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Context of 'April 29, 2003: Guantanamo Detainee in ‘Vegetative State’ after Attempted Suicide'

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Shah Mohammed.Shah Mohammed. [Source: Cageprisoners]One day during the summer of 2002, Guantanamo detainee Abdul Razaq from Pakistan sees a fellow Pakistani prisoner, Shah Mohammed, preparing to hang himself from a sheet in a nearby cell. “First we shouted at Shah Mohammed to stop, but when he didn’t, we called the guards,” Razaq later says, describing the incident. “The guards came in and saved him. It was the first time he attempted this in my block, then he was taken to another place. He appeared to be unconscious.” (Meek 12/3/2003) Mohammed’s action is one of the first in a series of suicide attempts. A former detainee, Hamed Abderrahman Ahmed from Spain, sees several prisoners try to hang themselves with their clothes. (Brittain 8/4/2004) Muhammad Naim Farooq personally witnesses two attempts, one involving an Afghan and the other an Iranian. “They tried to hang themselves with clothes. Both survived and were punished with solitary confinement, without any clothes. I could not see for how long.” (Amnesty International 8/19/2003) One former detainee, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, will say he tried to kill himself at Guantanamo Bay three times. (Human Rights Watch 1/9/2004)

Gen. Michael Dunlavey, head of the intelligence operations at Guantanamo, faces an outbreak of unrest among the prisoners after he announces that four detainees will be repatriated: three Afghans and a Tajik. According to an October 20 email sent by an FBI official from Guantanamo, these detainees “will be taken back to their respective countries in late October and the same plane will return with between ten and thirty-four new detainees.” After the announcement, the camp erupts in unrest and there is a “threat of mass suicide by the detainees.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/26/2002 pdf file) It is not clear what has caused the unrest. According to Shafiq Rasul, one of the detainees, “They would announce upon loud speakers (particularly when people were released) that if we co-operated with them they would release us. We knew this included acting as an informant.” (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 pdf file) According to the FBI official, “no suicides [happen] and the Camp quickly [settles] down.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/26/2002 pdf file)

Mohammed Jawad, a teenaged Afghan citizen, is captured after allegedly throwing a hand grenade at a US military vehicle in Kabul. The explosion injures two US soldiers and their Afghan interpreter. Jawad insists that he is innocent. After a brief stint in the custody of the Afghan police, where he is tortured into signing a “confession” he cannot read (see November 22, 2008), he will quickly be transferred to Guantanamo, where he will be one of the youngest detainees kept there. (Human Rights First 9/2008; Greenwald 1/21/2009) Jawad’s precise age is unclear. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will later write, “At the time of his due-process-less imprisonment in Guantanamo, he was an adolescent: between 15 and 17 years old (because he was born and lived his whole life in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, and is functionally illiterate, his exact date of birth is unknown).” (Greenwald 1/21/2009)

A medical report by US doctors at Guantanamo Bay details an attempt by a detainee to commit suicide. The detainee, who cannot be identified from publicly released records, attempted to hang himself with a towel. He fell into what doctors call a “vegetative state” due to brain injuries suffered during the hanging. Guantanamo doctors “most strongly advocate” for the detainee’s “earliest return to his home country,” noting that the detainee has a “history of depression” and “his rehabilitation will be long.” Available records will not show whether Guantanamo officials follow the recommendations of the medical staff. (American Civil Liberties Union 6/19/2006)

The senior International Red Cross official in Washington, Christophe Girod, tells the New York Times: “The open-endedness of the situation [at Guantanamo] and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem.” He makes this unusual public statement because previous private communications with the US government has not yielded results. “One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation, indefinitely,” Girod says. White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, says: “These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism and we are at war on terrorism and the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don’t return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States.” In the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts. More detainees are treated for depression. (BBC 10/10/2003)

Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad, who has been in custody since he was 16 years old (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), attempts to commit suicide. Shortly thereafter, Guantanamo guards begin subjecting Jawad to what is known as the “frequent flier” program, in which the detainee is moved from cell to cell every few hours for days or weeks on end, in order to deny him sleep. Jawad is moved 122 times in 14 days, an average of less than 3 hours per move (see June 19, 2008). (Greenwald 1/21/2009)

Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager at Guantanamo for nearly two years (see December 17, 2002), is designated an “enemy combatant” at a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. (Human Rights First 9/2008) Jawad has attempted suicide while in US custody, and has been subjected to abuse (see December 2003 and June 19, 2008).

Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager in US custody at Guantanamo for nearly three years (see December 17, 2002 and October 19, 2004), is found by a US Administrative Review Board (ARB) to pose a continuing danger to the national security of the United States, and is denied release. The decision is based on US claims that Jawad belongs to a group with ties to al-Qaeda, and on a signed “confession” obtained from Jawad. The boy claims that Afghan police tortured and beat him until he signed the confession. The ARB decision will be reaffirmed in late 2006. (Human Rights First 9/2008) Jawad “signed” his confession with a fingerprint, as he cannot write his name. The confession was written in a language he cannot speak or read, and, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will later note, “was given to him after several days of beatings, druggings, and threats—all while he was likely 15 or 16 years old.” (Greenwald 1/21/2009)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that include reports of suicide attempts by Guantanamo detainees. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “These documents are the latest evidence of the desperate and immoral conditions that exist at Guantanamo Bay. The injustices at Guantanamo need to be remedied before other lives are lost. We must uphold our American values and end indefinite detentions and widespread abuse.” One report documents an attempted suicide by hanging that ended up with the detainee in a persistent “vegetative state” (see April 29, 2003). The ACLU notes that the Defense Department documents support other reports of attempted suicide at Guantanamo (see Summer 2002 and After, Mid-October 2002, October 9, 2003, and December 2003). Pentagon officials called the suicides an “act of asymmetrical warfare” and “a good PR move to draw attention.” The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “It is astounding that the government continues to paint the suicides as acts of warfare instead of taking responsibility for having driven individuals in its custody to such acts of desperation. The government may wish to hide Guantanamo Bay behind a shroud of secrecy, but its own documents reveal the hopelessness and despair faced by the detainees who are being held without charge and with no end in sight.” (American Civil Liberties Union 6/19/2006)

Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes assumes command of the military prosecutions at Guantanamo, a decision that infuriates lead prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. Haynes is promoted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England; Haynes, a civilian lawyer, was blocked in his bid for a seat on an appellate court because of his connection to the now-infamous torture memos (see November 27, 2002). Davis, who opposes the use of such techniques as waterboarding and other “extreme interrogation techniques,” resigns within hours of Haynes’s promotion. Davis will later say that Haynes’ expanded powers were a key reason for his decision (see October 4, 2007). “[T]he decision to give him command over the chief prosecutor’s office, in my view, cast a shadow over the integrity of military commissions,” he will write in a December 2007 op-ed explaining his decision (see December 10, 2007). Davis will also write that he has no confidence that military commissions can be used for fair trials if “political appointees like Haynes and [convening authority Susan] Crawford” are in charge: “The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sen[ators] John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it’s time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent.” (Davis 12/10/2007) In 2009, one of Davis’s subordinates, prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, will confirm Davis’s story (see January 18, 2009). He will recall Davis complaining of “being bullied by political appointees in the Bush administration.” Vandeveld will write that Davis resigned rather than bring prosecutions before they were ready to proceed, especially since, as Davis believed, the prosecutions were for political purposes. (Vandeveld 1/18/2009)

After almost five years in US custody, Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002) is charged with attempted murder in violation of the law of war and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Jawad is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade into a US military vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, but denies the charges. (Human Rights First 9/2008)

Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), is arraiged before a military commission. Jawad refuses to accept the assistance of his military counsel, Air Force Major David Frakt, says he knows of no civilian lawyer who would represent him, and says he does not wish to represent himself. Jawad tells the court he has no desire to continue the proceedings. The judge rules that Frakt will continue to represent Jawad. (Human Rights First 9/2008)

Mohammed Jawad, who has been detained at Guantanamo since age 16 (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), is beaten so badly by guards that weeks later he still has what Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will describe as “extreme bruises on his arms, knees, shoulders, forehead, and ribs.” (Greenwald 1/21/2009)

Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), agrees to participate in his trial (see March 12, 2008), but authorizes his defense counsel, Major David Frakt, only to represent him for the purpose of challenging the legitimacy of the military commission system. Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been punished for his behavior at his arraignment (see March 12, 2008) by the loss of certain “comfort items,” including his only blanket. Frakt asks that the blanket and other items be returned to Jawad, asks for a mental health evaluation (see December 2003), and for changes in Jawad’s conditions of confinement. (Human Rights First 9/2008) At some point in May, presumably after the hearing, Jawad will be severely beaten by his guards (see May 2008).

