Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Citing Truthout Report, UN Special Rapporteur "Looking Into" Guantanamo "Suicides"

Originally published at Truthout

Earlier this month, Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, responded to an inquiry by this reporter regarding new information on the deaths of two Guantanamo prisoners, Abdul Rahman Al Amri and Mohammad Salih Al Hanashi.

According to the Department of Defense (DoD), both prisoners died of suicide in 2007 and 2009, respectively. But new details surrounding their deaths, first reported by Truthout March 1, challenged government accounts concerning what happened. The new information was drawn from an examination of the autopsy reports for the prisoners and other findings pertaining to their conditions of confinement at Guantanamo, including statements from detainees and their attorneys.

The autopsy reports revealed that one of the detainees, Saudi national Abdul Al Amri, had been found hanging with his hands tied behind his back, and had been tested after his death for the presence of the controversial drug mefloquine (Lariam). Mefloquine can cause neurotoxic and serious psychiatric side effects, including psychosis, in some users.

In the case of Mohammad Al Hanashi, the autopsy examiners stated that they had never seen the actual device (or ligature) by which he was said to have strangled himself to death. The ligature was reportedly made from an elastic underwear band from a pair of white briefs. But news reports indicate that this was not the type of underwear in use at Guantanamo at this time.

There was also some question as to whether Al Hanashi had been on suicide watch at the time of his death, as he was not found wearing the requisite "suicide smock" typically used on actively suicidal prisoners, despite the fact he had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.

In an email to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Professor Juan Mendez, other officials at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and this author, Heynes said he had heard about the March 1 Truthout article "through several avenues during the week."

Heynes wrote, "We are looking into this matter, and I have received provisional feedback, thank you for bringing it to my attention."

Asked if the DoD had been in contact with Heyns' office on this issue, or had any other comment on the earlier Truthout article about the two Guantanamo detainee deaths, DoD Spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told Truthout, "Our ongoing relationships with the various concerned offices of the United Nations are positive, open, and constructive."

"JTF [Joint Task Force] Guantanamo conducts safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees, including those convicted by military commission and those ordered released by a court. We continually evaluate these procedures to ensure that the care, safety, and security of all concerned at the JTF is a top priority," Breasseale said.

Autopsy Specialist Looks at the Reports

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science and currently clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, agreed to examine the autopsy reports for Truthout. In a telephone interview, Dr. Wecht said there was nothing in the autopsy reports themselves to challenge the official ruling of suicide. He noted that the autopsy reports "seemed thorough, detailed," and there was nothing in the reports to "suggest a struggle or someone incapacitated or immobilized."

This was consistent with the examination of another medical expert, Dr. Steven Miles, who said essentially the same thing about Al Hanashi's suicide report.

As for the fact that Al Amri's hands reportedly had been tied behind his back, Dr. Wecht indicated this is something some suicide attempters do in an effort to forestall any last-second frenzied attempts to stop one's own hanging.

However, Dr. Wecht also stated that there was "no way to rule out the possibility of foul play." He indicated that the Truthout investigation had raised questions that needed follow-up investigation, for instance, as to whether or not standard procedures surrounding surveillance of the detainees, or the allowance of razors were followed. Al Amri supposedly used a razor to cut up his bed sheets into the ligature used in his suicide, but Guantanamo Standard Operating Procedures do not allow prisoners to possess a razor, and even temporary access to razors is strictly monitored.

In particular, Dr. Wecht criticized the military's actions after Al Hanashi's death for "bad procedure in not turning over the ligature to the [autopsy] examiners." This was not standard autopsy procedure. "Everybody knows that," Wecht told Truthout. Instead, investigators from the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) had given autopsy examiners material they said was similar to what Al Hanashi purportedly used to strangle himself.

Dr. Wecht also indicated that questions over the type of underwear used by Al Hanashi, and the toxicology report on Al Amri, which had noted the testing for mefloquine, "should be addressed."

More Questions on Detainee Deaths

While the questions surrounding the deaths of the two detainees were covered extensively in the earlier Truthout article, new questions and evidence continue to come to light.

One such instance concerns Al Amri's health status, raising further questions of what information the autopsy examiners were given, or the honesty of what they reported. According to Al Amri's autopsy report, "No significant natural diseases or pre-existing conditions are identified within the limitations of this examination."

But according to an October 2007 article by detainee attorney Candace Gorman, one of her clients, Guantanamo detainee Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi told her the previous July "that Amri had been suffering from Hepatitis B and tuberculosis, the same two conditions from which he himself suffers. Like al-Ghizzawi, Amri had not been treated for his illnesses."

Gorman also indicated that Al Amri had earlier stopped hunger striking out of concern for his health. Both Al Amri and Al Hanashi and all of the 2006 purported suicides had been hunger strikers. Al Amri and Al Hanashi had weighed at or under 90 pounds and been force fed. Neither prisoner had ever met with an attorney.

Could lack of treatment for his health conditions have led Al Amri to commit suicide? Without an independent investigation, we will probably never know.

Guantanamo CellJoint Task Force Guantanamo, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (8 October '05) - A cell inside the new mental health facility [BHU] at Camp Delta. View of inside of cell from entry. Camera is high above sink and toilet. (US Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Third Class Joe Dye, Fleet Combat Camera, Atlantic. Cleared for public release by MG Jay Hood, Commanding General JTF-GTMO.)Video and Other Forms of Surveillance

One of the outstanding irregularities surrounding the government narrative of the two men's death has to do with procedures by which guards kept track of detainee activities. The March 1 Truthout article stated, "Both Al Amri, who was housed in isolation at Guantanamo's high-security Camp 5, and Al Hanashi, who was resident at the prison's Behavioral Health Unit, were supposed to be under constant video surveillance, and according to camp officials, someone was supposed to be checking on them every three to five minutes."

While documentary evidence is lacking that Al Amri was under such video surveillance, guards are under orders to visually check on the detainees every three minutes or so. Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt told Truthout in November 2009 that no Guantanamo detainee goes more than "three minutes" without being checked, one way or another.

Guantanamo CellJoint Task Force Guantanamo, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (8 October '05) - a cell inside the new mental health facility BHU at Camp Delta. View from inside of cell to cell door. Camera is in upper left corner. (US Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Third Class Joe Dye, Fleet Combat Camera, Atlantic. Cleared for public release by MG Jay Hood, Commanding General JTF-GTMO.)However, DoD photographs of a typical cell in the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), where Al Hanashi was held until his death, clearly show camera placements, both over the door and at the far end of the small cell, validating numerous reports that video surveillance of BHU prisoners was constant.

The question remains how a prisoner could fashion a suicide device, including the cutting of clothing and/or bed sheets, while

under constant or near-constant surveillance, including by video cameras.

A State Department Cable

While the substance of any discussions between the UN Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns and the DoD is not known (the former did not reply to further requests for information about their inquiries), some sense of what such communications might involve can be derived from an examination of one of the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks last year.

An unclassified cable from the US Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, dated July 10, 2007, to the US Secretary of State, concerned a direct message to US authorities from Philip Alston, then-UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, predecessor to the position Christof Heyns now holds. The message described lingering questions regarding the June 2006 death of Guantanamo detainee, Yemeni citizen Ahmed Ali Abdullah.

Abdullah was one of three detainees purportedly found dead in their cells on June 9, 2006. The DoD labeled all three men suicides, while later investigations by Harper's writer Scott Horton and a team of legal investigators at Seton Hall's School of Law's Center for Policy and Research found ample reason to question that verdict.

Alston was writing to remind US authorities that Abdullah's family did not believe the official story of suicide. They had "asked a Geneva-based non governmental organisation, Alkarama for Human Rights, to assist with organising an autopsy." But the US had not cooperated with the independent autopsy investigation, refusing "to share the results of its investigation into the death with a US-based law firm retained by them or with any of the other entities who have requested information...." Nor had US authorities returned key anatomical evidence for the new autopsy.

In particular, Abdullah's family noted they did not believe the detainee had committed suicide because of "the tight surveillance of the cells, with permanent video-surveillance and guards passing in front of each cell every two to five minutes, would make a suicide by hanging impossible in the absence of collusion by the guards."

