Almost five months before he was found dead at Guantanamo Bay, a detainee volunteered to represent prisoners in talks with the military and left his jailhouse for a meeting with the detention camp’s most senior commanders. But he never returned – from then on, he was held in the prison’s psychiatric ward, a former detainee recalled.
Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi died in the ward this month in what the military has called an apparent suicide – the fifth since the prison opened and the first on President Barack Obama’s watch.
The U.S. military has refused to say how Saleh allegedly killed himself in the closely watched psychiatric ward. But the former detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said it wasn’t like him to commit suicide.
“He was patient and encouraged others to be the same,” Mohamed said. “He never viewed suicide as a means to end his despair.”
Even if it was suicide, Mohamed still classifies the death as “murder, or unlawful killing, whichever way you look at it,” saying that the U.S. had caused Saleh to lose hope by locking him up indefinitely without charges.
Mohamed was transferred in February to Britain, which released him. His account, sent to The Associated Press Wednesday by one of his lawyers, provides some details about the dead man’s detention for the first time.
Mohamed said Saleh left their high-security Camp 5 jailhouse for a meeting on Jan. 17 with Rear Adm. David Thomas and Army Col. Bruce Vargo. Thomas is the top commander of the military’s joint task force that runs the prison and related operations in Cuba. Vargo commands the joint detention group.
It is unclear what happened at the meeting, or if it came off at all. But Mohamed, who himself was asked by the military to be a prisoners’ representative but declined, said Saleh never returned to Camp 5 and was instead put into Guantanamo’s Behavioral Health Unit, where detainees with mental problems are held and closely monitored.
Asked about the meeting, Guantanamo’s spokesman said it is not unusual for detainees to speak with the commanders of the task force and the detention group. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt declined to give details.
“Specific issues related to this detainee will be looked at as part of the ongoing investigation,” the spokesman said in an e-mail to AP, adding that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating the death.
When he died on June 1, Saleh was one of seven inmates being held in the psychiatric ward, and all had been force-fed, attorney David Remes, whose client was one of the seven, said last week.
DeWalt said it would be inappropriate during the NCIS investigation to comment.
Saleh, a Yemeni, allegedly had fought alongside the Taliban and had been held without charge at Guantanamo since February 2002. While he opposed what he considered abusive treatment of detainees, he “was always very sociable and tried to help resolve issues between the guards and prisoners,” said Mohamed.
Attorney Elizabeth Gilson, who represents another detainee at the psychiatric ward, said she heard details about the suicide from her client but cannot divulge them because the information is classified. She described the force-feeding as “abusive and inhumane.”
Mohamed, himself force-fed while at Guantanamo, described the experience of being strapped into a “restraint chair” and being fed liquid nutrients through a tube. He remembers one of the nurses as sympathetic.
“While the … hard tube is forced through your nostril down to your stomach your eyes swell with tears and run down your cheeks,” Mohamed wrote. “It’s always comforting to hear the nurse say ‘Oh don’t worry. it’s okay that happens to everyone’ and wipe off your tears for you. And as the tube goes through the throat, you get the sensation of choking.”
Saleh was a long-term hunger striker, but the military said he resumed eating in May.
AP writer Mike Melia contributed to this report.