The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed. Major David Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been subjected to a harsh regime of sleep deprivation nicknamed the “frequent flyer program.” Records show that Jawad was moved from one cell to another 112 times over the period of two weeks, with guards shackling, moving, and unshackling him for an average of once every two hours and 50 minutes. Frakt tells the court that Jawad had attempted suicide months before. The military commission judge refuses to dismiss the charges. (Human Rights First 9/2008)

The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), again attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed (see June 19, 2008). Major David Frakt shows evidence that General Thomas Hartmann, the military commission’s chief legal adviser, had pressured Guantanamo prosecutors to charge his client (see January 13, 2009 and January 18, 2009). Judge Stephen Henley finds that Hartmann had indeed brought undue pressure to prosecute Jawad, and bars Hartmann from any further involvement in the case as Hartmann has demonstrated his inability to stay neutral. Henley also orders a top-level review of the charges against Jawad. (Human Rights First 9/2008) Henley will throw out the evidence against Jawad, ruling that Jawad’s confession was obtained through torture (see November 22, 2008).

Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo, resigns his position after becoming increasingly disillusioned and despondent over the treatment of detainees at the facility, many of whom he believes are likely innocent.
A Reluctant Believer in Stories of Abuse - Vandeveld began as an enthusiastic prosecutor. He joined to help avenge the 9/11 attacks, and served for seven years as a military lawyer in Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “All of us fought because we believed that we were protecting America and its ideals,” he will later write. “But my final tour of duty made me question everything we had done.” Vandeveld was a prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions in Guantanamo from June 2007 through September 2008. He will write, “Warning signs appeared early on, but I ignored them.” He was powerfully impressed when his superior officer, Colonel Morris Davis, resigned rather than agree to pursue politically motivated prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). Vandeveld’s own turning point came when he began working on the prosecution of Mohammed Jawad, who was 16 at the time he was captured (see December 17, 2002). When Vandeveld learned that Jawad claimed to have been horrifically abused while in US custody, as he later recalls: “I accused him of exaggerating and ridiculed his story as ‘idiotic.’ I did not believe that he was a juvenile, and I railed against Jawad’s defense attorney, whom I suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer.” He came to change his mind, eventually filing a declaration in federal court “stating that it is impossible to prepare a fair prosecution against detainees at Guantanamo Bay (see January 13, 2009).… I had concluded that the system of handling evidence is a haphazard farce. I saw this clearly with Jawad.” Vandeveld will write that he has seen evidence proving both Jawad’s age and his stories of being brutalized, including beatings, being thrown down a flight of stairs, and being subjected to an intense program of sleep deprivation (see June 19, 2008): “As a juvenile, Jawad should have been treated with care, held separately from the adult population, and provided educational and other rehabilitation services. Instead, he was placed in isolation and deprived of sleep. More than once he tried to commit suicide, according to detainee records” (see December 2003).
Torturing an Innocent Man - Vandeveld began combing through evidence suggesting that Jawad was innocent, and found that not only had Jawad been duped and drugged by the terrorists who recruited him, the evidence shows that he never carried out the attack against US soldiers of which he stands accused. Vandeveld writes of the difficulties he had in gathering the evidence; military investigators repeatedly kept it from him. “Only after long delays and many, many requests was it finally given to me,” he will later write, “because even after nearly seven years, the military commissions do not have a system in place for discovering exculpatory evidence or providing it to the defense” (see January 20, 2009).
Sinking into Despair - Vandeveld began working towards Jawad’s release to his family in Afghanistan. But Vandeveld’s superiors refused to countenance the idea. Vandeveld will write of his increasing depression and despair, and his inability to discuss his mental anguish with his family or friends due to the classified nature of the case. He finally turned to a Jesuit priest, Father John Dear, whom, he writes, “has written and spoken widely about justice.” He could not give Dear more than an overview of the situation, but Dear’s advice was blunt. “Quit Gitmo,” Dear told him. “The whole world knows it is a farce. Refuse to cooperate with evil, and start your life over.” But Vandeveld was afraid to take Dear’s advice. As he recalls, “I was afraid of losing friends, my job, whatever popularity I enjoyed, and my status as someone who was well thought of in this community.”
Resignation - It was Dear and, ironically, Jawad’s defense lawyer, whom Vandeveld descirbes as “a scorned adversary whose integrity and intelligence transformed him into a trusted friend,” who finally led Vandeveld to make a decision: he resigns. His final appearance before the Guantanamo military commissions was as a witness in Jawad’s defense (see January 13, 2009). “My testimony was a confession of sorts,” he later writes, “an acknowledgment of the error of my own ways as well as a candid admission of the shortcomings of the system that I had so enthusiastically supported.” (Vandeveld 1/18/2009) Vandeveld will write that Guantanamo has become a “stain” on the US’s international reputation (see January 18, 2009). He will also call for Jawad’s release (see January 13, 2009).