They also cited the impossibility "for a detainee to hang himself in the cell, as there is (again according to reports of other former detainees) absolutely no place a detainee could fix the ligature used to hang himself."

Unknown to Abdullah's family or Alston or earlier investigations into the June 2006 "suicides," and germane to the death by "suicide" of Al Amri, in 2002, Guantanamo authorities had changed the bed sheets used at the facility to a "non-tear" type used by the federal prisons, making it much harder if not impossible to fashion sheets into ropes and nooses. (See PDF summarized witness statement, pg. 7, by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mike Dunleavy.)

Writing on behalf of his role as UN Special Rapporteur, Alston told US authorities that they had an obligation to follow international law in regards to the investigation of the case. Citing UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, Alston told the State Department, "In order to overcome the presumption of State responsibility for a death in custody, there must be a 'thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.'"

Alston went further, stating, "I would like to add that even the most 'thorough, prompt and impartial investigation' of a custodial death will not satisfy your Excellency's Government's obligations under international law if its results are not shared with the family of the victim and subjected to public scrutiny." (Emphasis added.)

The NCIS investigations into the deaths of Al Amri and Al Hanashi remain classified. The investigations into the 2006 deaths were declassified and can be accessed at a DoD web site, though they remain in part redacted.

Truthout has filed Freedom Of Information Act requests for the NCIS investigations into both Al Amri and Al Hanahsi's deaths. The Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry, which, in June 2007, reportedly promised to conduct an independent autopsy on Al Amri, did not return requests for comment.

By promising in 2007 to convene a medical investigation into Al Amri's death, the Saudis were responding to requests from Al Amri's family, who, like Abdullah's family, did not believe their relative could commit suicide. According to Al Amri's brother, in a statement at odds with the conclusion of the autopsy done by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), "We did not find any marks on his body which would hint that he committed suicide."

In a footnote to this story, the AFIP, which conducted all the detainee autopsies at Guantanamo, was shut down by DoD last September, a presumed victim of government cost cutting.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Most Secret Place on Earth: the CIA's Covert War on Laos (video)

The following is an amazing must-see documentary by German documentary film-maker Marc Eberle. It was released in 2008, but I don't believe it got much attention, certainly not in the U.S. (According to one source, the film was "screened at ten international film festivals and in German cinemas early 2009 and was nominated for the Golden Panda at Sichuan intl. Film Festival, China, the History Makers’ Award, New York, the Banff World Television Award, Canada, and the North German Film Award." It's currently posted on YouTube. Hopefully it stays up there. (H/T Doug Valentine)

From a review of the film by Andrew Nette:
PHNOM PENH, Aug 22, 2008 (IPS) - It was known as the ‘secret war’, a covert operation waged by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the sixties and early seventies against communist guerrillas in Laos.

And the most secret location in this clandestine war was the former CIA air base of Long Chen, in central Laos, a place that remain off limits even today.

A new film, ‘The Most Secret Place on Earth’, to be released in cinemas across Europe later this year, explores this little known conflict.

The film, which previewed for the first time in Phnom Penh in mid-August, includes images of Long Chen shot by the first Western camera crew to enter the base since the communists took control of the country in 1975.

"I first got the idea to do the film when I visited the Plain of Jars in Laos in 2002," recalled Marc Eberle,36, the German director in an interview with IPS.

"You could still see the craters from the air bombing and unexploded ordnance was everywhere."

"Then I heard about Long Chen and the fact that no one had got there since the war and I thought, how do I visit and how do I make a film about it?"

Little is known about the Lao conflict despite the fact that it remains the largest and most expensive paramilitary operation ever run by the U.S.

It was completely run by the CIA using largely civilian pilots from the agency’s own airline, Air America, and mercenaries recruited from the Hmong, an ethnic tribe living in mountainous areas in central and northern Laos.

Despite being the centre of the covert operation and, at its peak, one of the world’s busiest airports with a population of 50,000 people, Long Chen’s location was never marked on any map.

"I found it bizarre that at one time this was the second biggest city in Laos and it was completely secret," Eberle says.

Long Chen remains off limits to foreigners and most Lao due to clashes with remnants of the CIA’s Hmong army. Until recently it formed part of a special administrative zone under the direct control of the Lao army.

Renewed interest in the Laos’ secret war was briefly rekindled in 2003 when two Western journalists made contact with members of the Hmong resistance, the first white people they had seen since the CIA abandoned them 27 years ago.

Although pictures from the encounter were printed in Time Asia and won a world press award, U.S. media failed to pick up the story and it died....

"Laos was the progenitor of the way America fights wars in the 21st century," [Eberle] says.

"Outsourcing the war to private companies, gathering public support by falsifying intelligence and documents, embedded journalism and automated warfare including the use of so-called ‘smart weapons’, all these methods were first tested in Laos."

The conflict began in the late fifties, as Washington sought to counter communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese allies who had began building the Ho Chi Minh trail through the jungles running down the eastern border of Laos.

The operation was placed under CIA control to get around Laos’ supposed political neutrality and the conditions set by the Geneva Accords.

Vang Pao, then an officer in the Royal Lao Army, was recruited in 1960 to lead the Hmong troops drafted to fight the communists, which at the peak of the fighting numbered up to 30,000.

The largest of hundreds of airstrips built by the CIA throughout Laos, Long Chen was established soon after.

The Most Secret Place examines the conflict through the stories of players involved in the covert, diplomatic and military aspects of the conflict, including former diplomats, CIA officers and Air America pilots.

It also draws on critics such as Alfred McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade and a reporter in Laos at the time, and Fred Branfman, an aid worker turned anti-war activist who worked to expose the conflict.

Ordinary Lao people at the receiving end of the world’s most technologically sophisticated military machine get a chance to tell their story....

This film’s analysis sets it apart from other books and documentaries on the subject, most of which justify the conflict, lauding the CIA operatives and their Air America pilots as heroes.

The reality, as Alfred McCoy says towards the end of the film, was very different. "We destroyed a whole civilisation, we wiped it off the map. We incinerated, atomised human remains in this air war and what happened in the end? We lost."

The covert nature of the conflict meant that U.S. forces were able to ignore virtually all the rules of engagement operating in Vietnam. Every building was a potential target and the civilian toll was huge.

The situation grew worse in 1970 when U.S. President Nixon authorised massive B-52 bombing strikes on Laos, which remained classified information until many years later.

American planes dropped an average of one planeload of bombs on targets in Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years, making it the most heavily bombed country on earth per capita in the history of warfare....
"Marc Eberle has previously directed award-winning documentaries for ARTE, Discovery Channel, NDR, WDR, SWR, BR, MDR and ZDF in Oman, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. He holds an MA in Film and TV from Royal Holloway, University of London." (Link)

Friday, March 16, 2012

James Corbett Reports: "Dr. Jeffrey Kaye on the Guantanamo 'Suicides'" (podcast)

On March 14, I was interviewed by James Corbett, whose show, The Corbett Report, runs both on radio and podcast. It was an excellent interview by the always well-informed and intelligent Mr. Corbett. The discussion ranges from the new questions around the 2007 and 2009 suicides at Guantanamo, to the political problems surrounding the issue of closing Guantanamo, and the difficulties in mobilizing the US public on accountability for torture and abuse during an electoral year, where the "liberal" Democratic Party candidate, Barack Obama, maintains his policy is to "not look back" and investigate or prosecute these crimes.

From The Corbett Show introduction to the podcast:
Dr. Jeffrey Kaye talks to us about his latest article, “Recently Released Autopsy Reports Heighten Guantanamo ‘Suicides’ Mystery.” We discuss the anomalies he has uncovered in the official documents detailing the “suicides” that have taken place at Guantanamo. We also discuss the Guantanamo issue and its place in the greater political context of the Obama administration.
Start listening now.

