ACLU Calls for Immediate Investigation into Death at Guantánamo Bay

May 31, 2007 12:00 am

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Prisoner Death Comes Just Days Before ACLU Set to Monitor Military Commission Proceedings

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today called for an independent investigation into the death of a Saudi national held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay. Military officials have described the death as an “apparent suicide,” making it the fourth death in custody at Guantánamo in the past year.

The U.S. government has previously downplayed the significance of suicides and suicide attempts at Guantánamo Bay, said the ACLU. Last year, officials drew widespread criticism after calling the suicides of three detainees “an act of asymmetric warfare.”

“Further deaths at Guantánamo should not surprise us when prisoners are afforded a second class system of justice, are held indefinitely without charge, and are given only limited access to their lawyers,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “Guantánamo Bay has operated for far too long under a shroud of secrecy. The global community and the American public have rightfully lost their trust in the U.S. government after countless reports of abuses and injustices at Guantánamo.”

“Guantánamo remains a legal black hole,” Romero added. “This is inconsistent with American values and must stop immediately.”

The ACLU has called on Congress and the Bush administration to shut down Guantánamo Bay. Last week, the ACLU endorsed legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that would effectively end the practice of indefinite detention without charge or due process for detainees who have been held for as long as five years without knowing the reason for their detention. It would also provide an incentive for the government to finally charge those detainees it believes are guilty of crimes against the United States.

“The military commission system at Guantánamo Bay delivers only the illusion of justice,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Most of the prisoners have not been charged at all, and those prisoners who have been charged are being tried under rules that are fundamentally unfair.”

Jaffer will travel to Guantánamo Bay to observe the arraignments of Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Omar Khadr, both of which are scheduled to take place on Monday, June 4. Hamdan is a Yemeni national who is alleged to have been Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard and chauffeur. He is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism. Hamdan previously challenged the military commissions system in a case that reached the United States Supreme Court. In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the military commissions authorized by President Bush violated U.S. military law and international treaties. Following that ruling, Congress enacted the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which was signed by President Bush on October 17, 2006. Hamdan and Khadr are being tried under the MCA.

Khadr, a 20-year-old Canadian citizen, will be arraigned on charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support and espionage. Most of the charges relate to a 2002 incident in Afghanistan in which Khadr is alleged to have thrown a grenade, killing a U.S. soldier. At the time, Khadr was 15 years old. Khadr’s lawyers argue that he should be treated as a minor and that he was abused by U.S. forces at Guantánamo Bay.

At their respective arraignments, Khadr and Hamdan will be asked to enter pleas. It is not yet known how they will respond. The ACLU’s Jaffer will post his observations of the hearings to the ACLU’s blog at

The ACLU is one of four organizations that have been granted status as human rights observers at the military commission proceedings. When the tribunals began in 2004, Romero and two ACLU lawyers attended the proceedings and blogged about their observations.

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