U.S. military reports eighth prisoner death at Guantanamo

A 37-year-old Afghan prisoner known only as Inayatullah held at Guantanamo Bay committed suicide yesterday according to the U.S. military Southern Command. Inayatullah is the eighth prisoner reported dead at Guantanamo. He had been held since 2007 without being charged with a crime although he reportedly admitted to being an al Qaeda planner.

The military told Agence France Presse that guards found the prisoner unresponsive and not breathing Wednesday. “After extensive lifesaving measures had been exhausted, the detainee was pronounced dead by a physician.”

The death of Inayatullah may again focus some attention on the judicial quagmire that is the prison camp at Guantanamo. The vast majority of the hundred-plus prisoners there have yet to be accused of crimes even though they have been held for years. The conditions of the imprisonment are vague and continue to be inadequately monitored. As a result, the “War on Terror” facility has become a symbol of U.S. injustice and imperial privilege to much of the world, fueling anti-American sentiment and seeming to confirm terrorist recruitment propaganda.

Moves to relocate the prisoners and try them according to U.S. law have met a series of politically charged hurdles year after year. After vowing to make closing the camps at Guantanamo a top priority, President Obama has abandoned the project, seemingly content to allow it to chug along of its own accord, a military-judicial no man’s land paid for by U.S. taxpayers without an end in sight and beyond the rule of law.

Early in the Obama administration, there was talk of moving the prisoners to Supermax prisons in the U.S., like to the facility in Florence, Colorado, where many high-profile terrorists are being held.

Colorado politicians blanched at the idea but local residents and Supermax officials have been less squeamish.

Town Manager Tom Piltingsrud told the Denver Post in 2009 that Florence residents would likely support a transfer.

They took the initiative on establishing Supermax in the first place, scraping together money to buy land and then donating it to the government for the complex, he said.

They remain glad for the jobs it provides.

“It’s a recession-proof industry,” Piltingsrud said.

There already is a housing development with a Gary Player-designed golf course close to the federal prison complex that includes Supermax. It has 100 units now but could have up to 1,500 when completed….

Florence Mayor Bart Hall has little worry about maintaining the security of the area, even in the event of a large-scale transfer from Guantanamo.

Hall noted that in rural Colorado, people are pretty self-reliant.

“Most of us own guns,” he said.

Family members of previously deceased Guantanamo prisoners have filed lawsuits arguing that the Pentagon covered up details of the deaths. U.S. judges dismissed those complaints.

Scott Horton at Harpers wrote the unaddressed backstory to those alleged suicides:

Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.

As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves. Only the prisoners’ families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen rejected the notion.

Two years later, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS documents were carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 |

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