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[Updated] Gitmo Prisoner’s Death: Suicide or Murder?

Jeffrey Kaye at Truthout has a good piece today on the suicide — or murder? — of Yemeni Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Hanashi in June. It’s a powerful reminder of why human rights advocates, as well as U.S. military leaders, think it’s important to close that prison soon.

I admit I overlooked this case, because it was initially reported as a suicide. But it’s no longer so clear that that’s the case. According to journalist Naomi Wolf, “the status of the investigation into Mr al-Hanashi’s death … is now a Naval criminal investigation – meaning that he is no longer considered a suicide but a victim of a murder or a negligent homicide.”

Guantanamo spokesman Lt. Cmdr Brook DeWalt, however, who I spoke to after initially writing this post, denies that interpretation. According to DeWalt, “any death is investigated by NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] on navy bases. Whether it be natural causes, whether it be suicide, criminal, across the board.”

Wolf’s “news” has just gotten a little fuzzier. What is clear, though, is that five months after al-Hanashi’s death, we still don’t know what happened to him.

In fact, both the Bush and Obama administrations have been extremely tight-lipped about the deaths of detainees in U.S. custody. Although the government reports when a Guantanamo detainee dies, As I’ve pointed out before, at some point the military stopped reporting the deaths of its prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve repeatedly asked why, and I’ve asked the Pentagon to define its current policy for reporting deaths of detainees in U.S. custody overseas.

I’ve never received any explanation. I’ll keep trying.

This post has been updated for clarification, based on DeWalt’s statement that Wolf misinterpreted his remarks.

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