Pentagon Documents Reveal Details of Suicide Attempts at Guantánamo

June 19, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Releases New Documents Showing Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Guantánamo


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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today released more than 1,000 pages of documents obtained from the Department of Defense, including reports of suicide attempts by detainees held at Guantánamo.

“These documents are the latest evidence of the desperate and immoral conditions that exist at Guantánamo Bay,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “The injustices at Guantánamo need to be remedied before other lives are lost. We must uphold our American values and end indefinite detentions and widespread abuse.”

A medical report dated April 29, 2003 details an attempt by a detainee to commit suicide by hanging himself with a towel. The detainee fell into a “vegetative state” due to brain injury sustained during the hanging, according to the report. Medical staff at Guantánamo “most strongly advocate[d]” for the detainee’s “earliest return to his home country,” noting that the detainee had a “history of depression” and “his rehabilitation will be long.” The documents do not indicate whether officials followed the recommendations of the medical staff.

Another document released today details a detainee’s request to write a will. The detainee claimed he did not want to commit suicide, but that “death had been entering his mind lately.” The detainee was allowed to rewrite his will. The document was among several previously undisclosed attachments to a June 2005 Army report by Lt. Gen. Mark Schmidt and Brig. Gen. John Furlow on detainee treatment at Guantánamo.

The ACLU today also highlighted documents it previously obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that indicate suicidal thoughts were widespread among detainees at Guantánamo, and that the government was aware of this as early as 2002. According to a document released by the FBI, a detainee stated in an interview that 40-50 detainees intended to commit suicide after Ramadan ended because “they were tired of being detained with no prospect of being released and they were tired of being mistreated by guards.” Other FBI reports confirm that detainees had suicidal thoughts and engaged in hunger strikes to protest their mistreatment at the hands of guards.

The evidence of suicide attempts comes on the heels of three recent suicides at Guantánamo. The detainees who died have been identified as two Saudi nationals, including one who was reportedly 17 when he was taken into custody, and one Yemeni national. According to news reports, all three had previously taken part in hunger strikes and had been force-fed. The individual suicide notes left behind by the men have not been released. Pentagon officials called the suicides an “act of asymmetrical warfare” and “a good PR move to draw attention.”

“It is astounding that the government continues to paint the suicides as acts of warfare instead of taking responsibility for having driven individuals in its custody to such acts of desperation,” said Amrit Singh of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The government may wish to hide Guantánamo Bay behind a shroud of secrecy, but its own documents reveal the hopelessness and despair faced by the detainees who are being held without charge and with no end in sight.”

The attachments to the Schmidt-Furlow report released today provide further information on abuses at Guantánamo. One of the documents is the statement of a U.S. Army Major who was stationed at Guantánamo from February 2003 to January 2004. The Major said he witnessed civilian contractor interrogators ordering military police to shackle detainees to the floor by short chains attached to their wrists and use loud music and strobe lights as part of the “fear up” interrogation approach. The Major also said that an Army officer impersonated a State Department official.

On Friday, the Defense Department released for the first time heavily redacted reports by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on special operations forces in Iraq and Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby on Afghanistan detainees. The Formica report found that special operations troops used a set of harsh, unauthorized interrogation techniques against detainees in Iraq, kept detainees in four-foot by four-foot boxes for days and fed them nothing but bread and water for up to 17 days. Nonetheless, neither report concluded that the problems were systemic. The ACLU called the reports a whitewash.

As a result of the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released detailing the torture and abuse of detainees. The ACLU has created a search engine for the public to access the documents at

The ACLU brought the lawsuit with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

This month, the Supreme Court will rule in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which challenges the validity of military commissions established by President Bush to try detainees. The commissions have been challenged as inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions and unauthorized by Congress. The ACLU filed an amicus brief arguing that the commission rules do not guarantee an independent trial court, do not provide for impartial appellate review, and do not prohibit the use of coerced testimony despite extensive evidence that coercive interrogation techniques have been used at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.

In addition to Singh, attorneys in the FOIA case are Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C.; Jameel Jaffer and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The documents released today are available online at:

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