This was inevitable. Two Saudis and one Yemeni, using bedsheets and clothing, managed to hang themselves at Guantanamo Bay, and are the first detainee deaths at that facility. Held there over four and a half years, without charges, without access to the outside world save only occasional highly restricted visits with attorneys (for those with attorneys)… suicides were inevitable.
While prior attempts by detainees to kill themselves via a hunger strike were thwarted using force-feeding in a restraining chair (described in detail in my interview with Dr. David Nicholl here), amongst other methods, and heretofore perpetual surveillance permitted intervention at some point prior to the completion of a suicide attempt, for whatever reason, these attempts have finally succeeded.
One of the interviews I conducted (which I have not yet posted) happened to be with two attorneys who represent a number of Yemeni detainees, quite probably one of whom just killed himself. Let me quote a response from one of the attorneys to my generalized last question, i.e., what do we need to know about his Yemeni detainee clients:
It is hard to capture in one generalization, but these are human beings with a variety of character traits. Many are quite resilient. They have retained a sense of humanity. They can distinguish between the government and between ordinary Americans. Most of our clients respect the United States and American values when they were brought to Guantanamo. Some still believe that. Many have been disabused of that, believing that after 4 years, American values are all a charade. For example, they have certainly not received any presumption of innocence. Some are quite depressed at this point. But certainly, not one says they hate America or Americans.
The Supreme Court will decide the Hamdan case probably within the month. Ironically, Salim Hamdan is Yemeni; his lawyer Neal Katyal told me that “I live in fear that Hamdan will be in no condition to press his case.” Hamdan is also one of ten detainees charged by the military commissions. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will probably decide the Al-Odah appeals dealing with the legality of Gitmo detentions in general, shortly thereafter; you can read my interview with Al-Odah’s attorney Tom Wilner here.
But after nearly five years in detention without charge, or the prospect of release (other than at the whim of the government detaining them), some of the detainees have given up hope; for them, justice, or even any semblance, delayed, is unquestionably justice denied. And now for all eternity, in their cases.
While the military spokesperson was quick to blame the detainees for this last desperate act of defiance and call their hanging themselves some kind of military tactic, the detentions were, of course, widely perceived as unjust if not unlawful, and were certainly unprecedented. Particularly given the earlier hunger strikes and numerous suicide attempts, it’s not even hard to see why the detainees would take such desperate measure. Note the completely undocumented, unsupported statement that one of the detainees who killed himself was a high ranking al Qaeda official. Really? Who was he? The government won’t even dignify these human beings by telling us their names. Of course, if such an individual really was at Guantanamo, why wasn’t he perpetually monitored, like the dozens or hundreds there who are; they’d never be unwatched long enough to have pulled off a hanging if they fell into that category. There’s certainly a 98% chance he wasn’t charged with anything, seeing as only 10 out of the nearly 500 detainees there have been charged…
In short, I call bullshit: these were almost certainly poor schmucks picked up in our outsourced war and still held because our government is incapable of admitting error, no matter how obvious it is that it committed the error.
None of this should be a surprise at this point. There had, after all, been dozens of reported suicide attempts, if not hundreds of such attempts (one of these attempts was made in front of the detainee’s own attorney, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, interviewed here.)
I have never talked to any of the detainees; I have, of course, talked directly to a number of people who have. Many Americans– hell– probably most– won’t so much as lift their heads over this news, let alone shed a tear for “these terrorists”. You and I know better. We know that we are holding innocent men, and almost certainly abusing the crap out of them if not outright torturing them, in violation of Geneva Conventions and American law (not to mention… the bounds of human decency… whatever that is.). And no one cares.
At this point, the evidence mounts that Gitmo is just a colossal cock-up: as released detainees have gone on to lead guerrilla movements, others found completely innocent even by the military’s own flawed combatant status review tribunals are nonetheless still held (if not shipped to Albania), even as the military’s own documentation (as ably compiled by the Seton Hall report, one of whose authors Joshua Denbeaux is interviewed here) shows that the overwhelming majority of those detained are not even accused of having engaged in hostile acts.
Which leads me to ask this question, now that Gitmo itself has finally generated its own body count: after nearly five years, what possible intelligence value does the place possess any more? Its detainees have been totally out of the loop the entire time– cut off from the outside world. Any “intelligence value” they have is completely stale. Also, after nearly five years, we should know, by now, what, if anything, these fellows are guilty of. So why haven’t they been tried, let alone not even charged? Or, if they were “picked up on the battlefield”, why are at least some of them not properly prisoners of war (suggested by, among others, former United States war crimes ambassador David Scheffer in my interview with him.) Or, forgetting the possible or probable illegality and immorality of it all… why are we wasting the resources on these old, forgotten bastards, instead of pursuing fresh leads and angles that might actually thwart still existing plots against us?
Gitmo was already a stain on the honor of this nation; we will look back on this along with the Japanese detentions of World War II as one of our less than finest hours. Now some blood has been added to that stain.
Update: The Saudi government has released the names of its two nationals: Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani. Neither is on the list of ten detainees charged with war crimes. The Yemeni government has not yet released the name of its national.
It appears that all three of these detainees were at Camp One, supposedly the most restrictive (and most monitored) of the detention facilities at Guantanamo; guards found them in their cells, having hanged themselves, and efforts at medical treatment were unsuccessful.
My first stop after reading this news was your blog. Thanks very much for writing about this latest development so quickly.
I thought it was really rude at the press conference when Rove started singing and break dancing to M.C. Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This.”