On June 10, 2006, three prisoners were found dead in their cells: Salah Ahmad al-Salami, Mani’ bin Shaman al-Oteibi and Yasir Talal al-Zahrani, who I spoke of earlier.
The circumstances surrounding their deaths were obscure. Each one was found hanged in his cell, hands and feet restrained and a piece of cloth stuffed in his mouth. The three had been on a hunger strike to protest the terrible conditions; Salah al-Salami, who was one of three who had the longest hunger strikes, had been the last of the three to end his hunger strike. He was returned to Alpha, where Mani’ al-Oteibi and Yasir al-Zahrani were.
On the night of June 10, 2006, the prisoners were entertaining themselves with nasheeds or poetry as usual. Everyone had eaten, and many were asleep.
At around one or two in the morning, a female soldier began to shout: “Help… Help!”
Soldiers and doctors streamed in, and soon the stretchers streamed out, the first brought out Salah – Allah have mercy on him – hands bound behind him with a gag in his mouth. Then came Yasir in the same condition, and then Mani’.
The crime scene, Alpha block, was made up of 48 cells, open steel containers separated by windows. Each cell was a meter and a half by two meters with a bed, toilet and washbasin. The rules in force in the camp categorically forbade covering the front of the cell or hanging anything up inside other than a towel and a mat. Soldiers did rounds of the cells every hour. Fixed surveillance cameras in the corridors watched over everything.
One of the three martyrs was in report and investigation documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Pentagon redacted much of the contents in red ink.
There were 1,700 documents, so heavily redacted they were almost impossible to read. But the students, supervised by their teachers, figured them out and published a detailed report in December 2009 titled “Death in Camp Delta.”
The report showed the weakness of the US Navy criminal investigative division’s investigation and pointed to “many unanswered questions.”
It also showed that the chain of events, as recounted by the unit, was not credible. It concluded that the description of how “the prisoners killed themselves” was not plausible. The description gave the impression that the prisoners planned down to the last detail: from making a rope out of their shirts to stuffing cloth in their mouths to the very backs of their throats and closing off their pharynx, then raising themselves on the washbasin – bound hand and foot – and sliding off so the rope strangled them.
In another report, Harris did state that the guards had violated the standards of discipline, but that he wouldn’t recommend any punitive measures against them. The security services asked the four soldiers who had been guarding the sector not to discuss the matter.
One of those was Sergeant Joseph Hickman, who later spoke to Scott Horton at Harper’s magazine and published an article in March 2010 about what he had witnessed. Hickman’s account confirmed the existence of a “non-existent” camp used for interrogating prisoners. He and a friend, Tony Davila, had nicknamed it “Camp No”, their answer if anyone were to ask them if it existed.
He told of a car driving from Camp No to other parts of the prison that night, and other suspicious movements. Because he was stationed in the observation tower often, Hickman had seen prisoner transfers to Camp No before. Satellite photos of Guantánamo show a place that fits Hickman’s description. He and Davila said that they went by there whenever they could. Once they heard screams of torture coming from within, but they couldn’t tell from how many throats.
Thus was the tragedy of the prisoners of Guantánamo. Torture and torment, all done to them under the cloak of alleged American justice and “human rights”. We, the prisoners, gave up on the unjust earthly courts and looked to the just court of the heavens, where all true criminals will be known – us or them – and this day will come soon!
I related these stories in one of the letters which I wrote from inside the prison. I gave them to Clive but learned after I got out that the censors had prevented him from taking them.
We, the prisoners are convinced that those brothers of ours – in whose piety we believe – were men of wisdom, men of patience with strong faith in their Lord. We say in one voice: They did not take their own lives.