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Deaths at Gitmo Reveal Neglect Among Guards

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August 26, 2008

Saturday’s Washington Post featured a story about three detainee suicides at Guantánamo on June 10, 2006. The information about the circumstances of the suicides came from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that yielded a report from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The article reports:

More than two years later, a[n NCIS] probe and other documents reveal that the men took advantage of lapses in guard protocol and of lenient policies toward compliant detainees……An internal investigation into the guards’ actions found six violations of Guantánamo’s standard operating procedures, procedures that have since been revamped.

The government can’t say it didn’t see the suicides coming. Detainees’ lawyers had warned that, as their clients’ detention dragged on with no end in sight, the men would likely kill themselves in despair. Department of Defense (DOD) officials admitted that by June 2006, there had been at least 41 suicide attempts at Gitmo. When three detainees actually committed suicide that month, government officials went on attack, calling the deaths an “act of asymmetrical warfare waged against [the U.S.]” and a “good PR move to draw attention.”

On July 17, 2007, the ACLU submitted a FOIA request to the DOD seeking the release of records relating to all deaths (which includes suicides, homicides, natural deaths and accidental deaths) and attempted suicides and homicides since the detainees started arriving in Guantánamo in January 2002.The DOD was, not surprisingly, unresponsive. So in April of this year, we filed a lawsuit asking the courts to enforce our request. In our lawsuit, we pointed out that the government has no basis for withholding this information from the American public, and that people need the information about deaths and attempted suicides “to assess both their causes and their human and policy consequences.”Last week, we reached a settlement with the DOD, and by September 12, we will start receiving documents. Even before September, we expect to get the NCIS report that WaPo reported on, but we expect that our broader request will yield even more information: information on the suicide of Abdul Rahman Ma’ath Thafir in 2007; the death of Abdul Razzak, reportedly from natural causes last year; and information on attempted suicides.And, of course, we’ll let you know what we get…

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