Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Guantanamo Suicides and Force-Feeding

December 5, 2007
Guantánamo Prisoner Cuts His Throat With Fingernail

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba, Dec. 4 — A prisoner at the detention camp here cut his throat with his own fingernail last month, causing a substantial loss of blood, but was never at risk of death, military officials said Tuesday.

“He did in fact use a sharpened fingernail,” Cmdr. Andrew Haynes, the deputy commander of the guard force here, told reporters on a tour of the camp.

Commander Haynes said there had been four to six occurrences in the last two months in which detainees harmed themselves, a rate that he said was consistent with recent experience. Those instances show that a potentially deadly struggle between detainees and their jailers continues, largely out of public view. One detainee committed suicide in May, after three other suicides the previous June, and there have also been numerous suicide attempts.

Advocates for detainees describe such acts as signs of desperation born of indefinite detention and hopelessness. But camp administrators call them a tactic to draw publicity and provoke criticism of the government.

The self-inflicted harm involving the detainee with the sharpened nail occurred in early November but was not disclosed at the time. Responding to questions from reporters, Commander Haynes confirmed that the detainee had intentionally injured himself while in the shower, saying he had been stopped because of “the vigilance of the guard force.” He did not describe how the detainee had sharpened his nail.

Senior military medical officers said there had been “a lot of bleeding” from the wound, which one said had required stitches to close. They classified the occurrence as a “suicidal gesture,” a category that falls short of what they deem suicide attempts.

Officials here have described the recent months as a relatively calm period in the five-year history of the detention operation at Guantánamo, where about 305 detainees are now held. Guantánamo officials have emphasized recent efforts to reduce tensions, for instance giving some detainees the opportunity to see nature films. But it is also clear that some detainees remain locked in a long-term struggle with guards.

In interviews with reporters Tuesday, officials said nine detainees remained on hunger strikes and were being force-fed daily. The detainee engaged in the longest of the hunger strikes, the officials said, has been force-fed for 816 days.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

June 17, 2003

Afghans and Pakistanis who were detained for many months by the American military at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba before being released without charges are describing the conditions as so desperate that some captives tried to kill themselves.

According to accounts in the last three months from some of the 32 Afghans and three Pakistanis in the weeks since their release, it was above all the uncertainty of their fate, combined with confinement in very small cells, sometimes only with Arabic speakers, that caused inmates to attempt suicide. One Pakistani interviewed this month said he tried to kill himself four times in 18 months.

An Afghan prisoner who spent 14 months at the camp, at the American naval base at Guantánamo, described in April what he called the uncertainty and fear. ''Some were saying this is a prison for 150 years,'' said Suleiman Shah, 30, a former Taliban fighter from Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.

None of those interviewed complained of physical mistreatment. But the men said that for the first few months, they were kept in small wire-mesh cells, about 6 1/2 feet by 8 feet , in blocks of 10 or 20. The cells were covered by a wooden roof, but open at the sides to the elements.

''We slept, ate, prayed and went to the toilet in that small space,'' Mr. Shah said. Each man had two blankets and a prayer mat and slept and ate on the ground, he said.

The prisoners were taken out only once a week for a one-minute shower. ''After four and a half months we complained and people stopped eating, so they said we could shower for five minutes and exercise once a week,'' Mr. Shah said. After that, he said, prisoners got to exercise for 10 minutes a week, walking around the inside of a cage 30 feet long.

In interviews at their homes, weeks after being released, he and the freed Pakistani detainee talked of what they said was the overwhelming feeling of injustice among the approximately 680 men detained indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay.

''I was trying to kill myself,'' said Shah Muhammad, 20, a Pakistani who was captured in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, handed over to American soldiers and flown to Guantánamo in January 2002. ''I tried four times, because I was disgusted with my life.

''It is against Islam to commit suicide,'' he continued, ''but it was very difficult to live there. A lot of people did it. They treated me as guilty, but I was innocent.''

In the 18 months since the detention camp opened, there have been 28 suicide attempts by 18 individuals, with most of those attempts made this year, Capt. Warren Neary, a spokesman at the detention camp, said today. None of the prisoners have killed themselves, but one man has suffered severe brain damage, according to his lawyer.