The judge in the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002 and October 7, 2007) throws out the evidence against Jawad, saying that it was obtained under coercion. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade at two US soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan. The judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, finds that the sole evidence against Jawad, a confession he signed while in the custody of Afghan police, was, as the American Civil Liberties Union says, “gathered through coercive interrogations.” (Ottawa Citizen 11/22/2008)

Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned his post in protest over the unwarranted prosecution of detainee Mohammed Jawad (see January 18, 2009), joins the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit on behalf of Jawad. The ACLU is demanding that Jawad be granted the right of habeas corpus and, ultimately, his release. Jawad has been held without trial for over six years, and, according to Vandeveld and the ACLU, no credible evidence of his probable guilt exists. Evidence does exist that Jawad was tortured while in US custody. In a brief filed with the court, Vandeveld writes, “[T]here is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention in US custody or his prosecution by military commission.” There is, however, “reliable evidence that [Jawad] was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.” Jawad was originally charged with throwing a hand grenade at US soldiers. Vandeveld writes that the evidence indicates Jawad, who was 16 when he was captured, never participated in any such attack, and was lured into joining an Afghan insurgent group by the promise of a well-paying job, and was drugged and lied to by the insurgents. What evidence does exist against Jawad is mostly exculpatory, Vandeveld writes, and all the evidence is scattered haphazardly throughout the Guantanamo facility. Some was found in a locker, and other documents have been lost. Thus, the US’s case against Jawad is unacceptably weak, Vandeveld contends. (Charlotte Examiner 1/13/2009)
Jawad 'No Threat' - In defending Jawad, Vandeveld writes: “Had I returned to Afghanistan or Iraq, and had I encountered Mohammed Jawad in either of those hostile lands, where two of my friends have been killed in action and one of my very best friends in the world had been terribly wounded, I have no doubt at all—none—that Mr. Jawad would pose no threat whatsoever to me, his former prosecutor and now-repentant persecuter. Six years is long enough for a boy of 16 to serve in virtual solitary confinement, in a distant land, for reasons he may never fully understand.” (Greenwald 1/21/2009)
Torture 'Miserably Common for Detainees in US Custody' - Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will write in support of Jawad and Vandeveld: “Jawad was never waterboarded, but no civilized human being would deny that the cumulative effect of his treatment at the hands of our country is torture in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing unique about his treatment. It wasn’t aberrational. Rather, it has been miserably common for detainees in US custody—not only at Guantanamo, but also in Bagram and throughout Iraq.” (Greenwald 1/21/2009)

Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” (Vandeveld 1/18/2009)

Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” (DeYoung and Finn 1/25/2009) Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” (United Press International 1/14/2009)
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). (Weiss 1/14/2009)
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” (DeYoung and Finn 1/25/2009)


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