Yemeni Prisoner Muhammad Salih Dies At Guantanamo

It has just been reported that Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih (also
known as Mohammed al-Hanashi), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo, has
died, apparently by committing suicide.

It has just been reported that Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih (also
known as Mohammed al-Hanashi), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantanamo, has
died, apparently by committing suicide.

The news comes just three days after the second anniversary of another death at Guantanamo - that of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi prisoner who died on May 30, 2007 - and just eight days before the third anniversary of the deaths of three other prisoners
- Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani - who died on
June 10, 2006, and it must surely hasten calls for the urgent
repatriation of other prisoners before there are any more deaths at the

The Associated Press, which first reported the story, stated that US
military officials had reported that Salih, who was 31 years old, was
found "unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Monday night," and
that he had died of an "apparent suicide."

Like the other prisoners who died of "apparent suicides" at
Guantanamo, Salih had been a long-term hunger striker, refusing food as
the only method available to protest his long imprisonment without
charge or trial. According to weight records issued by the Pentagon in
2007, he weighed 124 pounds on his arrival at Guantanamo, but at one
point in December 2005, during the largest hunger strike in the
prison's history, his weight dropped to just 86 pounds.

Salih was one of around 50 prisoners at Guantanamo who had survived a massacre at Qala-i-Janghi,
a fort in northern Afghanistan, at the end of November 2001, when,
after the surrender of the city of Kunduz, several hundred foreign
fighters surrendered to General Rashid Dostum, one of the leaders of
the Northern Alliance, in the mistaken belief that they would be
allowed to return home. Instead, they were imprisoned in Qala-i-Janghi,
a nineteenth century mud fort in Mazar-e-Sharif, and when some of the
men started an uprising against their captors, which led to the death
of a CIA operative, US Special Forces, working with the Northern
Alliance and British Special Forces, called in bombing raids to
suppress the uprising, leading to hundreds of deaths. The survivors -
who, for the most part, had not taken part in the fighting - took
shelter in the basement of the fort, where they endured further
bombing, and they emerged only after many more had died when the
basement was set on fire and then flooded.

Like many of the prisoners at Guantanamo, Salih had traveled to
Afghanistan many months before the 9/11 attacks, to fight as a foot
soldier for the Taliban in Afghanistan's long-running civil war against
the Muslims of the Northern Alliance. When the US military reviewed his
case at Guantanamo in 2004, he refused to attend the hearing, but
provided a statement via his Personal Representative (a representative
of the military assigned in place of a lawyer), in which he said that
he arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before the 9/11 attacks,
and admitted being a member of the Taliban, but made a point of adding,
"Yes, but that doesn't mean I supported Osama bin Laden."

He also admitted fighting on the front lines against the Northern
Alliance, but added "that he fired at the enemy, but did not kill
anyone," and also admitted staying in four different Taliban-run guest
houses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although he also made a point of
saying that he hadn't heard of al-Qaeda "until from the media on the
front lines." He also explained that he did not participate in military
operations against the United States or its coalition partners, saying,
"The first time I saw Americans was in Kandahar" (at the US prison used
for processing prisoners after their capture). He also denied an
allegation that Osama bin Laden spoke to "his group" in Tora Bora (the
site of a battle between US/Afghan forces and remnants of al-Qaeda and
the Taliban in late November and early December 2001), saying that he
had never been in Tora Bora, which was, of course, true, as he was in
Qala-i-Janghi instead, and was then moved to General Dostum's prison at
Sheberghan, where he was imprisoned when the Battle of Tora Bora took

It is not known yet if President Obama's Pentagon will deal more
sensitively with his death than has happened previously. I would be
surprised if any comments are made that can compare with those made by Rear Admiral Harry Harris,
the commander of Guantanamo at the time of the deaths in 2006, who
said, "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of
asymmetric warfare committed against us," or Colleen Graffy, the deputy
assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, who described the
suicides as a "good PR move to draw attention," but in every previous
case of a "suicide" at Guantanamo, the Pentagon has subsequently made
official pronouncements about the men's alleged involvement with
terrorism, even though they - like Muhammad Salih - had never been
charged or tried, and even though there was no substantial evidence to
suggest that this was the case.

In Salih's case, as in the cases of many - if not the majority - of
prisoners at Guantanamo, the false allegation I identified above is not
the only piece of untrustworthy material masquerading as evidence in
his file. As I reported just two weeks ago,
when it was announced that one of Guantanamo's "high-value detainees,"
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was to be put forward for trial in a federal
court in New York, I discovered during my research for my book The Guantanamo Files
that another allegation against Muhammad Salih had been made by
Ghailani, while he was held in unknown conditions in a secret prison
run by the CIA.

As I explained at the time,

One of the more disturbing aspects of the gathering of
evidence used against the Guantanamo prisoners is the accumulation of
allegations from [their tribunals and review boards, in which] an
enormous number of claims are attributed to "a senior al-Qaeda
operative" or "a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant." With no names given, it
has been impossible to establish the source of these claims, although
they are frequently so at odds with a previously established chronology
of the prisoner's actions - placing them at training camps and in guest
houses when they were not even in Afghanistan, for example - that it's
readily apparent that many, if not most of these allegations were
produced under duress, probably when supposed "high-value detainees"
were being shown the "family album" of prisoners that was used from the
earliest days of the US-run prisons in Afghanistan, in late December

On one occasion only, I discovered that one of these "al-Qaeda"
sources had been named, and was none other than Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.
As I explained in The Guantanamo Files, "The Yemeni Mohammed
al-Hanashi [Muhammad Salih] admitted to his tribunal in 2004 that he
arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before 9/11, and that he
fought with the Taliban. By the time of his review in 2005, however,
new allegations had been added, including the claim that Ahmed Khalfan
Ghailani 'identified him as having been at the al-Farouq camp [the main
training camp for Arabs, associated in the years before 9/11 with Osama
bin Laden] in 1998-99 prior to moving on to the front lines in Kabul.'
In other words, although al-Hanashi admitted traveling to Afghanistan
to serve as a foot soldier for the Taliban, a man who was held in
extremely dubious circumstances in another part of the world was shown
his photo and came up with a story about seeing him two or three years
before his arrival in Afghanistan, which would, henceforth, be regarded
as evidence against him."

I find it disturbing enough that, after seven and a half years'
imprisonment without charge or trial, Muhammad Salih has died at
Guantanamo, but as we await further details from the prison
authorities, I sincerely hope that this man - not a terrorist, but a
soldier in what he thought was a holy war against other Muslims - is
not slandered in death, as were Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, Yasser
al-Zahrani and Abdul Rahman al-Amri before him.

POSTSCRIPT: The following is a press release issued by the Yemeni embassy in Washington D.C.

We are saddened to learn of the death of Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah
Salih Alhanashi, a Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay who apparently
committed suicide late last night (Monday the 1st of June, 2009). An
Embassy representative is on route to Guantanamo to be briefed on the
situation and to participate in the proceedings that are required after
such incident. The Embassy representative will oversee that the remains
of the deceased detainee are being treated in accordance to Islamic
customs. We will work closely with the US government to repatriate the
remains of the deceased as soon as possible. We extend our deepest
condolences to the family of the deceased. In addition, this incident
demonstrates the urgency of closing the detention facility at
Guantanamo Bay. The Yemeni government is looking forward to cooperate
closely with the US administration to expedite President's Obama
decision to close Guantanamo.

Mohammed Albasha

Embassy of the Republic of Yemen

Washington DC

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