Socialist Worker

Guantanamo suicides an ‘act of despair’

Zachary Katznelson, a senior counsel at Reprieve, which represents 36 Guantanamo Bay prisoners, spoke to Socialist Worker about the suicide of three inmates last week.

Issue No. 2005

Like many people, I am angered by the reaction of US authorities to the deaths of three men in Guantanamo Bay.

The comment from US assistant secretary of state Colleen Graffy that the suicides were a “a good PR move”, and from the camp commander that the deaths were an “act of asymmetric warfare waged against us”, show incredible insensitivity.

More than this, they show a failure to recognise Guantanamo Bay for what it is, a legal black hole where prisoners are not charged with crimes or given a chance for a fair trial.

Only ten of the 460 prisoners currently held at Guantanamo have been formally charged with any crime.

Many prisoners are still facing problems accessing lawyers. None of the three men who killed themselves had a lawyer.

It is critically important that people remember that these are human beings. They want the chance to stand up in court and tell their stories.

The cells in Guantanamo are six feet by eight feet. Imagine that you are told that you have to live the rest of your life in a room the size of your toilet, that you will never see your friends or family, that you will never be able to speak to them again on the phone.

It is incredibly sad that three men, Ali Abdullah Ahmed, Yasser Talal al-Zahrani and Mani Shaman Turki al-Habani al-Utaybi have taken their own lives. Tragically one of them was scheduled for release, but the US had not told him.

All three men had been involved in long term hunger strikes. The tactics used by the US to break the hunger strikes are incredibly brutal.

They involve strapping prisoners down and forcing a tube through their nose, down their throat and into their stomach. They are force fed until they vomit. This is hardly medically appropriate treatment. It is designed to cause as much pain as possible. This is done five or six times a day, often with no lubrication.

The stories of the 36 Guantanamo prisoners Reprieve represents are an indictment of the camp. One of them, Mohammed El Gharani, was arrested when he was 14.

He has just turned 19 and he is still in Guantanamo Bay even though he still hasn’t been formally charged with anything. He has tried to kill himself twice this year.


One of the allegations against him is that he was part of an Al Qaida cell in London when he was 11. He wasn’t even living in Britain at the time.

Ahmed Errachidi has been held in solitary confinement for two and a half years. He still hasn’t been charged. One of the allegations against him was that he attended a training camp in Afghanistan in July 2001.

Employment records Reprieve uncovered prove he was working as a chef in London that entire month.

Every day that Guantanamo Bay is open, it makes all of us less safe. The US government says that it is for human rights. Well, it has a chance to act and show those words mean something. They must shut down Guantanamo Bay.

Britain is one of the biggest supporters of the US. There are eight British residents still held in the camp.

Tony Blair has called Guantanamo Bay an “anomaly”. It is much more than that – it is a disaster that cripples the fight against terrorism. It is time Blair showed true leadership and called for the prison to close now.

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Sat 17 Jun 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2005
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