For those interested, see also my video interview (somewhat shorter than the podcast) on the same subject at The Alyona Show.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Can't find no heaven": Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues

Skip James, blues genius
Hard time here and everywhere you go
Times is harder than ever been before

And the people are driftin' from door to door
Can't find no heaven, I don't care where they go

Hear me tell you people, just before I go
These hard times will kill you just dry long so

Well, you hear me singin' my lonesome song
These hard times can last us so very long

If I ever get off this killin' floor
I'll never get down this low no more
No-no, no-no, I'll never get down this low no more

And you say you had money, you better be sure
'Cause these hard times will drive you from door to door

Sing this song and I ain't gonna sing no more
Sing this song and I ain't gonna sing no more
These hard times will drive you from door to door

Friday, March 9, 2012

"I dream'd that Greece might yet be free": Lord Byron on "The Isles of Greece"

Lord Byron, who armed his own brig to fight with the Greek revolutionaries for freedom, wrote this poem in 1819. He died on April 19, 1824 in Missolonghi, Greece, before he had an opportunity to see actual fighting. Byron, more than any other poet of his day, put his beliefs in the cause of freedom into action.
THE isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace, --
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.

The Scian and the Teian muse,
The hero's harp, the lover's lute,
Have found the fame your shores refuse;
Their place of birth alone is mute
To sounds which echo further west
Than your sires' "Islands of the Blest."

The mountains look on Marathon --
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream'd that Greece might yet be free
For, standing on the Persians' grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

A king sat on the rocky brow
Which looks on sea-born Salamis;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
And men in nations; -- all were his!
He counted them at break of day --
And when the sun set, where were they?

And where are they? and where art thou,
My country? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now --
The heroic bosom beats no more!
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?

'Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though link'd among a fetter'd race,
To feel at least a patriot's shame,
Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush -- for Greece a tear.

Must we but weep o'er days more blest?
Must we but blush? -- Our fathers bled.
Earth! render back from out thy breast
A remnant of our Spartan dead!
Of the three hundred grant but three,
To make a new Thermopylae.

What, silent still, and silent all?
Ah! no; the voices of the dead
Sound like a distant torrent's fall,
And answer, "Let one living head,
But one arise, -- we come, we come!"
'Tis but the living who are dumb.

In vain -- in vain: strike other chords;
Fill high the cup of Samian wine!
Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
And shed the blood of Scio's vine!
Hark! rising to the ignoble call --
How answers each bold bacchanal!

You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet,
Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
Of two such lessons, why forget
The nobler and the manlier one?
You have the letters Cadmus gave --
Think ye he meant them for a slave?

Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
We will not think of themes like these!
It made Anacreon's song divine;
He served -- but served Polycrates --
A tyrant; but our masters then
Were still, at least, our countrymen.

The tyrant of the Chersonese
Was freedom's best and bravest friend;
That tyrant was Miltiades!
Oh! that the present hour would lend
Another despot of the kind!
Such chains as his were sure to bind.

Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
On Suli's rock, and Parga's shore,
Exists the remnant of a line
Such as the Doric mothers bore;
And there, perhaps, some seed is sown,
The Heracleidan blood might own.

Trust not for freedom to the Franks --
They have a king who buys and sells:
In native swords and native ranks,
The only hope of courage dwells:
But Turkish force and Latin fraud
Would break your shield, however broad.

Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
Our virgins dance beneath the shade --
I see their glorious black eyes shine;
But, gazing on each glowing maid,
My own the burning tear-drop laves,
To think such breasts must suckle slaves.

Place me on Sunium's marble steep --
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep:
There, swan-like, let me sing and die;
A land of slaves shall ne'er be mine --
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"The lie of the Stanford Prison Experiment"

This 2005 Stanford Daily article by Carlo Prescott (reposted below) on the famous Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) raises serious questions about both the reasons for the experiment, and the conclusions drawn by Dr. Philip Zimbardo and others regarding its controversial results. Mr. Prescott was one of the individuals involved in organizing the experiment, whose team was led by psychologist Phil Zimbardo. Dr. Zimbardo achieved a great deal of fame for this effort. In 2002 he served as President of the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Zimbardo has acknowledged the contributions of Mr. Prescott in previous writings. In a 40th anniversary retrospective on the SPE, Dr. Zimbardo called Prescott "our prison consultant," and described some of his activities in the running of the experiment. Most recently, he cited his help in a section of his book, The Lucifer Effect:
It all began with the planning, execution, and analysis of the experiment we did at Stanford University back in August 1971. The immediate impetus for this research came out of an undergraduate class project on the psychology of imprisonment, headed by David Jaffe, who later became the warden in our Stanford Prison Experiment. In preparation for conducting this experiment, and to better understand the mentality of prisoners and correctional staff, as well as to explore what were the critical features in the psychological nature of any prison experience, I taught a summer school course at Stanford University covering these topics. My co-instructor was Andrew Carlo Prescott, who had recently been paroled from a series of long confinements in California prisons. Carlo came to serve as an invaluable consultant and dynamic head of our “Adult Authority Parole Board.”
Oddly, Dr. Zimbardo fails to note in his acknowledgements that the study was funded by a grant from the US Office of Naval Research. (The fact is mentioned at the SPE FAQ webpage.) In fact, the research was written up in a paper for Naval Research Reviews, September 1973 (PDF).

Dr. Zimbardo's association with the Navy has continued for decades, and he is currently professor in the Department of Homeland Security Program at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

Mr. Prescott's paper asserts that the cruel actions by the student prisoner role-playing guards was not in fact an outcome of situational dynamics, as Zimbardo maintains, but that the "guards" were in fact instructed what to do. This would make the experiment more about how the student "prisoners" reacted under conditions of abuse than about penal behavior in general. It is possible that Zimbardo's accounts of the experiment are not totally truthful, and that the reasons the Office of Naval Research sponsored this project is because they were interested mainly in the actions of prisoners under abusive conditions in prisons run by the military, or possibly how prisoners in a POW camp might react to an abusive environment. This indeed was the program of the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE programs that were being organized in the military at this time, with greater and greater organization regarding them over the decades.

In any case, the Naval Research Reviews editorial introduction to the paper, which was co-authored along with Zimbardo by Prison Experiment assistants Craig Haney and Curtis Banks, says the following:
The research reported in this article is part of a larger project sponsored by the Office of Naval Research which is designed to develop a better understanding of the basic psychological mechanisms underlying human aggression.... The 'prison' environment was further manipulated to promote anonymity, depersonalization and dehumanization among the subjects. The study demonstrates how these variables combine to increase the incidence of aggressive behavior on the part of the 'guards' and submissive and docile conformity on the part of the 'prisoners.'
What follows is Mr. Prescott's version of what occurred:
The lie of the Stanford Prison Experiment
By Carlo Prescott on April 28, 2005 in News

I read recently in the entertainment industry trade journal Variety of Maverick Entertainment, the principle of whom is Madonna, that intends to produce a film based on the “infamous” Stanford Prison Experiment. I read this with considerable consternation.

According to the article, the project’s principal investigator and the film’s driving force, Prof. Philip Zimbardo this “landmark” experiment is a classical treatise on the “power of the situation” and a full-blown explanation of the evils of every prison from Folsom to Abu Ghraib. I can assure you, it is neither. I say this not because I am an African American ex-con who served 17 years in San Quentin for attempted murder or one who spoke before Congress on the issue of prison reform. I say it because I was the Stanford Prison Experiment’s chief consultant. I armed the Zimbardo, Craig Haney and Curt Banks with the ideas that enabled them to infuse this study with the verisimilitude that it hangs its hat on to this day. And shouldn’t.

Regrettably, the gulf between verisimilitude and real prison life is a huge leap of faith that still raises serious issues of validity from the get-go.

Nevertheless, ideas such as bags being placed over the heads of prisoners, inmates being bound together with chains and buckets being used in place of toilets in their cells were all experiences of mine at the old “Spanish Jail” section of San Quentin and which I dutifully shared with the Stanford Prison Experiment braintrust months before the experiment started. To allege that all these carefully tested, psychologically solid, upper-middle-class Caucasian “guards” dreamed this up on their own is absurd.

How can Zimbardo and, by proxy, Maverick Entertainment express horror at the behavior of the “guards” when they were merely doing what Zimbardo and others, myself included, encouraged them to do at the outset or frankly established as ground rules? At the time, I had hoped that I would help create a valid, intellectually honest indictment of the prison system.

