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YEMEN: Family, MPs and Lawyers Refute Gitmo Suicide Story

Nabil Sultan

TAIZ, Jun 21 2006 (IPS) - After four years of hope that they would get their son back, a Yemeni family has received just his body. They refute the claim by U.S. authorities at the military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba that Salah Ali Ahmad al-Salami committed suicide, and accuse U.S. soldiers of killing him.

The body of al-Salami, 28, arrived in his home city of Taiz amidst the anger, sadness and joy of his relatives and friends, many of whom believe that he was “a real martyr”.

“We are happy despite all that happened and we are proud that our son is a martyr,” said Salah’s father, Ali Abdullah al-Salami, with a note of bitterness.

On Jun. 10, three men – al-Salami and two Saudi prisoners – ended their lives by reportedly hanging themselves in their cells. There have been numerous earlier suicide attempts at the U.S.-run detention centre, but the three are believed to be the only successful ones.

However, some Yemeni parliamentarians and lawyers have refused to accept U.S. assertions that the death of al-Salami was in fact a suicide.

At a press conference on Sunday, they called for an international committee to investigate the case, and pressed their government to pursue intensive contacts to obtain the release of other Yemenis at Guantánamo Bay, “before receiving their bodies” instead.

Dr. Najeeb Ghanim, former health minister and chairman of the parliamentary Public Health and Population Committee, said U.S. authorities had removed the veins, brain, heart, liver and kidneys from al-Salami’s body so that it is difficult to know the cause of death. He alleged that this behaviour was “intentional to conceal evidence of their crime”.

Ghanim said the death certificates offered by United States officials stated that al-Salami and his two Saudi companions had hung themselves, but he stressed that proving it will take time.

Attorney Khalid Al-Ansi, who had visited the detainees at Guantánamo before, said the conditions there are poor enough to have caused death, and added that suicide is prohibited in Islam.

“Salah was studying religion in Afghanistan so it is difficult to believe he committed suicide,” said al-Ansi.

He called for all communities that love peace and tolerance to do their best to close Guantánamo and all such detention centres and secret prisons.

There are some 460 prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base. Many have been detained without charges for more than four years. Only 10 have been charged with a crime and there have been no trials. There have also been widespread hunger strikes, with prisoners being force-fed with the help of military physicians and other medical personnel.

In a statement, the National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms (NODRF) described the detainees at Guantánamo as “living martyrs whom the U.S. does not consider human beings”.

Ghamim said there are modern torture methods that cannot be medically proved, like psychological torture.

NODRF director Mohammad Naji Alaw said the organisation would coordinate the effort to get an international investigation into the deaths of al-Salami and the two Saudis at Guantánamo, and issued an appeal to the U.S. administration – which he described as a “tyrant” – to close the prison.

He said there were many Yemeni detainees at Guantánamo, a U.S. enclave in Cuba, and at other prisons inside and outside the United States – particularly Bagram air base in Afghanistan – including Yasser al-Salami (Salah’s brother), Abdul-Rahim al-Nasheri and Ramzi bin al-Shaiba.

Alaw condemned the removal of organs from Salah’s body. “The U.S. authorities did so without referring to the Yemeni government, or the American lawyers who defend Yemenis in Gitmo, or the family of the victim, or any international neutral committee,” Alaw said.

“We do not defend those who have been proved guilty, but we defend those who are still suspects and being subjected to illegal measures. We may differ over the idea of jihad, but we will fight for the rights of those who the U.S. kidnapped from different places to put them in such a horrible prison after (the Sep. 11, 2001) terror attacks on the United States,” said Alaw.

Alaw said the Qatari Al-Karama Organisation, based in Switzerland, has announced it will work with NODRF to find out the facts. He said the Yemeni government should not have been given the body of al-Salami without an accompanying autopsy report.

The Yemeni embassy in Washington said that report would be available by the end of June.

Meanwhile, al-Salami’s father refuses to accept the suicide story. He accused U.S. soldiers of killing his son and said he will not bury him until the body is duly examined by an international committee.

“I don’t believe the story that my son committed suicide. He couldn’t do so because he was a true Muslim, and true Muslims don’t commit suicide because it is prohibited in Islam. My son was strongly devoted to his faith and religion.”

He called on the people of the United States to be more aware of their government’s actions, describing the U.S. public as “friendly but unconscious”.

Parliamentarian Sakhr al-Wajeeh said the U.S. administration has effectively “killed” Guantánamo detainees by holding them without evidence or trial, violating religious and international laws.

“What proves that the U.S. claims are untrue is that the three detainees have been killed in the same way, at the same time, even though they were under intensive supervision,” said al-Wajeeh. “How could three detainees commit suicide at the same time using bedsheets as if they have been in a five-star hotel?”

Shawqi al-Qadhi, a member of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, condemned Arab governments’ silence regarding the deaths of the three men at Guantánamo.

“Even supposing that they committed suicide, the U.S. soldiers at Gitmo who daily torture detainees and inhumanely deal with them are responsible for the deaths. The U.S. administration neither releases them nor tries them nor extradites them to their own countries,” al-Qadhi told IPS.

Additionally, the lawmakers at the press conference denounced the silence of Arab governments and political parties regarding “continued U.S. crimes against detainees in Guantánamo”, amidst signs of human rights violations.

Al-Salami’s father said his son left Yemen for Pakistan in 2000 to study, and was arrested in 2003. He said he received only one letter from Salah since his detention.

NODRF called upon human rights activists and civil society organisations in Yemen and the Arab world to make the burial ceremonies of the three men an international protest against human rights violations by the United States in the name of its “war on terrorism”.

Officially, the Yemeni government, a close ally of the United States in the war on terror since 2003, said it is awaiting details about the issue from Washington.

The state-funded Saudi National Human Rights Group also blamed the U.S authorities for the deaths of the two Saudis and cast doubt on their suicides. The Saudi government called for the speedy release of all 134 Saudi citizens still at the prison.

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