New Study on Detention and Inhumane Treatment Helps Explain Gitmo Suicides
New research finds that the psychological impact of captivity in a hostile environment, deprivation of basic needs such as food and sleep, isolation, psychological manipulation and other “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” is actually more damaging psychologically than is physical torture.
Science Daily reports the findings of Dr. Metin Ba?o?lu, Head of Section of Trauma Studies at King’s College London and the Istanbul Centre for Behaviour Research and Therapy, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. The research concludes that even the sort of acts the U.S. military engaged in that aren’t normally classified as “torture” — stress positions, exposure to extreme temperatures and the like — can be more damaging than methods traditionally considered to be torture.
Focusing on the risk factors associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in former detainees, the researchers report that “captivity experience in a war setting was associated with 2.8 times greater risk of PTSD in comparison to being detained by state authorities in someone’s own country, possibly due to the greater perceived threat to life in a war setting.” Moreover, “being held captive by an enemy was a stronger risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the actual experience of torture itself.”
Dr. Ba?o?lu concludes:
“Such views reflect a rather stereotypical image of torture as involving only certain atrocious acts of physical violence. While such disturbing images might be useful in channelling public reactions against torture, they also foster a skewed image of torture, reinforcing the perception in some people that ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading’ treatments do not amount to torture. Far from downplaying the problem of torture, our studies highlight the fact that the reality of torture is far more serious than people generally believe.”
That may help explain the tragic death of Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih, also known as Al Hanashi, a 31-year-old Yemeni who the military reports committed suicide on Monday in his cell at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, where he’s been detained since 2002.
Hanashi is the fifth prisoner reported to have taken his own life while imprisoned at Guantanamo.
Defense Department officials said that Hanashi was found “unresponsive and not breathing” when guards checked his cell Monday night. British journalist Andy Worthington, author of “The Guantanamo Files” who’s been closely following and documenting the cases of Guantanamo detainees, reports that “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 Guantánamo, but at one point in December 2005, during the largest hunger strike in the prison’s history, his weight dropped to just 86 pounds.”
Before Hanashi’s death, three Guantanamo detainees hanged themselves with sheets in June 2006. Another prisoner similarly killed himself on a home-made noose in May 2007.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Hanashi at the Center for Constitutional Rights warned that there could be more such suicides to come.
The frustrations and disappointment at the base are running high because the hopes for change under the new administration were so great. Only two people have gone home in the last five months, and, by all counts, conditions at the prison have not improved. Every day that passes makes it more likely that more people will die in detention under President Obama’s watch.
Lawyer David Remes, who represents more than a dozen other Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including at least one who’s tried to commit suicide and is now in a psychiatric ward there, similarly noted that the suicide of prisoners during indefinite detention and deprivation is not surprising: “Suicide is a human response to intolerable conditions. Being held at Guantanamo is intolerable for the men there in so many ways,” he said. “President Obama has to stop dithering and close Guantanamo.”