and inhumane.”

Testimony From a Detainee Witness

One of the released Guantanamo detainees, Binyam Mohamed, told the press that Al Hanashi had been a leader among the prisoners. In a June 11, 2009, story published at the Miami Herald, he said Al Hanashi, whom he calls Wadhah, weighed only 104 lbs. the last time he saw him in January 2009.

Mohamed stated that he was “force-fed together” with Al Hanashi. According to Mohamed, he last saw Al Hanashi on January 17, 2006, when the Yemeni prisoner “was taken outside Camp 5 to meet with the Joint Task Force commander, Adm. David Thomas, and the Joint Detention Group commander, Col. Bruce Vargo.” According to Mohamed’s account, Al Hanashi had agreed to be a prisoner’s representative “on camp issues such as hunger strikes and other contentious issues.” Al Hanashi never returned to his cell, and nothing was known of his fate among the detainees outside BHU until his death was announced.

Given what is known of the six months prior to Al Hanashi’s purported suicide, we are to believe that at the same time Al Hanashi restarted his hunger strike, he also became a prisoner’s representative and met with top camp officials. At some point, he was placed in the camp’s BHU. By mid-May, he had ended his hunger strike, but had also began a series of suicide attempts, for which he was placed on suicide watch. On the night of his death, he appears to have not been on suicide watch, since he was not found wearing the regularly issued suicide smock. He was in “good spirit,” yet he supposedly killed himself minutes later, after taking two different sedating tranquilizers, all while under supposed constant or near-constant surveillance.

No medical staff, camp guard or other prison or military official has ever been disciplined for presumed failures of standard operating procedures surrounding any of the Guantanamo “suicides,” at least so far as is known.

Stress and Mental Illness at Guantanamo

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found as early as June 2003 that the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo were “tantamount to torture,” as was documented in a “Memorandum for the Record to Major General Geoffrey Miller” on October 8, 2003. Questions about psychological torture at the Navy base prison were raised by ICRC as early as January 2003. According a New York Times article by Neil Lewis, “the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement.”

The stressors of confinement at Guantanamo are many, and include the anxiety and tension associated with indefinite detention, isolation, long bouts of intense interrogation, behavioral controls of reward and punishment, periods of sleep deprivation, lack of access for years to an attorney, separation from family and loved ones, cruel treatment and at times torture.

A two-part series published at Truthout last year raised the question of whether waterboarding occurred at Guantanamo, and documented numerous occasions when similar forms of water torture was, in fact, used.

Other forms of detainee torture at Guantanamo, as documented in a 2006 report by the UN’s Commission on Human Rights, included sensory deprivation and sensory overload, exposure to cold, exposure to extreme violence and cultural and religious harassment.

One particular form of abuse that caused great controversy was the policy, still in place, of force-feeding hunger strikers. A report in the August 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, “force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay violates the Geneva Conventions, international human rights law, and medical ethics.”

Some of the Guantanamo detainees were persistently force-fed for years. The UN report noted that some forms of forced feeding, including accounts of the practice at Guantanamo, amount to torture.

Why Did Al Hanashi Die?

Whether or not Al Hanashi died a suicide, the question remains why he was driven to such a desperate measure, or why those in charge of his care failed so miserably to keep him alive. While his death may have been due to the stresses of torture and imprisonment, bringing the prisoner to despair and suicide, there may have been other, more distal causes affecting his situation.

Al Hanashi may have been singled out, along with Al Amri, as a trouble maker. Al Hanashi’s June 2008 detainee assessment, written as a memorandum for the commander of US Southern Command, labeled him a “HIGH threat from a detention perspective.” The report complained that Al Hanashi’s “overall behavior has been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff.” The report, which was part of a large release of detainee files by WikiLeaks last year, listed “163 Reports of Disciplinary Infraction” up to that date, including “inciting and participating in mass disturbances, failure to follow guard instructions/camp rules, inappropriate use of bodily fluids, unauthorized communications, damage to government property, attempted assaults, assaults, provoking words and gestures, exposure of sexual organs, and possession of food and non-weapon type contraband.”

The report also describes the DoD’s version of Al Hanashi’s connections to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. While Al Hanashi admitted in a written response to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing that he had associated with the Taliban, hedenied any association with al-Qaeda. The DoD relied for that claim on the interrogations of two detainees known to have been repeatedly torturedAbu Zubaydah and Sanad Ali Yislam al-Kazimi.