The prisoners come from more than 40 countries, and include more than 50 Pakistanis, about 150 Saudis and three teenagers under 16, a majority of them captured in Afghanistan, said Dr. Najeef bin Mohamad Ahmed al-Nauimi, a former justice minister in Qatar, who is representing nearly 100 of the detainees.

Dr. Nauimi represents many of the Saudis, and American lawyers represent about 14 prisoners from Kuwait. There are also 83 Yemenis, he said, and a sprinkling of others, including Canadians, Britons, Algerians and Australians, and one Swede.

Since January 2002, at least 32 Afghan prisoners and three Pakistanis have been released from Guantánamo Bay. Five Saudis were recently handed over to the Saudi authorities. Yasser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Saudi, was moved from the camp to a military brig in Norfolk, Va., in April 2002. Captain Neary said 41 people had been released in all, but he could not give a more exact description.

At the same time, the military is preparing to place about 10 of the prisoners before a military tribunal soon, officials said this month.

Mr. Muhammad, who spent 18 months in Cuba before his release, said that ''when they first took us there they would not let us talk, or stand or walk around the cell.

''At the beginning it was very hard to bear,'' he added. ''There was no call to prayer, and there was no shade. In the afternoon the sun came in from the side.''

Under the current routine, a majority of the prisoners remain in their cells but for two 15-minute periods a week, in which they walk around the cage and take a shower. In addition, the call to prayer is played over the prison's loudspeakers five times a day, according to Capt. Youseff Yee, the Muslim chaplain who oversees the religious needs of the Guantánamo prisoners.

Conditions improved after the first few months, and prisoners were moved to newly built cells with running water and a bed, Mr. Shah said. Interrogation was sporadic and it varied in length and intensity. Sometimes they were questioned after 10 days, or 20 days, and then not for several months, prisoners said.

But it was the uncertainty and fear that they would be there forever that drove many of them to despair, prisoners said.

''All of the people were worried about how long we would be there for,'' Mr. Shah said. ''People were becoming mad because they were saying: 'When will they release us? They should take us to the high court.' Many stopped eating.''

One Taliban fighter from the southern province of Helmand, who only uses one name, Rustam, said in May that he was driven to trying to hang himself because he was in a block of Arabs and Uzbeks he described as ''crazy.''

''There were some very strange people, they were hitting their heads on the wall, insulting the soldiers, and that is why I hated it,'' said Rustam, who is 22, in an interview in an Afghan prison in Kabul. ''I think they were really crazy people, and that's why I kept asking to be taken out for questioning.''

When he tried to hang himself, Rustam said, the guards found him quickly. ''They untied me and said 'Don't do this,' '' he said. ''They gave me medicine, but it was no good. They put me under supervision and moved me to another place.''

Mr. Muhammad, one of three Pakistani prisoners to be released at the end of April, said he first tried to hang himself because for months on end he was surrounded by Arabs and could not speak their language.

''It was difficult not talking to anyone for so long,'' he said. ''It was because of the jail. They put me in a block full of Arabs, they were only letting us out for a very short time, and it was very difficult. I could feel myself going down.''

After 11 months in the prison camp, he tied his bedsheet to a ceiling wire and hanged himself from it at 4 o'clock one afternoon. ''I don't know what happened,'' he said. ''They took me to the hospital. I was unconscious for two days.''

Only after that suicide attempt, Mr. Muhammad said, did his American keepers tell him that he was only being held for questioning, and that one day he would go home. Tranquilizers were prescribed, he said, but he stopped taking the tablets after a while and attempted suicide again.

Then the doctors gave Mr. Muhammad a powerful injection that he said left him unable to control his head or his mouth or eat properly for weeks. Although he refused to have the injection, the military medical personnel gave it to him by force, he said. He made two further attempts to kill himself that he said were more protest actions at the conditions.

''We needed more blankets, but they would not listen,'' he said. ''And I kept asking them to take me to the Afghan and Pakistani side. All the time I was with Arabs. I did not speak my own language for months.'' Mr. Muhammad also threatened to kill himself again if he was given another injection. He remained on tablets until his release, he said.

