Gitmo: reporters banned, questions raised in wake of suicides

Reporters Without Borders is protesting the Pentagon’s move to ban journalists from Guantanamo Bay, an ostensibly temporary measure. (Washington Post, June 15) The move comes on the heel of the suicide of three detainees at the prison camp, who the Administration says were “enemy combatants.” Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the camp’s commander, went so far as to call the suicides an “act of war” against America. Said of Harris: “They are smart, they are creative, they are committed… They have no regard to life, neither ours nor their own. And I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us.” (UK Telegraph, June 11) Conservative pundits are echoing the line that the detainees were not driven to suicide through desperation, but were using suicide as a “political weapon” against America—a neat reversal of victims and oppressors. (eg William Buckley, June 16) Now, al-Qaeda training manuals probably do call for using suicide and allegations of torture as a political weapon for captured militants. But it isn’t like the Pentagon has not openly admitted to engaging in similar “back propaganda” stunts. (BBC, Feb. 20, 2002) So when the water is this muddy, who ya gonna believe? Meanwhile, one of the fathers of the victims is denying his son killed himself at all—raising the possibility of murder. From al-Jazeera, June 14:

The family of a Yemeni man US officials said killed himself at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay denied his death was a suicide, saying he had been murdered.

Ali Abdullah, father of a Yemeni detainee found dead at the US prison on June 10, said: “This idea of suicide is a lie. My son wouldn’t commit suicide. My son was among those who memorised the Quran and was committed to his religion.

“He was assassinated by American soldiers and I call on the Yemeni and American governments for an international investigation,” he told Aljazeera.

The US military has identified the Yemeni who died at Guantanamo as Ali Abdullah Ahmed but the Aljazeera interview identified the father by that name and the son as Salah Ali.

“Enemy combatants”

The US military said two Saudis and a Yemeni hanged themselves with clothes and bedsheets in their cells, the first prisoners to die at the base in Cuba since Washington began sending suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban captives there in 2002.

The deaths renewed criticism of the base, which many human rights groups and some governments say should be closed. Nearly all the prisoners at Guantanamo are being held without charge and some have been detained for more than three years.

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry identified the two Saudis as Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani but gave no further details.

Pentagon documents show Zahrani was 21, meaning he was sent to Guantanamo as a teenager.

US officials described all three as “dangerous enemy combatants”.

Trials suspended

In a separate development, the US defence department said it has suspended all military tribunals for “war on terror” suspects at Guantanamo.

The decision came as the US Supreme Court was expected to rule imminently on the military tribunals’ legality.

“All sessions in all cases currently referred to trial by Military Commissions are stayed until further notice,” the Pentagon said in a statement posted on Monday but dated Saturday, the day the three detainees were found hanged in their cells.

The statement did not explain the reasons behind the suspension.

See our July 2004 report on the Supreme Court “enemy combatant” ruling.

See our last post on the detainment controversy.