November 2009 Truthout article by this author speculated whether Al Hanashi’s death had anything to do with thepossibility that he was a material witness to the 2002 mass killings by Afghan Gen. Abdul Dostum, which possibly included knowledge or participation by US forces. (The Obama administration has refused to investigate the atrocity.) Al Hanashi had been imprisoned and then wounded at Qala-i-Janghi Prison, where there had been an uprising by Taliban prisoners. (His DoD assessment notes that, in interrogation, John Walker Lindh stated that Al Hanashi had helped negotiate the surrender of the prisoners.) Afterward, he was sent to Shabraghan Prison, where he spent the next four weeks or so recuperating in the prison hospital. In the hospital at the same time were survivors from the mass execution of Taliban prisoners. The bulk of the Taliban POWs had presumably been dumped in mass graves at Dasht-i-Leili.

A major news story by The New York Times on the Afghan mass graves, and a report on the forensic evidence gathered in the case was released in the month after Al Hanashi’s death. The Times report by journalist James Risen noted “several Afghan witnesses” to the slaughter “were later tortured or killed.” Had Al Hanashi talked to survivors of the massacre, and if so, what could he have said about it?

Interestingly, Dostum’s denial of any involvement in the murder of Taliban prisoners was posted just after the Times story broke at the web site for the US government-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site, suggesting the US was actively involved in disseminating misinformation on the war atrocity.

Former detainee Binyam Mohamed, who knew Al Hanashi, found it difficult to believe he would take his own life, and felt Al Hanashi was murdered. “If he did take his life – after being forced into a BHU – what put him there?” Mohamed asked. “Who takes responsibility for making him lose hope after having held on for so many years, despite the inhumane treatment and conditions?”

Another Suicide

Al Amri’s death came almost exactly one year, and Al Hanashi’s death almost three years, to the day after three detainees were found dead on one night in June 2006. Another detainee, former British resident Shaker Aamer, was reportedly also beaten severely and suffocated by Guantanamo personnel on the same night. Aamer’s case has been a focus of British activists seeking his release.

All these deaths were called suicide by the DoD, and the investigations into them apparently proceeded with only the presumption of suicide. Even Al Amri, who had died with hands tied behind his back, was labeled a suicide by autopsy examiners only days after his death, with no indication of possible investigation into homicide.

In May 2011, a 37-year-old detainee, Inayatullah, also known asHajji Nassim, was found dead, reportedly hanging by bed sheets, in a recreation yard at Guantanamo. Nassim’s Guantanamo detainee assessment is one of 14 missing from the WikiLeaks Guantanamo release. Nassim’s attorney, federal public defender Paul Rashkind, has told the press that his client had attempted suicide twice before at Guantanamo, and was the long-time victim of “a paralyzing psychosis” that had begun long before he was sent to Guantanamo in September 2007.

According to the US government, Nassim was “an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations.” Nassim’s court filings also identify him under the alias “Harun Al-Afghani” and “Mohammed Naseem.” Other reports have described him as a father of six, “the owner of a black market cellphone store in Zahedan, Iran,” and someone who, sometime after his capture, stopped cooperating with US authorities under detention because he could not “afford his fellow Afghani detainees to believe that he cooperates with US intelligence.”

Rashkind would not answer Truthout queries about his client’s case, stating, “everything is classified.”

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

CCR Files Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld Appeal on Behalf of Detainees’ Families

11:50 am in Military, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Center for Constitutional Rights has filed an appeal for the families of two of the three men who died in mysterious circumstances in June 2006. The U.S. government called it “asymmetrical warfare” by the detainees, who are said to have killed themselves in some belief that would hurt the U.S. government. As bizarre as that theory is, Defense Department investigations found the men committed suicide in a multiple, timed series of three planned suicides.

But as an investigation by Scott Horton at Harper’s Magazine, and one by Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research, demonstrated, the investigation did not hold up to scrutiny. Indeed, the legal case hinges on new eyewitness testimony from four Guantanamo guards who have come forward to tell what they saw that fateful night.

The legal maneuvers throw recent media attempts to discredit the Horton investigation, which won a prestigious magazine journalism prize last month, in a new and more ominous light. (See my story on one such hit piece published in Adweek.)

But the D.C. District Court is citing secrecy issues to keep the new evidence from even being presented. CCR released a press release on Monday discussing the case:

June 13, 2011, Washington and New York – Today, nearly five years to the day after three men died at Guantánamo in June 2006 under still-unexplained circumstances, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel are appealing the dismissal by the District Court for the District of Columbia of a civil lawsuit Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld. The military has maintained that the deaths were suicides, having once famously called them “acts of asymmetrical warfare.” In January 2010, new evidence from four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths came to light, suggesting that the military’s narrative was a cover-up and that the men may have been killed at a black site at Guantanamo.