American officials have confirmed that one prisoner who tried to commit suicide remains in the prison hospital with severe brain damage. Dr. Nauimi said the prisoner was Mish al-Hahrbi, a Saudi schoolteacher. He said that the teacher became desperate over not knowing what his future held and that he tried to hang himself. The teacher was resuscitated but is unlikely to recover from a severe hemorrhage, the lawyer said.

Back home with time to ponder their ordeal, the former prisoners now want to demand compensation.

''The Americans said if anyone is innocent, they will get compensation,'' Mr. Muhammad said. ''They held me for 18 months, and so they should give me compensation. They told me I was innocent, but they did not apologize.''

Human rights organizations have raised concerns about the conditions at Guantánamo Bay and the unclear legal status of the detainees. The American military has refused to consider them prisoners of war, even though a majority were captured on the battlefield, and does not allow them access to lawyers. No charges have yet been brought against any of the detainees, some of whom have been there for 18 months.

Concerned about their prolonged detention without trial or clear legal status, the head of the International Red Cross, which visits the detainees, urged the Bush administration last month to start legal proceedings for the hundreds of detainees and to institute a number of changes in conditions at the camp.

Cmdr. Brian Grady, the staff psychiatrist at the camp's medical facility, said in a recent interview that most prisoners suffering from depression brought their symptoms with them to Cuba.

''I don't know what the effects of this particular confinement are,'' he said. ''I'd be hesitant to comment.'' Officials at Guantánamo have generally dismissed the notion that the confinement and uncertainty about the future are specifically to blame.

''I would not particularly say these circumstances are a factor,'' Commander Grady said.

But Jamie Fellner, director of the United States program for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview that that was highly implausible.

''These conditions of confinement by themselves over a prolonged period are enormously psychologically stressful,'' she said. ''Added to that is the uncertainty as to the future.''

Ms. Fellner added that her group had not found any credible reports of physical abuse and that it had investigated several accounts of beatings and such that turned out to be unfounded.

Hospital officials said that about 5 percent of the inmates were suffering from depression and that they were being treated with antidepressants, typically Zoloft.

* Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company,0,3342644.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions
From the Los Angeles Times
A voice from Gitmo's darkness
A current detainee speaks of the torture and humiliation he has experienced at Guantanamo since 2002.
By Jumah al-Dossari
JUMAH AL-DOSSARI is a 33-year-old citizen of Bahrain. This article was excerpted from letters he wrote to his attorneys. Its contents have been deemed unclassified by the Department of Defense.

January 11, 2007

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba — I AM WRITING from the darkness of the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo in the hope that I can make our voices heard by the world. My hand quivers as I hold the pen.

In January 2002, I was picked up in Pakistan, blindfolded, shackled, drugged and loaded onto a plane flown to Cuba. When we got off the plane in Guantanamo, we did not know where we were. They took us to Camp X-Ray and locked us in cages with two buckets — one empty and one filled with water. We were to urinate in one and wash in the other.

At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious.

What I write here is not what my imagination fancies or my insanity dictates. These are verifiable facts witnessed by other detainees, representatives of the Red Cross, interrogators and translators.

During the first few years at Guantanamo, I was interrogated many times. My interrogators told me that they wanted me to admit that I am from Al Qaeda and that I was involved in the terrorist attacks on the United States. I told them that I have no connection to what they described. I am not a member of Al Qaeda. I did not encourage anyone to go fight for Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have done nothing but kill and denigrate a religion. I never fought, and I never carried a weapon. I like the United States, and I am not an enemy. I have lived in the United States, and I wanted to become a citizen.

I know that the soldiers who did bad things to me represent themselves, not the United States. And I have to say that not all American soldiers stationed in Cuba tortured us or mistreated us. There were soldiers who treated us very humanely. Some even cried when they witnessed our dire conditions. Once, in Camp Delta, a soldier apologized to me and offered me hot chocolate and cookies. When I thanked him, he said, "I do not need you to thank me." I include this because I do not want readers to think that I fault all Americans.

But, why, after five years, is there no conclusion to the situation at Guantanamo? For how long will fathers, mothers, wives, siblings and children cry for their imprisoned loved ones? For how long will my daughter have to ask about my return? The answers can only be found with the fair-minded people of America.

I would rather die than stay here forever, and I have tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the detention center.

If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the United States.

Show the world the letters I gave you. Let the world read them. Let the world know the agony of the detainees in Cuba.

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