Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Guantanamo detainees unaware of defense lawyers

KRT Wire
Knight Ridder Newspapers

MIAMI - The Yemeni captive who killed himself at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had an attorney arranging to visit him in August, but did not know it when he committed suicide.

**His jailors surely knew...**

One of the Saudis, Mani Shaman al Utaybi, 30, had been approved for transfer to a jail back home, but also had never been told he was cleared to depart the U.S. detention center.

As the Pentagon was silent Thursday on the repatriation of the bodies of the three men from the island prison, their lawyers questioned whether their isolation and lack of knowledge about their status contributed to their deaths.

The three men hanged themselves in Camp 1 with nooses made from shredded bedsheets and towels on Saturday in what the military called a choreographed group suicide. Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the camps' commander, described it as an act of "asymmetrical warfare."

But attorneys for the men_who the military initially said had no lawyers_say that had the detainees known of legal efforts on their behalf, they might be alive today.

"As far as we know he (Ali Abdullah Ahmed) did not know he had an attorney. We certainly never got through to him to advise him of that fact," said Dave Engelhardt of Washington, D.C., who had filed a habeas corpus petition for Ahmed, the 29- or 30-year-old Yemeni.

"Perhaps he would have not have committed suicide if he had known the facts of his representation of counsel and the progress that is being made in the American courts for the detainees."

In Yemen, Ahmed's father told the Associated Press did not believe his son, as a Muslim, would have committed suicide.

Utaybi's sister in Saudi Arabia echoed the sentiments, and said the family would seek an independent autopsy.

The Pentagon said Ahmed and Utaybi were part of the al-Qaida terror movement. It identified the third man, Yasser Talal al Zahrani, 21, as an alleged Taliban fighter who arrived at Guantanamo as a teenager.

Both Engelhardt and attorney Jeff Davis of Charlotte, N.C., said government lawyers had thwarted repeated attempts to see their clients.

Davis said his firm was notified more than a month ago that Utaybi was approved for transfer back to Saudi Arabia. But the notice came under a seal of secrecy, said Davis, so Utaybi, who had never met his lawyer, did not know he would be sent home - which The Miami Herald confirmed independently.

"I think the humane thing to do when you've decided to change those conditions of confinement, you tell him, particularly if the change is to send him home," said Davis.

Meantime, there was no word from the Pentagon on the planned return of the men's bodies to their homelands.

A Muslim Navy chaplain washed and shrouded the dead men and put them in plain wooden boxes for traditional Islamic death rites.

But it was unclear whether the repatriations had been approved or undertaken.

The Pentagon cleared all independent journalists from the base Wednesday morning, and canceled all attorney-detainee visits until at least next week.

Lawyers met clients at Guantanamo on Monday through Wednesday. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, said by e-mail that scheduled lawyer-detainee meetings "had to be canceled due to . . . operational support of the investigation related to the detainee suicides."

The deaths on Saturday were the first detainee deaths at the detention center in southeast Cuba. As of Thursday, the most current count of captives at Guantanamo stood at "approximately 460."


ABOUT THE DEAD GUANTANAMO DETAINEES: The Department of Defense late Sunday released the following identification information on the three captives who killed themselves over the weekend at Guantanamo Bay Navy Base, Cuba:

_Ali Abdullah Ahmed, who according to Pentagon documents was born in Yemen in 1977. A Pentagon statement cast him as a "mid- to high-level al-Qaida operative" who allegedly had links to al-Qaida "facilitators and senior membership," and was described as a "close associate" of an al-Qaida deputy now in U.S. custody called Abu Zubaydeh. It said Ahmed had been uncooperative and hostile to the guard force at Guantanamo and "was a long-term hunger striker from late 2005 to May 2006."

The Defense Department acknowledged Wednesday that Ahmed had a lawyer, a Washington, D.C., law firm. But the attorneys said they had not yet gotten all the necessary clearances to get a translator and go down and meet him. At his death, he did not know about his attorneys.

His name was listed as Saleh Ali Abdullah al Salami, prisoner number 693, in his federal court filing.

_Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi, also spelled Al Tabi, who according to Pentagon documents was born in al-Qarara, Saudi Arabia, in 1976. A Pentagon statement described him as a member of a "militant missionary/recruitment group" for al-Qaida and "other jihadist terrorist groups." He had been recommended for transfer for detention in "another country," said the Pentagon statement, presumably Saudi Arabia.

Charlotte, N.C., attorney Jeff Davis said his firm represented Utaybi, but had yet to meet him. Davis said Thursday that it had been notified more than a month ago, under a secret court filing, of the government's intent to transfer him, but Utaybi himself had not been notified.

His name was listed at one point as Mazi Salih al Harbi, prisoner number 588, in his federal court filing.

_Yassar Talal al Zahrani, who according to Pentagon documents was born in Yenbo, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 22, 1984. The Pentagon alleged he was an "actual front-line fighter for the Taliban" in Afghanistan. He allegedly facilitated weapons purchases for Taliban offensives against U.S. and Coalition forces. The Pentagon said he was captured by Afghan anti-Taliban forces, presumably the Northern Alliance, and allegedly participated in the prison uprising near Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan, in which CIA officer Johnny Michael Spann was killed.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York maintains that Zahrani, who would have arrived at Guantanamo as a teenager, was party to a group lawsuit of unnamed habeas corpus petitions in federal court. The U.S. military said Zahrani had no attorney.

He was identified by the military as prisoner number 93.

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