“My son Yasser was 17 when he was taken to Guantánamo and 21 when he died there,” said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of Yasser Al-Zahrani. “I have waited for five years for meaningful answers to my questions about how my son died, but the U.S. government has never contacted me. Not when my son died, not in response to my questions afterwards and not to this day. And the fact that the government has not only failed to properly investigate his death but is also attempting to block review by the courts is both hard to believe and very painful for my family. We just want the truth and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

Nashwan Al-Salami, whose brother Salah also died at Guantánamo, said, “For five years the U.S. government and courts have blocked my family’s efforts to know the truth about how my brother died. My father died without ever learning what happened to his son, and I continue to hope for real answers and justice.”

The families had presented the new evidence from the soldiers to the district court, requesting that it reconsider its prior dismissal of the case. The court denied the request, holding that even with allegations of an off-site killing, national security “special factors” continue to bar the constitutional claims and that the defendants are further protected by qualified immunity. With respect to the international law claims, the court held that the new evidence was insufficient to challenge the presumption that the defendants were acting within the scope of their authorized duties and were entitled to absolute immunity. Courts have consistently relied on “special factors,” “state secrets” and the “political question” doctrines to dismiss torture and abuse cases brought before them. Not once in the past decade has a court either evaluated the actual facts of such a case or ruled on the legality of the conduct.

CCR attorneys pointed to other documented examples of deaths and killings covered-up by the military in the recent past, including the falsification of records in the death of former football player Pat Tillman and the premeditated murders of Afghan civilians by members of the Army’s Bravo Company.

“The new evidence is not the result of the wild speculations of the families, or their attorneys, or a journalist. It comes from the eye-witness accounts of four decorated soldiers who were compelled to come forward by their consciences, out of a sense of duty, and at great personal and professional risk. In this context, where the only people who know the truth are our clients’ dead sons and individuals within the government, the information these four men have brought forward is critical. It must give these families a chance to reopen their case. It is shameful that this information hasn’t been given greater consideration by the court,” said CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, lead counsel in the case.

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights called on supporters to demand an independent investigation into the deaths and to ask the Obama Justice Department to change course from the prior administration’s policy of attempting to block every torture and abuse case, including Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, from proceeding. In all these cases, the victims and their families seek accountability, justice and answers.

The case, filed on behalf of the families of two of the deceased men, Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami of Yemen, charged the government and 24 federal officials with responsibility for the men’s abuse, wrongful detention and ultimate deaths. Early last year, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. Following the dismissal, the families filed a motion for reconsideration on the basis of the evidence from the soldiers, as reported by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010, arguing that the new facts compelled the court to reopen the case.

The suit was brought by CCR and co-counsel William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. and Johanna Kalb of the College of Law at Loyola University.

The decision, the complaint, the government briefs and other court documents, as well as video of Mr. Talal Zahrani addressing the U.S. government, courts and people regarding his son’s death can be found on CCR’s legal case page or http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/al-zahrani-v.-rumsfeld.

See also Andy Worthington’s two recent articles covering this news:

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

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

In the article on the teleconference, Andy quoted Terek Dergoul, a former detainee who spent two years at Guantanamo and was released in 2004. He shared a cell right next to Yasser al-Zahrani, and spoke about the dead men, each of whom he knew fairly well.

Tarek Dergoul said:

I knew Yasser, Salah, and Mani personally, for a long period of time, and I knew of their deep will to resist being broken by Guantánamo and to live. These were beautiful men, and Yasser and Mani used to sing songs and recite poetry to lift the spirits of the other detained men. They always fought for the rights of all of us to be free from the abuses we were tormented with, and they were repeatedly subjected to harsh treatment because of this. I have never believed these men committed suicide as the government claims.

Adweek Article Misrepresents Autopsy Results on Guantanamo “Suicide”

7:08 pm in Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Charles Fried and Scott Horton (Harper's, human rights attorney) at Justice After Bush Panel, Princeton

Charles Fried and Scott Horton (Harper's, human rights attorney) at Justice After Bush Panel, Princeton by Cheryl Biren

A lot of people were apparently very upset when Scott Horton beat out Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on the Koch brothers and Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article on Gen. McChrystal and won the National Magazine Award for Reporting this year. Horton’s January 2010 article in Harper’s, “The Guantanamo Suicides,” was based on a number of named sources, including the guard in the watch tower mere yards away from the scene of much of the action, and questioned the official story given by the Department of Defense about the purported suicide of three detainees on the evening of June 10, 2006.

