(updated below - Update II)
Some of the most cartoonish pseudo-tough-guy, play-acting-warrior-low-lifes of the Right -- Rush Limbaugh, The Weekly Standard, National Review's Andy McCarthy -- have long referred to Guantanamo as "Club Gitmo." Many leading national Republican politicians have (as usual) followed suit. Recently, some key Democrats have begun actively impeding plans to close it.
Today, Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih -- a 31-year old Yemeni who has been in a Gitmo cage since February, 2002 (more than seven years) without charges -- became the latest Club Gitmo guest to successfully kill himself:
U.S. military officials say a Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay has died of an "apparent suicide."
The Joint Task Force that runs the U.S. prison in Cuba says guards found 31-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Monday night.
At the moment, the U.S. military is calling it an "apparent suicide" pending an autopsy. Though Salih is either the 4th or 5th Gitmo prisoner to kill himself, numerous others have continuously tried, including this year, using every means from hunger strikes to hanging. In 2006, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris infamously claimed that detainee suicides were "an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." Although the Obama DOD earlier this year self-servingly announced that Guantanamo is in full compliance with the Geneva Conventions, there is ample evidence that suggests otherwise.
Putting people in cages for life with no charges -- thousands of miles from their homes -- is inherently torturous. While Salih acknowledged fighting for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, there is no evidence that he ever engaged in or planned to engage in terrorist acts or acts of violence of any kind against the U.S. Apparently, though, he's one of the Worst of the Worst we keep hearing about -- Too Dangerous To Release even if we can't charge him with any crime.
Along those lines, Sen. Russ Feingold will hold a hearing a week from today, at 10:00 a.m., on Obama's proposal for indefinite "preventive detention," entitled "The Legal, Moral, and National Security Consequences of ‘Prolonged Detention'" (Feingold's letter excoriating Obama's proposal is here). Other Democrats, such as Rep. Jerry Nadler, have already announced they will oppose Obama's detention policy. Closing Guantanamo obviously does nothing to solve these problems if the same system of indefinite detention without charges is simply transported to a new location. As today's NYT article put it: "detainees lawyers, including those representing other Yemeni detainees, have been saying that many prisoners are desperate and that many are suicidal because they see no end to their detention." It's the system of indefinite detention with no trials, not the locale of the cage, that is so oppressive and destructive.
UPDATE: Back in January, several human rights groups -- Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and the ACLU -- sent a letter to Obama (.pdf) requesting that they be allowed access to Guantanamo in order "to independently review and report on the conditions of confinement there and make concrete recommendations for change." They were never given that access. Instead, the Pentagon simply conducted its own 3o-day review and announced that everything was fine at Guantanamo.
Today, the ACLU called for a full investigation into the "apparent suicide" of Salih and the conditions of confinement there. The ACLU's Ben Wizner said:
Tragic deaths like this one have become all too common in a system that locks up detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. . . .
There is no room for a system of indefinite detention without charge or trial under our Constitution. Detainees against whom there is legitimate evidence should be tried in our federal courts -- not in the reconstituted military commissions now being proposed. Those against whom there is no legitimate evidence must not be given a de-facto life sentence by being locked up forever.
I continue to be amazed by the people who spent the last eight years vehemently protesting this system of indefinite, charge-less detention yet are now supporters of it all because the location will change (maybe) and it will be conducted under a different President.
UPDATE II: A 30-year retired police officer from Texas and periodic commenter here, Diana Powe, wrote in comments:
As someone who has literally had to fight to arrest people who only faced the prospect of a potentially limited confinement after a conviction at trial, the fact that some Americans believe that it's somehow defensible to dismiss someone facing the rest of their life in a cage committing suicide makes me despair for our country.
Also in comments, Affirming Flame notes that the Penatgon's status report on Salih reported: "When the detainee gets released, he hopes to go back to Yemen and get married. Once married, the detainee intends to go to school and become a history or geography teacher." Affirming Flame adds:
This an intensely human tragedy that this man gave up on his dreams and his life. Obviously I can't know what was going through his head during his final moments, but I do not think it is wildly speculative to imagine that he had given up any hope of ever being sent home and so found the only "release" available to him.
It's very difficult to know why someone commits suicide, if that's what happened here. And since he had no trial, one can't know what Salih did or didn't do. But what is not hard to see is that it is simply wrong to imprison people for life with no charges. That should not be something that we even have to debate.