In hindsight, I blew it. I became an unwitting accomplice to a theatrical exercise that conveniently absolves all comers of personal responsibility for their abominable moral choices. It seems that Maverick Entertainment, riding shotgun with Zimbardo, is repeating historical folly (and dramatic contrivance) of the worst kind. And do you honestly believe Hollywood will come anywhere close to honoring or doing right by the field of psychology in this exercise?

Carlo Prescott lives in Oakland. E-mail him at
Compare the article testimony above to what Dr. Zimbardo said in a 2004 essay, "A situationist perspective on the psychology of evil: Understanding how good people are transformed into perpetrators," in A. Miller (Ed.), The social psychology of good and evil (pp.21–50), Guilford Press (p. 39).
Participants [in the Stanford Prison Experiment] had no prior training in how to play the randomly assigned roles. Each subject’s prior societal learning of the meaning of prisons and the behavioural scripts associated with the oppositional roles of prisoner and guard was the sole source of guidance.
Or consider what Haney, Banks and Zimbardo stated in their Naval Research Reviews article: "Guard aggression... was emitted simply as a ‘natural’ consequence of being in the uniform of a ‘guard’ and asserting the power inherent in that role."

Certainly, a larger and more comprehensive, critical look is needed to determine what the facts are surrounding this "experiment," lauded in the press and social psychology literature as a landmark study on the nature of human beings under confinement. Its connection to US government studies on torture or imprisonment is another important aspect to any investigation.

Ending note for psychologists: the famous psychologist Erich Fromm critiqued the SPE and Zimbardo's conclusions, not knowing anything of Prescott's own criticisms, in his 1973 book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Excerpts of that critique can be read here.

The Alyona Show: "Gitmo 'Suicides' Raise Questions" (video)

From introduction to the video:
Of what we know, there are 779 prisoners who were sent to Guantanamo Bay under the Bush administration. Today, 171 remain. Some have been transferred or released; only one has been brought to trial in the US and sentenced to life in prison, and 8 died at the prison. The circumstances surrounding some of these deaths are mysterious, and a cause for debate and investigations. Truthout contributor Jeffrey Kaye discuss the deaths of two detainees.
The original story, Recently Released Autopsy Reports Heighten Guantanamo "Suicides" Mystery, examined the autopsies of two of the six Guantanamo "suicides" and found irregularities, unanswered questions, and startling new facts the government has withheld from the public for years. For instance, one detainee, Abdul Rahman Al Amri, was found hanged with his hands tied behind his back. The other deceased prisoner, Mohammad Al Hanashi, was said to have strangled himself to death with a type of underwear not used by detainees at the time.

There's more in the video and the Truthout article. Meanwhile, I will be continuing this investigation over the next weeks and months.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sign Petition to Repatriate Chagossians Expelled for US Base at Diego Garcia

Yesterday, SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative announced a petition campaign to provide redress for the former residents of the coral atolls of the Chagos Archipelago, expelled from their homeland by the British and the US governments, after the island of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago, was leased by Britain to the United States. Diego Garcia had the deep-water port in the Indian Ocean the US Navy desired. What did it mean that many hundreds of people would be kicked off their land?

As Andy Worthington noted, in an article a few years ago, following upon revelations in Time Magazine that Diego Garcia had been used for rendition flights to torture, and held a black site, secret interrogation prison for "war on terror" detainees: "A British sovereign territory — albeit one that was leased to the United States nearly 40 years ago, when the islanders were shamefully discarded by the British government and exiled to face destitution and death by misery in Mauritius — Diego Garcia has long been a source of shame to opponents of modern colonial activity."

Worthington explained the revelations about Diego Garcia:
Having spoken to senior CIA officers during his research, [Swiss Senator Dick] Marty told the European Parliament, “We have received concurring confirmations that United States agencies have used Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the UK, in the ‘processing’ of high-value detainees,” and Manfred Novak [then the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture] explained to the Observer that “he had received credible evidence from well-placed sources familiar with the situation on the island that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003.” The penultimate piece of the jigsaw puzzle came in May, when El Pais broke the story that “ghost prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, whose current whereabouts are unknown, was imprisoned on the island in 2005, shortly after his capture in Pakistan — although the English-speaking press failed to notice.
As for the Chagossians, the British High Court restored their right to return to their homeland, but the UK government has never enforced that right. SPEAK has advocated for the Chagossians' case before the British Courts, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Court of Justice.
Sign the Petition for the United States to Redress Wrongs Committed Against the Chagos Islanders

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 5, 2012—Today, SPEAK Human Rights & Environmental Initiative and the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic of American University launched a petition, calling on the U.S. government to provide redress to the Chagos Islanders, an indigenous population expelled from their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago more than forty years ago.

The Chagossians continue to fight for the right to return to their homeland. They were expelled when the U.K. and the U.S. governments decided that the United States would build a U.S. military base on the Archipelago’s main island, Diego Garcia. Since their expulsion, the Chagossians have lived as a marginalized community on the island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles. The recent passing of Lisette Talate, the oldest living survivor of the forced exile, underscores the urgent need for action by the U.S. and U.K. governments to redress the wrongs against the Chagossians. Ms. Talate’s dying wish was to see her homeland again before her death. We cannot let other Chagossians die without some form of redress: employment opportunities, compensation, and the opportunity to return home. Noam Chomsky, a signatory to this petition, has observed, "If people knew, they would do something about it . . .” Please do something today by signing the petition and sharing the link with friends.

We call on President Obama to respect the human rights of the Chagossians. The Obama administration will respond to petitions that receive 25,000 signatures in 30 days. The petition closes on April 3, 2012.

Please join the effort to bring this important issue before the Obama administration.

Sign the petition now at
As Christian Nauvel wrote in a legal paper (PDF) on the "Chagossians and their struggle", "The right to remain in one’s own country is a basic human right that has existed in one form or another since the times of King John and the Magna Carta."
Before the arrival of the B-52s and aircraft carriers, the Chagos was a peaceful cluster of islands whose inhabitants (known as the “Chagos Islanders” or “Chagossians”) lived on Diego Garcia and two other atolls: Peros Banhos and Salomon. The exact number of Chagossians who resided there is still disputed to this day, but estimates range from 800 to 1500. They lived simple lives, dividing their time between fishing and working on the coconut plantations where copra was produced. Though none of them owned any land, they had been in the Chagos for two, three or even four generations. It therefore came as a shock to most Chagossians when, on an otherwise normal morning in 1971, they were suddenly informed that they would be required to permanently leave their homes in order to make way for the U.S. military base. The majority of those living on Diego Garcia were shipped to Mauritius against their will, within days of receiving the news. By 1973, even the islands of Peros Banhos and Solomon had been completely evacuated.
But just as the US has eviscerated that other great right dating from the Magna Carta, the right of habeas corpus, they show little inclination to preserve these other rights in their headlong rush to control the world under the auspices of a never-ending "war on terror."

There may be little we can do to support the Chagossians, but one very simple way would be to sign the petition described above, and to support organizations like SPEAK, who are speaking up for some of the most powerless people on earth.

For more information on the plight of the Chagossians and the work SPEAK Human Rights and Environmental Initiative has done on their behalf, click here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Senate Hears Testimony on Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans

The following is a transcript (PDF) of testimony given by Dr. Scott Allen, MD at a February 29, 2012 hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Dr. Allen is Associate Professor of Medicine, University of California, Riverside, and a Medical Advisor for Physicians for Human Rights.