Despite articles written that Horton claimed the murder of the detainees, Horton, along with a report by Seton Hall University School of Law, Center for Policy and Research released around the same time, strongly questioned the procedure and results of the DoD investigations and called for a new investigation. Guantanamo authorities had already announced their position within 24 hours of the discovery of the dead bodies: the deaths were supposedly planned suicides, part of an act of “asymmetrical warfare” on the part of the Taliban and Arab prisoners.

After Donald Rumsfeld and ex-DoD flak Cully Stimson wrote articles last month lambasting those who would question the official investigation, former Salon.com WarRoom editor Alex Koppelman produced his own critique in the pages of Adweek. The story, “The National Magazine Award and Guantánamo: A Tall Tale Gets the Prize,” posted May 23, got a big reception.

I’m not going to repeat all that was wrong with that story here. I’ve already produced a comprehensive examination of Koppelman’s points in an article posted at Truthout. But I will highlight one crucial area here, and expand upon the Truthout article.

What did Patrice Magnin’s Autopsy report really say?

After the death of one of the detainees, Ali Abdullah Ahmed (ISN 693), a 27-year-old Yemeni national, Ahmed’s father, not believing his son would transgress Islamic law and kill himself, asked for an independent autopsy after his son’s body was returned to the family.
Read the rest of this entry →

Torture & the Art of the Gratuitous Lie: Dissecting Rumsfeld & Thiessen’s Wild Whoppers

1:56 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

As if we already didn’t know the media is full of lies and stupidity, two new examples have surfaced in recent days, with former administration officials and their media mouthpieces vying for who can pronounce the most incredible lies about the torture policies of the U.S. government. What’s even more amazing is that one ostensibly progressive website and its members have taken at least one of these lies as good coin, a lie so blatant that it only takes a moment’s reflection to realize it’s total BS.

First, though, precedence should be given to the op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld in last Thursday’s Washington Post. Titled “How WikiLeaks vindicated Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy,” the former Secretary of Defense — who was the Bush administration official who authorized aggressive torture techniques based on SERE torture resistance training for use in DoD interrogations, a fact the Washington Post forgot to mention in its brief bio on Rumsfeld — manages to dredge up every falsehood and canard spewed out by the government to justify the torture they used, from Al Qaeda’s purported threats to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” if Bin Laden was captured, to the supposed “dirty” bomb plot (dreamed up from “confessions” made under torture by Binyam Mohamed, who had looked at a joke website on nuclear bombs online, and was originally a charge against Jose Padilla, later dropped because it would have been laughed out of even Bush’s courts).

But the oddest lie, gratuitously thrown in, concerns Rumsfeld’s claims about what the Wikileaks documents allegedly reveal about the purported “suicides” of three Guantanamo prisoners in June 2006. Readers might remember the Scott Horton article in Harper’s Magazine back in January 2010, “The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.” (Horton’s article produced an upset of sorts at the National Magazine Awards last week, winning the “Reporting” award, beating out Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Jane Mayer’s New Yorker exposé on the Koch brothers. — Congrats, Scott!)

While Horton’s article laid out compelling evidence of a cover-up over the possible killings of these three detainees, one of whom had already been cleared for release and return to Saudi Arabia only weeks prior to his death, Rumsfeld claims that the recent Wikileaks release of Guantanamo documents (Detainee Assessment Briefs, or DABs) provide evidence backing the government’s contention the three prisoners committed simultaneous suicide.

The documents should also disprove some myths that have dogged Guantanamo and the reputations of those who honorably serve there. The classified record, for example, confirms that three detainees who died in 2006 were suicides — not, as some have irresponsibly alleged, victims of brutal interrogations.

Yet nowhere in the Wikileaks documents, and nowhere in the DABs for Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, or Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani — the three men who died — is there any evidence or claim that their deaths were suicides. Nowhere in these documents is there even a discussion of these suicides, so it is very odd that Rumsfeld, who was sued by the parents of two of the deceased prisoners, should even bring up this story. In Horton’s article, it’s noted that Rumsfeld might have put the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in charge of a secret interrogation black site at Guantanamo, called unofficially Camp No by some Gitmo personnel, where the three men were seen taken by guards on duty that night. Rumsfeld has never spoken out on the “suicides” before. I wonder what he’s trying to preempt.

