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Government Conclusions on Guantanamo Deaths Do Not Absolve Government of Responsibility

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Release of Findings Long Overdue, Two of the Three Men Who Died Were Facing Imminent Release

press@ccrjustice.org

New York, NY – Late last week, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) released more than 3,000 pages of documents concerning its investigation into the deaths of three detainees at Guantanamo Bay on June 10, 2006.  The NCIS report concludes that the detainees – Saudis Yasser al-Zahrani and Mani al-Utaybi, and Yemeni Ali Abdullah Ahmed Naser al-Sulami – died as the result of suicide. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) just obtained a full copy of the report and will be working in the coming days to present an analysis of the government’s findings.

Meanwhile, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in reaction to the release of the report:

“The government cannot, by issuing this report and concluding that the cause of these deaths was suicide, simply wash its hands of all responsibility for what happened to Yasser al-Zahrani, Mani al-Utaybi and Ali Abdullah Ahmed Naser al-Sulami. These men died on the U.S. government’s watch, they were detained under its exclusive custody and control, and the government therefore had a duty to protect their physical and mental well-being and personal security. Their deaths reflect a breach of that responsibility.  That these men were detained unlawfully compounds the injustice and tragedy of their deaths. There is evidence to suggest that none of the three men should have been detained or would have been charged.  

“Since the deaths, the government has acted with complete disregard for the rights and religious customs of the families of these men.  Nothing will ever bring them back, but the United States must be held accountable for the loss of their lives and the pain and suffering of their families.”

At the time of their deaths, the three men had been detained incommunicado for more than four years, without charge or trial, in conditions constituting torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.  The government had cleared al-Utaybi for transfer from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia.  Al-Zahrani, who was only 17 at the time of his capture and 21 when he died, was also on the verge of being transferred to his home country.  The government had decided years before his death that al-Sulami was not someone they could prosecute.

The U.S. government never directly notified the men’s families that their sons had died.  Al-Zahrani’s family heard his name on television and contacted the Saudi Ministry of Interior, which confirmed that al-Zahrani was one of the deceased.  While Islamic law requires that burials be within 24 hours of death, the remains of the deceased were not returned to their home countries until at least five days after they died, and with missing organs and signs of injury and trauma, according to the families.  Autopsies were performed on the men without notifying their families or obtaining the families’ consent.

Government spokespersons and military officials also made a number of derisive comments about the men following their deaths.  One official referred to the deaths as “a good PR move to draw attention.”

Two other men have died in U.S. hands at the base – Saudi Abd ar-Rahman Maadha al-Amry in May 2007, and Afghan Abdul Razzak Hekmati in Dec. 2007, reportedly of a treatable disease.  Neither of these men was charged, and neither of the deaths has been properly documented or accounted for.

In June 2008, CCR filed tort claims against the Department of Defense on behalf of the families of two of the deceased, al-Zahrani and al-Sulami.  CCR will continue to work with the families to seek justice and accountability for their loss, and to prevent the risk of further harm to the detainees who remain at Guantanamo.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for more than six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee.”  CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation.  This past year CCR represented numerous detainees with co-counsel in Boumediene et al. v. Bush, which the Supreme Court decided in the Center’s favor in June.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.