The title of the hearing was “Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans.” Indefinite Detention is a form of torture, as Dr. Allen makes clear. The current policy of the Obama administration is to keep certain supposed "war on terror" detainees in indefinite detention, and there are hundreds of such prisoners held at Guantanamo, Bagram, and likely other US military prisons. (H/T to Ulana Odezynsky for sending me this material.)
I am a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside and a medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights. PHR is an independent, non-profit organization that uses medical and scientific expertise to investigate human rights violations and advocate for justice, accountability, and the health and dignity of all people. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to submit my written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing regarding the “Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011” and I would like to thank Chairman Senator Leahy and Senator Feinstein as well as the other Members of this Committee for holding this important and timely hearing.
I have worked in the field of correctional health for over fourteen years including full-time work in a state prison facility as both a primary care doctor and a medical director. In addition, I have also worked with refugee and immigrant populations in indefinite detention situations. Finally, I worked on and oversaw the report, Punishment Before Justice: Indefinite Detention, which was issued by Physicians for Human Rights in June 2011. This report, as well as my recent letter to the editor of the New York Times regarding the medical effects of indefinite detention, are attached as exhibits to my testimony.1

Indefinite detention refers to a situation in which the government places individuals in custody without informing them when—if ever—the detainee will be released. Indefinite detention is vastly different from imprisonment because the detainee does not know whether he will be charged with crimes, if he will receive a trial or hearing, when he will see his family again (if ever), or if he will ever be released. Yet, a person indefinitely detained is not serving a jail sentence. Naturally, these many attributes of indefinite detention create a heightened degree of uncertainty, unpredictability and uncontrollability over the elemental aspects of one’s life, causing severe harms in healthy individuals, independent of other aspects or conditions of detention.

The harmful psychological and physical effects of indefinite detention have been documented (varying by individual) to include:

-- Severe and chronic anxiety, acute fear, and dread;
-- Pathological levels of stress that damage the core psychological functions of the immune, cardiovascular, and central nervous system;
-- Hypertension;
-- Depression and suicide;
-- Post-traumatic stress disorder;
-- Dissociation, schizophrenia, and psychosis; and
-- Enduring personality changes.

Some individuals even manifest physical symptoms of the psychological trauma they are suffering such as breathing difficulties, physical pain and skin disorders. In cases where the individual who is subject to indefinite detention has also previously experienced trauma, such as war, torture, or abuse, the physical and psychological effects of indefinite detention are exacerbated.

Moreover, indefinite detention affects individuals beyond the detainee himself. When a loved one is indefinitely detained, families are separated. Consequently, parents, spouses and children can and have suffered similar feelings of uncertainty, unpredictability and uncontrollability leading to the physical and psychological effects described above.

As a health care professional, having seen first-hand the physical and psychological effects of indefinite detention, I can attest to the devastating harms an individual suffers. These are medical, documented harms that in some cases may rise to the level of severe abuse of individuals, or torture in extreme cases. As a health care professional, I would conclude that the medical effects of indefinite detention are both physical and psychological and they result in lasting severe harms to individuals. Therefore, as a physician with first-hand knowledge of the real harms caused by indefinite detention, I must recommend that indefinite detention not be utilized as a long-term solution for detaining individuals.

To that end, I would recommend that the United States government reject solutions to national security problems that permit or rely on indefinite detention and, until the time that indefinite detention is abolished as a matter of policy, the United States government should provide measures that mitigate the social, psychological, and physical harms such detention causes among detainees. Further, if indefinite detention of individuals is allowed to continue, I would recommend permitting non-governmental, independent medical and psychological experts to evaluate the mental and physical health of detainees.

Again, I thank you for this opportunity to provide my testimony on this issue of extreme importance to the American people and Congress and am available to answer any questions or further discuss these issues.

1 The full report is also available at

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Faciliated Suicide" and the Death of Mohammed Al Hanashi

In my article at Truthout the other day on the death of two of the purported suicides at Guantanamo, Abdul Rahman Al Amri in May 2007 and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009, I described in great detail the circumstances surrounding both deaths. The story was based on the recent declassified autopsies of the two men. (PDF links to Al Amri and Al Hanashi's autopsy reports.)

Al Amri was discovered hanging in his cell. Reportedly, his hands had been loosely tied behind his back. I criticized the Department of Defense for not following forensic SOP and considering homicide as a possibility in his death.

In Al Hanashi's death, a more solid case of suicide was present, although there were a number of discrepanies: his ligature is said at one point to be twisted on the right side of his neck, another time on the left side; the "elastic band" from his "brief" (supposedly used to kill himself) does not match the type of underwear in use at Guantanamo at this time; the timeline leaves unexplained why he was not on suicide watch after multiple recent attempts, or why there was a large gap in time that he was not observed, contrary to SOP procedures.

The discrepancies have led me to believe the most likely cause of Al Hanashi's death was faciliated suicide. All the available data now argues that camp guards and/or prison health officials, with or without the connivance of camp leadership, very likely provided the very mentally ill Al Hanashi with the means and the available time to kill himself.

Possible reasons were explored in the Truthout article. I will add that's it's possible that prison hospital officials had simply tired of Al Hanashi's chronic suicidality and self-mutilation (he had been consistently banging his head on the prison camps walls), and decided to let him die (criminal neglect) or facilitated his death by the proffer of materials and opportunity to make the fatal attempt.

Such facilitated suicide amounts to murder, and it is not unprecedented. Indeed, an article from 2009 describes just such a prison "suicide," arranged by prison personnel in the case of Matthew Bullock, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, Texas.
Bret Grote, an investigator with the chapter, said credible prisoners who were confined in cells near Bullock contacted the organization claiming that Bullock, though a known suicide risk, was moved from a video-equipped cell to one without monitoring capabilities.

And on the morning of the suicide, two guards at the Jackson Township facility had been kicking on Bullock’s cell door, saying, “Kill yourself, you little p****,” according to one prisoner report, Grote said.

Prisoners also reported to Fed Up! that prison staff failed to place Bullock on suicide monitoring watch after Bullock stated his intention to kill himself. Hours later, Bullock was found by guards on the next shift hanging dead from his cell door, Grote said.
According to one description, "facilitated suicide" "occurs because of CLINICIAN indifference." But as in the case of Bullock and most likely Al Hanashi, the actions can be even more active than the mere withdrawal of necessary care.

Both the deaths of Al Amri and Al Hanashi call out for an independent investigation. But it's unlikely anything approaching that will occur. The main reason is the indifference of the American public to the crimes that took place and still take place at the US gulag-style prison. The primary cause for such indifference is the subordination of American liberals to the electoral needs of presidential politics. With the looming election between Barack Obama and some GOP challenger, the fate of those in a prison where Obama has put his stamp of approval over the indefinite detention of the prisoners is a matter of no account to those who see in the election of a Democratic president the overarching goal of their political lives.

In addition, Obama has told his followers that they must "not look back" at the crimes that took place under the Bush administration, and that includes the torture of "war on terror" prisoners. But Al Hanashi died on Obama's watch. It's not about a failure of accountability over the past any more, but about burying a moral imperative against torture and murder so your candidate can be elected.

The failure to address the truth about the deaths of Al Amri and Al Hanashi, and the fate of the other Guantanamo detainees, may not be the worst capitulation the American political and journalist class (with a few notable exceptions) has committed, but it certainly will go down as one of the most despicable and cowardly.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recently Released Autopsy Reports Heighten Guantanamo "Suicides" Mystery

Originally posted at

Autopsy reports released last year by the Department of Defense raise stark questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two prisoners at Guantanamo. Both deaths - of Abdul Rahman Al Amri in May 2007 and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009 - were labeled suicides by Department of Defense (DoD) investigators.

But the details in the autopsy reports show that Al Amri was found dead by hanging with his hands tied behind his back, calling into question whether he had actually killed himself. (He is referred to as Abd al-Rahman al-Umari in the report.) Al Hanashi was found wearing standard-issue detainee clothing, the undergarments from which he supposedly used to kill himself, and not the tear-proof suicide smock issued to detainees who are actively suicidal. It remains an open question if he were in fact under suicide watch, even though he had been repeatedly banging his head on prison walls, and had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.

Both Al Amri, who was housed in isolation at Guantanamo's high-security Camp 5, and Al Hanashi, who was resident at the prison's Behavioral Health Unit, were supposed to be under constant video surveillance, and according to camp officials, someone was supposed to be checking on them every three to five minutes.