For a thorough demolition of Rumsfeld’s lies, readers may wish to peruse former Col. Larry Wilkerson’s declaration under oath “that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew — and didn’t care — that ‘the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent.’”

Marc Thiessen’s Theater of the Absurd

Even more gratuitous, and a lie easily disprovable on its face, is the recent assertion, as reported by the overly-creduous Josh Gerstein at Politico, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “figured out” how to outlast his 183 waterboardings by CIA torturers (bold emphasis added).

“He figured out the limits,” Marc Theissen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said during a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. KSM “actually mocked his interrogators by holding out his arm and counting off the seconds with his hand. He knew exactly how far we could go and when the terrorists know how far you can go it’s very very hard to break them.”

Aside from the ridiculous, if not scandalous assertions about the efficacy of torture — a crime considered “jus cogens,” a crime against humanity, and a war crime outlawed by U.S. treaties — the idea of KSM “holding out his arm to count off the seconds with his hand” would be amazing… if it weren’t that his arms and legs were strapped down to a gurney!

Such a blatant lie should have been caught by Gerstein, or by the naive diarist that posted the story over at Daily Kos, winning a spot on the “recommended” list, even though the diarist and many of the commenters there took Theissen’s mendacious fiction to be fact.  It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes on Google to find this description from the 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo by Jay Bybee and John Yoo (bold emphasis added): “In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner.

Additionally, one could go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and read the CIA’s own guidelines from its Office of Medical Services (OMS) (PDF). Except for the manner in which breathing was obstructed in the prisoner (as discussed in the CIA IG report on the torture program – PDF), the CIA’s waterboarding followed the SERE model, in which, OMS noted (bold emphasis added), “the subject is immobilized on his back, and his forehead and eyes covered with a cloth.”

The idea that frustrated CIA torturers were repeatedly waterboarding KSM as he stubbornly held up his arm and hand to count off the seconds of torture is ridiculously absurd, not least because it was physically impossible. What the CIA medical personnel did have to report about the waterboarding showed that some resistance was, in their opinion, possible: “While SERE trainers believe that trainees are unable to maintain psychological resistance to the waterboard, our experience was otherwise. Some subjects [KSM?] unquestionably can withstand a large number of applications, with no immediately discernable [sic] cumulative impact beyond their strong aversion to the experience.”

Now, the CIA is no more believable than their mouthpiece, Marc Theissen, but it’s notable that even for the unnamed detainee or detainees who supposedly could “withstand a large number of applications,” the torture produced a “strong aversion.” What the words “withstand” or “aversion” even mean when issuing from the offices of the CIA, I’m not even sure anymore. But it certainly is far different than the picture of an obstreperous KSM that Thiessen provides in order to show that Al Qaeda had learned how to “resist” even a technique as powerful as the waterboard. That this says nothing about the legality or logic of using such torture is an example of how an implicit and dangerous lie is hidden within the blatant outer husk of an absurd lie, i.e., that U.S. torture was not harmful.

As for waterboarding, the fact that SERE training had largely banned waterboarding as too dangerous for their trainees, and the fact that government lawyers hid that fact in the memos they wrote to approve Bush’s “enhanced interrogation program,” was revealed in a series of exclusive articles I wrote here at Firedoglake last year (see here and here).

News and Analysis You Can Count On — Become a FDL Member Today

No matter what news source you like, you’re not going to find truth-telling and analysis on issues like torture as often as you will at Firedoglake. FDL has initiated a membership program to help put this great site on a firmer financial basis, free from corporate influence or subservience to the mainstream media. If you’re reading this, you already know that in-depth reporting and analysis by Marcy Wheeler, Jane Hamsher, David Dayen, Jon Walker, and many others is an everyday occurrence here. And then there are the movie discussions, the Book Salon every weekend, with important and relevant authors interacting with our readers, webinars for FDL members, and more.

When you can be an FDL member for as little as $5 or $10 per month, you’re doing yourself a favor by signing up right now. It will be the best few dollars you’ll have spent recently, and you’ll become part of a thriving and growing online community.

Making Guantanamo Permanent, and Other Portents

7:43 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A motley crew of Senate Republicans, joined by Sen. Lieberman, have introduced a bill to make Guantanamo a permanent “terrorist” prison. Once upon a time, this could have been dismissed as GOP posturing. But recent events suggest this is more likely a harbinger of the future fate of the US Naval prison, as President Obama has already pronounced that he will support indefinite detention of prisoners based on unchallenged U.S. executive fiat.

