12 June 2006. A World to Win News Service. Three Guantanamo prisoners were reported dead 10 June, allegedly by suicide. After his death, US military authorities said they had come to consider Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi, a 30-year-old man from Saudi Arabia, “a safe person” and “free to be released”. But they had held him in isolation for more than four years anyway. Even after this ruling, he was not released and had no freedom in sight.
Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, 21, was also from Saudi Arabia. In a telephone interview carried in the Washington Post (11 June), Zahrani’s father said his son had been working with a Pakistani Islamic charity organization in Afghanistan when captured. He was 17 at the time. The father did not believe the American story that his son had hanged himself. In a recent letter from his son, he emphasized, the young man seemed in good spirits and optimistic that he would be released. “Nothing suggested he would commit suicide.” The US military authorities assert that Zahrani had been involved in the November 2001 Mazar-E-Sharif prison uprising in which a CIA officer was killed, which could explain a vengeful attitude toward him.
Ali Abdullah Ahmed, from Yemen, was 28-33 years old, according to differing reports. American authorities described him as “non-compliant” and “hostile”. This was supposed to substantiate their contention that he, at least, unlike the others, was a “mid to high-level Al-Qaeda operative”.
None of these three men had lawyers. They had no contact with another human being other than their tormentors for four and a half years. All were described as hunger strikers.
This is why prisoners went on hunger strike, and how they were treated, as recounted in the following excerpts from a letter sent by a Kuwaiti prisoner to BBC through his lawyer:
“I have given up. I am hopeless. I don’t care about anything any more. I just want to be released. My health doesn’t matter. Death in this situation is better than being alive and staying here without hope. Death would be better if it helped end this situation.
“They told me: if you continue the hunger strike, you will be punished. First, they took my comfort items away from me one by one. You know, my blanket, my towel, my long pants, then my shoes. I was put in isolation for 10 days. Then, an officer came in and read me an order from General Hood [commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay].
“It said if you refuse to eat, we will put you on the chair – these are special, new metal chairs they have brought to Guantanamo – that you will be strapped up and down very tightly in the chair and that liquid food would be forced into me using a thicker tube with a metal edge. The tube would no longer be left in all the time, but would be forced in and pulled out at each feeding, and that this would happen three times a day. I told him: ‘This is torture.’
“He said to me: ‘Call it whatever you like – this is the way it’s going to be: we’re going to break this hunger strike.’
“One guy, a Saudi, told me that he had once been tortured in Saudi Arabia and that this metal chair treatment was worse than any torture he had ever endured or could imagine. They gave these formulas on purpose to make them defecate and urinate and throw up on themselves.
“I would still be on this strike if I had any choice. Death is better than continuing life like this… You must understand that the real problem here is not the horrible conditions – the lousy food, no reading materials, bad medical care, being in isolation. The real problem is being here without reason, without hope.”
The three men said to have committed suicide were being held in Camp 1, with the highest degree of security, perhaps in retaliation for taking part in the hunger strikes along with some 130 other prisoners. Guards systematically use these dreaded chairs on all hunger strikers, whether their lives are in danger or not.
Although more than 300 Guantanamo prisoners have been released, the US is still known to be holding at least 460. Several were as young as 14 when they were first brought there in early 2002, wearing orange jumpsuits, their eyes and ears sealed. Until May, the authorities refused to say exactly how many prisoners they held there or to identify them. Now a list of names had been released, but there is no way to know if it is complete or if there are others, “ghost detainees” as the US military called those held secretly at American prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which wanted to investigate, turned down a Pentagon authorization to visit Guantanamo when they were told they would not be able to talk with any prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only non-US military organization with access to the prisoners, is not allowed to make the slightest public comment on what their inspectors have observed. But in a rare and perhaps unique public statement, a spokesperson expressed “serious concern” for the fate of the health and lives of the prisoners. A leaked ICRC report written after a visit by medical personnel and humanitarian workers singled out humiliating treatment, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions and beatings as “a form of torture”. US military authorities have publicly defended their use of “water boarding”, in which prisoners are repeatedly strapped to a board and held with their heads underwater just up to the point of death.
What has been publicly revealed about the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib can reasonably be surmised to be true of Guantanamo as well, since Guantanamo commander Major General Geoffrey Miller was sent to the Iraqi prison camp to “Gitmo-ize” it – to make it like its Caribbean counterpart – before the infamous pictures were taken.
It has to be pointed out that the more recently released photos from Abu Ghraib show more than torture. They show death – corpses and bodies ripped open. (A selection can be seen at dahrjamailiraq.com.)
But even if these three men were not actually killed by their captors, they were murdered in another way. Apart from the torture, explained a spokesperson for the New York Center for Constitutional Rights which represents many of the prisoners, “It’s very clear that any human being who is kept in indefinite detention for over four years, not given any kind of hearing, and whose life and fate is subject to such uncertainty, inevitably will contemplate suicide, and the fact that three of them finally succeeded comes as no surprise. This is not an act of warfare, it is a consequence of inhumane and immoral treatment of human beings by the United States.”
This was in response to a statement – so overtly despicable that it’s almost unbelievable – by the current Guantanamo commander trying to explain away these three deaths: “They [the prisoners] have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” This is Bush’s America in a nutshell: everything is upside down. They commit crimes against humanity and then blame the victims. A Moslem group in Britain called this a statement a Nazi concentration camp guard could be proud of.
“No regard for human life”? In fact, Guantanamo is an icon for Bush’s America and its violent disdain for humanity.
It is an icon for an American “homeland” where millions of immigrants are treated more like horses than human beings, where the police enjoy the freedom to shoot down young Black men and the government has tried to empty the whole city of New Orleans of its basic Black population. Where many millions feel they are trapped in madhouse run by murderous religious maniacs.
It is iconic of a regime that proclaims its right to arbitrarily grab, imprison, humiliate, torment and torture whoever it wants, wherever it wants, in the US or abroad, in violation of the basic rules proclaimed by Western “democracy” for 800 years.
It is an icon for “extraordinary rendition”, the creation of a “spider web” of disappearances, secret detentions and transfers to torture centres in which most of the Western “democracies” have worked hand in glove with the Bush regime.
Guantanamo is iconic of an imperialist power that has occupied and sought to rule Afghanistan and Iraq by terror. Whose soldiers executed 24 civilians in cold blood last November in Haditha, and 11 civilians in Ishaqi, including five children and four women, in March. In the second case, the Pentagon recently ruled that its troops had done what they were supposed to do. The highest levels of the military and the Bush administration apparently thought the same about the Haditha massacre, since they knew what happened and covered it up. Guantanamo is iconic of the society whose soldiers shot and killed two women, one about to give birth, who were driving to a hospital in Sammara in April.
Guantanamo is iconic of the world’s remaining superpower currently threatening to unleash nuclear weapons against Iran – supposedly to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
The commander’s statement on the death of the three prisoners follows the same logic the Bush administration is trying to impose on a global scale.