A number of outside observers had deemed both prisoners' deaths suspicious, but the autopsy reports are the first public documentary evidence of what possibly occurred. The autopsies were declassified by the DoD a year ago, but apparently went unexamined, part of a 1,100-plus-page release of documents inresponse to an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Al Amri was a 34-year-old former member of the Saudi Arabian Army. According to his May 2006 Detainee Assessment (released by WikiLeaks), he allegedly had "knowledge about, and connections to many high-level Al-Qaida members and operations." He was also accused of making a film about the USS Cole bombing, a charge he denied. He was reportedly considered a "high-value" detainee, and had been at Guantanamo since February 2002. Al Amri told the Combatant Status Review Tribunal that examined his case that he had not gone to Afghanistan to kill Americans, and that if it had been his intent, he would have had ample opportunity when he was in the Saudi Army.

Al Hanashi was a 31-year-old Yemeni national who, as a young man, had left Yemen to join the Taliban side in the Afghan civil war. His father is said to be the leader of the 4,000-member Hanashi tribe in Yemen. Like Al Amri, DoD claims he was affiliated with al-Qaeda, a charge al Hanashi had denied. Captured after the Qala-i-Jangi prisoner uprising at Mazar-e-Sharif, he was transferred to Guantanamo, arriving two days before Al Amri. According to one prisoner who last saw him six months before his death, Al Hanashi had agreed to be a representative for prisoners' grievances before camp officials.

Both prisoners had been on long hunger strikes, and at times had weighed at or under 90 pounds. Each had been force-fed while on hunger strike. Both prisoners had never met with an attorney.

"They Covered Up the Crime"

Al Amri's autopsy (PDF) states that the "male civilian detainee" was "found hanging by his neck in his cell with a ligature made of braided strips of bed sheet. By report, similar fabric bound his hands loosely behind him."

Despite the fact that Al Amri's hands were bound behind him, the media was kept unaware of this fact. But it apparently was not unknown among some of the other detainees.

In a 2010 letter to his attorney, released as part of a court filing, longtime Guantanamo hunger striker Abdul Rahman Shalabi told his attorney, "You know what happened to (Abdul Rahman Al-Amri) who was killed in camp five two years ago, hanging while his hands were tied behind his back, and he was in solitary confinement.... When the Americans released the news of his death, they said that they found him dead in his cell and he was on hunger strike and they covered up the crime."

Authorities consulted for this article agreed, as one source put it, that having hands tied behind one's back in a hanging "does not necessarily indicate homicide but certainly requires additional investigation."

>Al Amri's relatives, as well, were highly dubious about the suicide verdict and, according to a report in Arab News, demanded an inquiry into his death. A Saudi official involved in monitoring "the condition of Saudi nationals being held in Guantanamo ... also ruled out the suicide theory." A follow-up story for Arab News claimed that a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesperson had indicated "a special medical committee would do an autopsy and then prepare a report that will be sent to US authorities on any particular inquires." No such report has ever surfaced publicly. A request for comment by the Saudi Interior Ministry had not been returned by press time.

There are other curious aspects to the details surrounding Al Amri's death. Authorities state that a ligature - the rope or other cord-like devise, in Al Amri's case possibly torn or cut-up bed sheets, used in strangulation - must be long enough for the purpose of hanging. According to the autopsy report, the ligature in Al Amri's case was only 22 and on-half inches long, inclusive of the portion around the neck.

Curiously, the ligature also had toward its more distant end "a 4-inch area of dark soiling with attached dark hairs." The report does not state whose hairs these are or why they are there. Since a DNA test was run to verify the prisoner's identity, presumably the hairs could have been identified as well, but there is no indication they were so identified.

The autopsy examiners assume that altered bed sheets were used for the hanging. But according to a summarized witness statement (pg. 7) by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mike Dunleavy, who became commander of Guantanamo's interrogation Task Force 170 in February 2002, the sheets used at Guantanamo were "changed" under his order "to the sheets in the federal prison system so they can't be torn or tied."

This previously unreported fact calls into question the narrative on Al Amri's death, as well as that of the three 2006 Guantanamo "suicides," who were said to have fashioned nooses, in part, out of torn bed sheets. Indeed, former detainees have questioned the suicides of these prisoners, in part, because they did not have "bed sheets that could easily be constructed into a noose." Harper's writer Scott Horton and a team of legal investigators at Seton Hall's School of Law's Center for Policy and Research have each conducted critical investigations of the 2006 deaths. More recently, Almerindo Ojeda, principal investigator at the  Guantánamo Testimonials Project, made a compelling argument that the 2006 deaths could have been examples of a torture technique called "dryboarding." Another book by former Guantanamo guard Joe Hickman examining the 2006 deaths is due out later this year.

Important information appears to have been kept from Al Amri's autopsy examiners. The examiners remark that the fact Al Amri's hands were tied behind his back was something only known to them "by report," but there should have been photographs taken and available to them.

The autopsy report, which does not provide a timeline for the events it describes, explains the supposed circumstances of Al Amri's death:
"Investigation reveals that a razor blade from a razor was used to cut strips from one or more bed sheets and a ligature was fashioned by braiding these strips together.... The free end of the ligature was attached to a ventilation opening, and [redacted] likely stood on his bedroll to place the noose over his head."
But, according to the official 2004 Camp Delta "Standard Operating Procedures" manual, razors were contraband items. Razors for shaving were allowed only during shower period, but guards were instructed to "Ensure the return of intact razors." Moreover, detainees in "segregation" units, i.e., isolation, as was Al Amri, are not supposed to be issued razors during shower period at all, raising questions how he ever obtained a blade, if he did at all.

The autopsy report gives no explanation as to how Al Amri obtained a razor blade. It does mention a "superficial, incised wound" on the forefingers of each of his hands, and these could have come from a razor, although the autopsy report does not conclude what their source is. Neither does the report describe the ventilation opening or how the ligature was attached to it.

Finally, in the toxicology section of the report, the examiners note Al Amri was tested "for screened medications (including mefloquine) and drugs of abuse." It is odd that screening for mefloquine is specially singled out. Mefloquine is a controversial antimalarial drug, which was mass administered to all detainees upon in-processing at Guantanamo. Over a year ago, Truthout examined the use of this drug, which may have been used for abusive purposes or as part of an illegal, secret experiment.

While no drugs were found, it is strange that Al Amri, who had been in Guantanamo for five years, mostly or entirely in solitary confinement, would be possibly thought to have mefloquine in his system. Only a small handful of Guantanamo prisoners were ever found to have malaria, and they came to the prison with the disease. Cuba is not considered to be malaria endemic, and US service personnel and contractors are not routinely administered mefloquine. Interestingly, one of the three purported Guantanamo suicides in 2006, but not the other two, was also tested for mefloquine.

"Stressors of Confinement"

The autopsy report of Guantanamo detainee number 78, Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, similarly raises serious questions about the circumstances surrounding his death. The prisoner was said to have strangled himself using elastic bands from his underwear.

The report provides details about the medical and psychiatric condition of the Yemeni detainee at the time of his death. According to the report, Al Hanashi had a "long history" of psychiatric problems at the Joint Task Force penal facility, including "adjustment disorder, anti-social personality disorder and stressors of confinement." (Emphases added.)

The presence of psychiatric problems is consistent with a reported "history of suicide gestures and multiple failed suicide attempts" going back to 2003. The previous attempts included methods of killing oneself such as hanging, "self-inflicted sharp force injuries and frequent blunt force trauma to the head," as well as "neck ligature," which is the kind of self-strangulation that was the manner of death found by the autopsy examiners, whose identities were redacted in both Al Hanashi and Al Amri's reports.

The autopsy document notes that Al Hanashi made five suicide attempts in the four weeks preceding his death. While the report's authors describe medical authorities' diagnoses given to the prisoner, including "anti-social personality disorder," no diagnosis of depression is given, despite the history of serious suicidal behavior.

According to the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, used by all government medical doctors and psychologists, a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder is only given to individuals who show "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years." It is difficult to believe that Guantanamo medical staff had this kind of information available to them, raising the possibility the diagnosis was given to taint the prisoner's behavioral profile.

In addition, the autopsy examiners describe the presence of "dark small raised lesions" on Al Hanashi's forehead, which they explained were "consistent with reported history of witnessed repeated self-inflicted hitting/banging of the head on the detention facility walls."