It’s hard to believe these GOP national security groupies, and their jester Lieberman, could really get this passed, much less signed by the President. But the ways things have been going, who would be ridiculed for thinking such things possible?

Human Rights First reports (H/T Barry Eisler):

Washington, D.C. — Legislation introduced today [11 May] in the Senate to force the Obama administration to declare Guantánamo a permanent prison for terror suspects will inspire America’s enemies and undermine the American justice system, a leading human rights group said.

U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Scott Brown (R-MA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the “Detaining Terrorists To Secure America Act” (S. 944) – legislation that would keep open the Guantánamo Bay terrorist detention facility for the detention and interrogation of current and future terrorism suspects. The legislation also permanently limits the transfer of detainees to foreign countries and prohibits funding for the construction of terrorist detention facilities within the United States.

A perpetual Guantanamo to match the indefinite detention policy enshrined by President Barack Obama is truly a sign of the debauched times in which we live, ruled by those whose lust for naked rule and capitalist gain are rarely hidden anymore. I presume, by the way, that the torture via isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, exploitation of fears, stress positions and drugs — all fine and “legal” thanks to the near-universal acceptance of the 2006 Army Field Manual on interrogation — will continue “forever” at Guantanamo as well.

The Terrorist Who Lived Happily Ever After — in Miami

I can tell you one person who will not be sent to Guantanamo, even though he was involved in bombing hotels and tourist spots in the 1990s. Luis Posada Carriles walked a free man out of a Texas courtroom last month, only weeks before another terrorist was shot in the head, “taken out” by the “heroes” of Seal Team Six. An article in the Mexican paper La Jornada, translated and reposted at The Nation. It was translated by Machetera/Tlaxcala describes more of Posada Carriles’ fascinating career:

In addition to working for the CIA, it’s worth recalling that Posada Carriles participated in the US-supported invasion of the Bay of Pigs; that he was an officer in the US Army and that in 1976 he moved to Venezuela to head the intelligence service in that country. That same year he was arrested after being accused of being the mastermind of the attack on the Cuban airliner, and escaped before facing a civil trial for what was at the time the worst terrorist act in the hemisphere. In 2001, he was arrested in Panama, for planning to kill Fidel Castro with 200 pounds of dynamite and C-4 explosives, in a university auditorium filled with students in 2000, but was pardoned by then–Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso in 2004, showing up a short time later in the United States. In 2005 he was arrested here, which led to the beginning of the process that ended last Friday in El Paso with his acquittal.

Posada Carriles walked on charges of immigration fraud and obstruction of justice, and not for any of his terrorist actions, for which he was never charged by American authorities. The U.S. ignores extradition requests to Venezuela. With the latest court decision, the ex-CIA terrorist can return to Miami and sip cocktails and be lionized by the anti-Castro crowd, and the host of SOF that live in southern Florida. It’s enough to make me fantasize about leading a Cuban team in the extrajudicial rendition of Posada Carriles back to Cuba, where he could face his victims in trial. (I can’t even allow my fantasies the vicarious bloodlust that many Americans seem to luxuriate in, by imagining my neat placement of a kill shot straight through the eyeball of a non-human, reviled villain, monster of all fantasies.)

Will the Obama administration and the pathetic Democratic Party supporters, who have set forth their belief in indefinite detention for those prisoners it deems “unlawful” enemy combatants, who have shown inordinate lust for murder as it tries to assassinate even U.S. citizens (Al-Awlaki), or blow up more and more “enemies” with Hellfire missiles from drone aircraft buzzing with death in the skies, will they hesitate to move against the U.S. population itself with terrorist prisons, indefinite detention for those deemed “terrorists”? Damn if we are not already more than half-way there now.

Torture is the new state religion. The arguments between those who find torture effective and those who find it ineffective are like the arguments between Catholics and Protestants in the seventeenth century, articulated with great passion and earnestness, but totally besides the point. Underlying the actual conflicts and debates is nothing more than a raw grab for power, as the U.S. seeks greater instruments of repression at home and abroad in the name of securing the world for U.S. plunder for the greater good of a small clique of corporations and a coterie of military men, academics, and spies that keep the wheels of the machine well-oiled and ready to strike.

Bravo, Senators Ayotte, Graham, Lieberman, Chambliss, Brown, and Rubio. You have brought the logic of the “war on terror” to its true purpose. You have struck at the heart of the matter, and like the loyal knights-errant of a previous era, your adventures bring back to the King matter for great celebration at the castle. I know you will be well-rewarded.