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Posted by on Jun 2, 2009 in Politics, War | 7 comments

Yemeni Detained Without Charges for Seven Years Kills Himself

Mohammad Ahmad Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi, a citizen of Yemen who has been incarcerated at Guantanamo since 2002, killed himself today:

Pentagon officials said he was a Taliban fighter who claimed at the camp that he had never killed anyone.

A terse announcement from the Pentagon described the death as an “apparent suicide” and said guards “found the detainee unresponsive and not breathing” while doing routine checks. It did not disclose a specific cause of death but said lifesaving measures had failed.

A spokesman for the Pentagon, Jose Ruiz, would not provide details, saying the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating. Mr. Ruiz said an autopsy would be performed but added, “at this time they believe it was a suicide.”

David H. Remes, a lawyer who represents 16 other Yemeni prisoners at Guantánamo, said that Mr. Hanashi had been one of seven prisoners kept in a psychiatric ward at the prison and that he had been force-fed in a restraint chair. Mr. Remes said all the detainees in the psychiatric ward were kept under sedation. Guantánamo records show that Mr. Hanashi’s weight at one point fell to 87 pounds.

There have been five prior deaths at the camp, including four suicides.
Shayana Kadidal, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has coordinated Guantánamo cases, said the death of a psychiatric patient raised questions about the quality of care and would increase pressure on Mr. Obama, who has said he would close the prison by January.

“Every day that passes makes it more likely that people will die in detention on President Obama’s watch,” Mr. Kadidal said.

Obama administration officials have said that the camp is now a well-run prison that complies with international standards. But detainees’ lawyers and human rights groups say that conditions there remain bleak, with many detainees held in solitary confinement.

Mr. Remes, the lawyer with other Yemeni clients, said many prisoners are desperate. “They harbored some hope,” he said, “that President Obama would move swiftly to resolve the situation, but they can’t see any progress so far or any light at the end of the tunnel.”

I don’t even know what to say about this, or how to write about it. I am just so saddened, outraged, and disgusted that my country has become one of those countries that locks up political prisoners for years without charges or trial in conditions so hopeless and so devastating that the human beings caught in this horrendous system become so desperate that they kill themselves.  And political prisoners is the right term, in my view, for people who are being detained indefinitely with no meaningful plan to say what they did wrong and give them a trial.

Aside from Jeralyn, who has a brief, facts-only post, the only other blogger writing about the suicide is Glenn Greenwald. Under the appropriately acid title, “Another Club Gitmo Guest Kills Himself,” Glenn writes:

Some of the most cartoonish pseudo-tough-guy, play-acting-warrior-low-lifes of the Right — Rush Limbaugh, The Weekly Standard, National Review‘s Andy McCarthy — have long referred to Guantanamo as “Club Gitmo.”  Many leading national Republican politicians have (as usual) followed suit.  Recently, some key Democrats have begun actively impeding plans to close it.

Today, Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih — a 31-year old Yemeni who has been in a Gitmo cage since February, 2002 (more than seven years) without charges — became the latest Club Gitmo guest to successfully kill himself[.]
Putting people in cages for life with no charges — thousands of miles from their homes — is inherently torturous. While Salih acknowledged fighting for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, there is no evidence that he ever engaged in or planned to engage in terrorist acts or acts of violence of any kind against the U.S. Apparently, though, he’s one of the Worst of the Worst we keep hearing about — Too Dangerous To Release even if we can’t charge him with any crime.

In an update, Glenn quotes one of his readers on Saleh’s state of mind:

… Affirming Flame notes that the Penatgon’s status report on Salih  reported:  “When the detainee gets released, he hopes to go back to Yemen and get married. Once married, the detainee intends to go to school and become a history or geography teacher.”  Affirming Flame adds:

This an intensely human tragedy that this man gave up on his dreams and his life. Obviously I can’t know what was going through his head during his final moments, but I do not think it is wildly speculative to imagine that he had given up any hope of ever being sent home and so found the only “release” available to him.

It’s very difficult to know why someone commits suicide, if that’s what happened here.  And since he had no trial, one can’t know what Salih did or didn’t do.  But what is not hard to see is that it is simply wrong to imprison people for life with no charges.  That should not be something that we even have to debate.

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