Self-injurious and suicidal behavior are two serious psychiatric symptoms long associated with the kinds of detention conditions found in Supermax prisons, or prisons using special administrative measures, where long-term solitary confinement and forms of sensory and social deprivation are the norm.

Suicide Watch?

Despite the very recent multiple suicide attempts, it is unclear if Al Hanashi was on suicide watch at the time of his death the evening of June 1, 2009, in a cell in the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. The autopsy report states he "has been on a suicide watch at BHU, where he is seen daily by medical staff." (Emphases added.)

But was he on suicide watch the day he died? Multiple email requests for clarification from the DoD on this issue, as well as a number of others - such as what was meant by "stressors of confinement" - have gone unanswered. A Truthout FOIA request for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) report on his death is pending.

A June 2008 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the procedures used after some Guantanamo suicide attempts. One detainee was "stripped naked, dressed in a green plastic rip-proof suicide smock, and placed in an individual cell under constant monitoring," after a single December 2007 suicide attempt. Nothing was allowed in his cell that could be used to injure himself. He was questioned by BHU personnel daily, and only released after two months. Another detainee on suicide watch was also dressed in the suicide smock and allowed nothing "other than a mat for sleeping, a Koran and toilet paper" in his cell.

It is not known how long Al Hanashi had been at the BHU, but if he was on suicide watch, he was not wearing the special suicide smock worn by those typically held under special suicide surveillance. The 31-year-old was discovered on the floor of his cell in a fetal position under a blanket, dressed "in khaki shirt and pants without undergarments." According to the autopsy report, the clothes were "general issue of the detention center.

The lack of undergarments is unexplained, but since the autopsy posits that Al Hanashi strangled himself using the elastic found in typical underwear distributed to detainees, it is possible that the undergarments are missing because they were used to construct the device by which it is said he asphyxiated himself.

Yet, there is some question about the type of underwear distributed to the detainees at this time. According to an October 17, 2007, article by Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald, after the three "suicides" in 2006, camp officials changed "procedures, including more careful monitoring of captives' belongings, and the changing of captives' underwear from more elastic briefs to cotton boxers less liable to be used in a hanging." The report consistently refers to the underwear Al Hanashi supposedly altered as "briefs" or "white briefs."

The autopsy does not mention any discovery of altered remnants of the undergarments. It says NCIS agents supplied the medical examiners with a replica of the "white brief" issued to the prisoners. The examiners found the ligature on Al Hanashi's neck to be "identical to the elastic band of the examined brief."

The autopsy states that "a civilian detainee" (Al Hanashi's name is strangely redacted at this point in the document) "of unknown age, died from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation by tightly wrapping the elastic band of his underwear around the neck and apparently securing it with a twist on the right side of the neck and a head tilt." Interestingly, on page 2 of the report, the autopsy examiners state the ligature was twisted "on the left side." The method of securing the ligature is somewhat obscure.

An expert on asphyxiation, Dr. Steven Miles, told Truthout, "The description of the ligature, suggests garroting of a type that can be done by a person to themself or by another person, i.e., a rod, pen, utensil etc. is put into the ligature and given several twists and then it is removed." The ligature marks are "consistent with but not conclusive of the use of an underwear band and quite unlike what would be seen with the use of a wire or cord." Accordingly, along with other medical evidence as reported, Dr. Miles, who criticized the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for "substandard investigations and reporting of prisoners' deaths" in his 2006 book "Oath Betrayed," concurs with the conclusions of the autopsy examiners that the cause of death for Al Hanashi was most likely suicide. He adds the phrase "stressors of confinement" in the report clearly is "a euphemism."

Timeline Questions

The autopsy report redacts the date of death, but combining the hourly timeline provided in the report with news accounts, it is almost certain Al Hanashi died sometime in the hour prior to midnight on June 1, 2009.

According to the report, approximately 25 minutes elapsed from the time of the last observation of the prisoner to the discovery of his body on the cell floor. In the examiner's narrative, at "approximately 2120 hours" (9:20 PM) Al Hanashi asked to speak to a nurse, asking for a "sleeping aid." Indeed, there were two tranquilizers found in the toxicology reports done post-mortem. Both Lorazepam and the metabolite for clonazepam, two common benzodiazepine drugs commonly known as Ativan and Klonopin, were found in the dead man's urine and blood.

However, it is not known if this is what Al Hanashi was given for sleep, or what drugs, if any, he was prescribed at this time. No other drugs are listed in the toxicology section of the report, except for acetaminophen and pseudoephedrine.

It was "10-15 minutes later," after his request for medications, that Guantanamo personnel had their last communication with Al Hanashi. This would have been between 2130 and 2135 hours, or between 9:30 PM and 9:35 PM, when the prisoner asked the guard if he could close his "bean hole cover." The report opines that this was a "sign he was ready to go to sleep." (The "bean hole" was the slot through which food was given to prisoners.) According to guards, who presumably were interviewed by NCIS, Al Hanashi was in "in 'good spirit' and did not appear upset."

Only "a few minutes later," the prisoner was "viewed through the cell window and noted to not be breathing." The report never states the exact amount of time elapsed, though the autopsy examiners report the time of discovery as "approximately 2155 hours," or 9:55 PM. This would mean that 20 to 25 minutes elapsed before guards or medical staff checked personally on Al Hanashi in his cell, a period that seems to be more than "a few minutes."

The efforts at resuscitation apparently lasted approximately an hour, as Al Hanashi was pronounced dead at 2259 or 10:59 PM. Medical intervention included use of an external automatic defibrillator, an endotracheal tube and the placement of a central venous line.

Whatever the timeline of the guards' observations of Al Hanashi, press reports have stated there is "constant video surveillance" inside prisoner cells in the BHU. Furthermore, Guantanamo spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt told Truthout in November 2009 that, while he couldn't comment on whether Al Hanashi had been videotaped in his cell, no Guantanamo detainee goes more than "three minutes" without being checked, one way or another. That would be consistent with the "few minutes" noted in the autopsy report, but not with the narrative that presents a lapse of 20 minutes or more. It also tallies with what a prison doctor told journalist Naomi Wolf, who had visited the cells where Al Hanashi had been held in the day or so prior to his death. "They check on prisoners every three minutes," he told her.

In addition, Wolf reported, "Cortney Busch of Reprieve, a British organization that represents Guantánamo detainees" told her "there is video running on prisoners in the psychiatric ward at all times, and there is a guard posted there continually, too."

"Tougher Methods" Used on Hunger Strikers

By many accounts, Al Hanashi, like Al Amri, had participated along with other detainees in hunger strikes to protest their situation and treatment. As a result, Al Hanashi, like the other strikers, was forcibly fed at times. Indeed, the autopsy report states, "On January 2009 he started a hunger strike and has been fed enteraly," that is, fed via a feeding tube. According to the autopsy report, Al Hanashi's stomach was "distended with partially digested food." The report does not say what this food could have been, or whether it was liquid food, such as would be fed through a tube. Some of this material was vomited up during the attempts to revive him.

While press reports state the Yemeni prisoner was a long-time hunger striker, Lt. Commander De Walt told reporters shortly after Al Hanashi's death that the prisoner's hunger strike had ended in mid-May. In an article for The Associated Press, Guantanamo attorney David Remes, who had a client in the Guantanamo BHU at the same time as Al Hanashi, told reporter David McFadden that "all the prisoners in the ward had been force-fed a liquid nutrition mix through a tube inserted in their noses and down their throats and that al-Hanashi had been the only one force-fed in a restraint chair."

In another Associated Press article, Remes said there were seven detainees total in the BHU at the time of Al Hanashi's death.

Guantanamo chronicler Andy Worthington noted in a 2010 article on the "shocking statistics of starvation" at the US "war on terror" Cuban camp that, up to and including Al Hanashi's death, all the supposed suicides at Guantanamo had been hunger strikers.

A February 2006 story by Tim Golden at The New York Times noted, "tougher measures to force-feed detainees engaged in hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay," implemented by US authorities at the time. This includes the period when Al Hanashi was on his final hunger strike. Military authorities have maintained that force-feeding is conducted "in a humane and compassionate manner."

