Too many unanswered questions linger over the mysterious death of Guantánamo inmate Mohammad Saleh al Hanashi. Though originally ruled a suicide, disturbing evidence suggests something far uglier.
Truthout’s Jeffrey S. Kaye tells the story.
With recent news reports centering on Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that some Guantanamo detainees would be prosecuted in federal court and revamped, albeit flawed military commissions, important stories from previous months related to the prison facility continue to sink ever deeper into the swamp of our collective amnesia.
One example is the death that occurred at Guantanamo last June of Yemeni prisoner Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi. Al Hanashi’s death was reported as an “apparent suicide,” and about four weeks later, Mike Melia of The Associated Press reported that Yemeni officials claimed Al Hanashi died of “asphyxiation.” The article vaguely notes that self-strangulation may have been the cause of death.
While self-strangulation is rare, it is possible. However, news reports point out that the prisoner was kept under 24/7 observation (possibly on video) in the Guantanamo prison psychiatric ward. Furthermore, psychiatric patients on this ward are said to be sedated. How could this “suicide” happen? The death is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which doesn’t inspire trust, as recent revelations have shown it to be capable of some extremely bad behavior on some of its investigations.
But the suicide story has about worn out, as a November 15 Huffington Post article by journalist Naomi Wolf — who has followed the al Hanashi story — reports that Guantanamo spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt has confirmed that “the status of the investigation into Mr al-Hanashi’s death … is now a Naval criminal investigation — meaning that he is no longer considered a suicide but a victim of a murder or a negligent homicide.”
On January 17, 2009, al Hanashi was summoned to meet with top Guantanamo commander, Rear Adm. David Thomas, and Army Col. Bruce Vargo, commander of the joint detention group. Afterwards, and with no explanation, al Hanashi never returned to the general prison population and ended up in the prison’s psychiatric ward, where he was found dead some months later. No other details are known, though an AP story notes the following (emphasis added):
Attorney Elizabeth Gilson, who represents another detainee at the psychiatric ward, said she heard details about the suicide from her client but cannot divulge them because the information is classified. She described the force-feeding as “abusive and inhumane.”
Several journalists, including Naomi Wolf, were on a tour of Guantanamo at the time of al Hanashi’s death. They were not allowed to report on the death until after they had left the base.