Golden wrote, "In recent weeks ... guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into 'restraint chairs,' sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. Detainees who refuse to eat have also been placed in isolation for extended periods in what the officials said was an effort to keep them from being encouraged by other hunger strikers."

The "tougher measures" had reduced hunger strikers to only four by December 2005, suggesting that Al Hanashi was one of a handful of hunger strikers. Moreover, it means Al Hanashi initiated his 2006 hunger strike when the harsher methods were already in place. Attorney Elisabeth Gilson, who had a client on the psychiatric ward at the same time Al Hanashi was there, called the force-feeding "abusive and inhumane."

Testimony From a Detainee Witness

One of the released Guantanamo detainees, Binyam Mohamed, told the press that Al Hanashi had been a leader among the prisoners. In a June 11, 2009, story published at the Miami Herald, he said Al Hanashi, whom he calls Wadhah, weighed only 104 lbs. the last time he saw him in January 2009.

Mohamed stated that he was "force-fed together" with Al Hanashi. According to Mohamed, he last saw Al Hanashi on January 17, 2006, when the Yemeni prisoner "was taken outside Camp 5 to meet with the Joint Task Force commander, Adm. David Thomas, and the Joint Detention Group commander, Col. Bruce Vargo." According to Mohamed's account, Al Hanashi had agreed to be a prisoner's representative "on camp issues such as hunger strikes and other contentious issues." Al Hanashi never returned to his cell, and nothing was known of his fate among the detainees outside BHU until his death was announced.

Given what is known of the six months prior to Al Hanashi's purported suicide, we are to believe that at the same time Al Hanashi restarted his hunger strike, he also became a prisoner's representative and met with top camp officials. At some point, he was placed in the camp's BHU. By mid-May, he had ended his hunger strike, but had also began a series of suicide attempts, for which he was placed on suicide watch. On the night of his death, he appears to have not been on suicide watch, since he was not found wearing the regularly issued suicide smock. He was in "good spirit," yet he supposedly killed himself minutes later, after taking two different sedating tranquilizers, all while under supposed constant or near-constant surveillance.

No medical staff, camp guard or other prison or military official has ever been disciplined for presumed failures of standard operating procedures surrounding any of the Guantanamo "suicides," at least so far as is known.

Stress and Mental Illness at Guantanamo

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) found as early as June 2003 that the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo were "tantamount to torture," as was documented in a "Memorandum for the Record to Major General Geoffrey Miller" on October 8, 2003. Questions about psychological torture at the Navy base prison were raised by ICRC as early as January 2003. According a New York Times article by Neil Lewis, "the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement."

The stressors of confinement at Guantanamo are many, and include the anxiety and tension associated with indefinite detention, isolation, long bouts of intense interrogation, behavioral controls of reward and punishment, periods of sleep deprivation, lack of access for years to an attorney, separation from family and loved ones, cruel treatment and at times torture.

A two-part series published at Truthout last year raised the question of whether waterboarding occurred at Guantanamo, and documented numerous occasions when similar forms of water torture was, in fact, used.

Other forms of detainee torture at Guantanamo, as documented in a 2006 report by the UN's Commission on Human Rights, included sensory deprivation and sensory overload, exposure to cold, exposure to extreme violence and cultural and religious harassment.

One particular form of abuse that caused great controversy was the policy, still in place, of force-feeding hunger strikers. A report in the August 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association concluded, "force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay violates the Geneva Conventions, international human rights law, and medical ethics."

Some of the Guantanamo detainees were persistently force-fed for years. The UN report noted that some forms of forced feeding, including accounts of the practice at Guantanamo, amount to torture.

Why Did Al Hanashi Die?

Whether or not Al Hanashi died a suicide, the question remains why he was driven to such a desperate measure, or why those in charge of his care failed so miserably to keep him alive. While his death may have been due to the stresses of torture and imprisonment, bringing the prisoner to despair and suicide, there may have been other, more distal causes affecting his situation.

Al Hanashi may have been singled out, along with Al Amri, as a trouble maker. Al Hanashi's June 2008 detainee assessment, written as a memorandum for the commander of US Southern Command, labeled him a "HIGH threat from a detention perspective." The report complained that Al Hanashi's "overall behavior has been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force and staff." The report, which was part of a large release of detainee files by WikiLeaks last year, listed "163 Reports of Disciplinary Infraction" up to that date, including "inciting and participating in mass disturbances, failure to follow guard instructions/camp rules, inappropriate use of bodily fluids, unauthorized communications, damage to government property, attempted assaults, assaults, provoking words and gestures, exposure of sexual organs, and possession of food and non-weapon type contraband."

The report also describes the DoD's version of Al Hanashi's connections to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. While Al Hanashi admitted in a written response to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing that he had associated with the Taliban, hedenied any association with al-Qaeda. The DoD relied for that claim on the interrogations of two detainees known to have been repeatedly torturedAbu Zubaydah and Sanad Ali Yislam al-Kazimi.

November 2009 Truthout article by this author speculated whether Al Hanashi's death had anything to do with thepossibility that he was a material witness to the 2002 mass killings by Afghan Gen. Abdul Dostum, which possibly included knowledge or participation by US forces. (The Obama administration has refused to investigate the atrocity.) Al Hanashi had been imprisoned and then wounded at Qala-i-Janghi Prison, where there had been an uprising by Taliban prisoners. (His DoD assessment notes that, in interrogation, John Walker Lindh stated that Al Hanashi had helped negotiate the surrender of the prisoners.) Afterward, he was sent to Shabraghan Prison, where he spent the next four weeks or so recuperating in the prison hospital. In the hospital at the same time were survivors from the mass execution of Taliban prisoners. The bulk of the Taliban POWs had presumably been dumped in mass graves at Dasht-i-Leili.

A major news story by The New York Times on the Afghan mass graves, and a report on the forensic evidence gathered in the case was released in the month after Al Hanashi's death. The Times report by journalist James Risen noted "several Afghan witnesses" to the slaughter "were later tortured or killed." Had Al Hanashi talked to survivors of the massacre, and if so, what could he have said about it?

Interestingly, Dostum's denial of any involvement in the murder of Taliban prisoners was posted just after the Times story broke at the web site for the US government-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site, suggesting the US was actively involved in disseminating misinformation on the war atrocity.

Former detainee Binyam Mohamed, who knew Al Hanashi, found it difficult to believe he would take his own life, and felt Al Hanashi was murdered. "If he did take his life - after being forced into a BHU - what put him there?" Mohamed asked. "Who takes responsibility for making him lose hope after having held on for so many years, despite the inhumane treatment and conditions?"

Another Suicide

Al Amri's death came almost exactly one year, and Al Hanashi's death almost three years, to the day after three detainees were found dead on one night in June 2006. Another detainee, former British resident Shaker Aamer, was reportedly also beaten severely and suffocated by Guantanamo personnel on the same night. Aamer's case has been a focus of British activists seeking his release.

All these deaths were called suicide by the DoD, and the investigations into them apparently proceeded with only the presumption of suicide. Even Al Amri, who had died with hands tied behind his back, was labeled a suicide by autopsy examiners only days after his death, with no indication of possible investigation into homicide.

In May 2011, a 37-year-old detainee, Inayatullah, also known asHajji Nassim, was found dead, reportedly hanging by bed sheets, in a recreation yard at Guantanamo. Nassim's Guantanamo detainee assessment is one of 14 missing from the WikiLeaks Guantanamo release. Nassim's attorney, federal public defender Paul Rashkind, has told the press that his client had attempted suicide twice before at Guantanamo, and was the long-time victim of "a paralyzing psychosis" that had begun long before he was sent to Guantanamo in September 2007.

According to the US government, Nassim was "an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations." Nassim's court filings also identify him under the alias "Harun Al-Afghani" and "Mohammed Naseem." Other reports have described him as a father of six, "the owner of a black market cellphone store in Zahedan, Iran," and someone who, sometime after his capture, stopped cooperating with US authorities under detention because he could not "afford his fellow Afghani detainees to believe that he cooperates with US intelligence."

Rashkind would not answer Truthout queries about his client's case, stating, "everything is classified."

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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