When Gitmo psychologist refused to listen to detainee’s torture claims, the prisoner took his own life

Jeffrey Kaye
Jul 30, 2018 · 6 min read

There have been many accounts from prisoners held at Guantanamo, both those released, and those who still suffer indefinite detention at the U.S. strategic interrogation center, regarding the torture endured at the hands of camp personnel.

Camp Delta prison complex, Guantanamo, DOD photo

These accounts are of special importance currently, as military psychologists inside the American Psychological Association (APA) are trying to overturn a three-year old policy that bans psychologists from Guantanamo or other national security sites “where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.”

These APA military psychologists argue that prisoners held in indefinite detention at Guantanamo are being abandoned by the psychology profession itself because APA won’t let psychologists work at the Cuba-based prison. They claim this even though it is well-documented that some psychologists participated in organizing torture at both CIA and Department of Defense sites, while others trained psychologists in assisting interrogations, and others still actually participated in interrogations that even the leading legal authority of the Guantanamo military commissions called torture.

Even more, the President of the APA’s division for military psychologists, Mark Staal has written, “APA policy prohibiting psychologists from being present or supporting any national security or defense-related interrogation or detention operation is inappropriate and demonstrates a troubling overreach of authorities by the association.”

Staal claims this even though Guantanamo has been condemned for its ongoing policy of indefinite detention, and the fact that interrogations continue there using the DoD’s Army Field Manual and its Appendix M, which utilize methods the UN Committee Against Torture have called “ill-treatment” and “torture.”

Staal and the two military psychologists co-moving the attempt to overturn APA policy removing psychologists from Guantanamo did not return an email request as to whether they considered indefinite detention to be torture. Nor did they respond to my queries regarding use of torture in the Army Field Manual.

[Update, August 10, 2018: On August 8, at a vote by APA’s Council of Representatives, the proposal to allow psychologists to return to sites like Guantanamo, that are considered illegal and stand outside of international law, or where human rights abuses routinely take place, was defeated by a vote of 105 to 57, with 15 abstentions.]

“Suicidal ideations”

The military psychologists’ claims of offering quality care to detainees is false. A few years ago, I received documents via Freedom of Information Act that showed that at least one detainee who died ostensibly of suicide at Guantanamo, Mohamed Al Hanashi, killed himself in large part because of a negative encounter with a military psychologist.

Mohamed Al Hanashi, DOD photo

The psychologist was also at the time the Chief of Guantanamo’s Behavioral Health Services Unit, providing “inpatient, outpatient, and consultative mental health services for all the detainees at the JTF camps” (see his sworn statement, attached).

According to Al Hanashi, who was originally from Yemen, and had been imprisoned at Guantanamo for over seven years without any charges, he went to the psychologist assigned to him to complain about a decision to make the rules inside the prison psychiatric hospital much harsher.

In a note written to his family two months before he died, Al Hanashi predicted that he would die, and explained obliquely that he had approval from “legal scholars” to take his own life. At this point, Al Hanashi had been imprisoned in Guantanamo’s psychiatric ward for over three months, having entered for “suicidal ideations.”

“Life is no good without honor,” Al Hanashi wrote. “… One has no blessing in life if one is deprived of certain joys.”

The military psychologist who took over Al Hanashi’s case nevertheless considered Al Hanashi to be of low suicide risk. He said this despite the fact the young prisoner had a huge welt on his forehead because he had rammed his head against a metal bolt in an attempt to kill himself.

Even more incredibly, though the Chief of BHS never mentions the fact in his sworn statement (attached), two days before he was assigned Al Hanashi’s case, the latter had “tore off pieces of his shirt and attempted to strangle himself in the recreation yard.” [1] Ultimately, Al Hanashi would die apparently from self-strangulation.

Published below is Al Hanashi’s accusatory suicide note, followed by the sworn statement to NCIS by the psychologist involved. Amazingly, the psychologist’s statement corroborates the key incident that led Al Hanashi to take his life.

NCIS investigative report introducing two translated statements written by Guantanamo detainee Mohamed Al Hanashi prior to allegedly taking his own life the evening of June 1, 2009. The first statement is dated April 1, 2009. The second statement was apparently written the day he died.
Sworn statement of Chief of Behavioral Health Services, Guantanamo, who was also the psychologist who treated Mohamed Al Hanashi. This Chief Psychologist admits that he walked away from his patient Al Hanashi when the latter started to complain of being tortured.

“Someone who is supposed to be in a humanitarian position”

As the two documents make clear, Al Hanashi, a long-time hunger-striker at Guantanamo, entered the camp’s psychiatric hospital in January 2009. He went on to make a number of suicide attempts during this period. In a letter to his family, he said, “because I could not support the rules of the camps I have tried to kill myself in camp 6 and camp 5.” (The latter were two administrative divisions within Guantanamo’s prison complex.)

“Anyway,” Al Hanashi wrote, “all my brothers came from the camps for the same reason, as such we mean that we are sick.”

After Al Hanashi’s death, his autopsy report listed “conditions of confinement” as one of the causes of his death.

The “rules” of the camps were onerous, and meant to force prisoners to cooperate with interrogators. Items as basic as toilet paper were denied if a prisoner did not show the proper adherence to the rules. The “rules” also included moving prisoners around from cell to cell at all hours of the night for days and weeks on end, forced feeding of hunger strikers, and violent cell extractions — beatings, really — for any perceived protest or failure to follow a guard’s command.

In his statement, the chief psychologist admits that when Al Hanashi protested making the rules in the psychiatric ward the same as those in the prison at large, he refused to listen and abruptly walked away from him.

He further explained that others had complained of torture as well, and that he typically refused to address torture claims.

“This is what I usually do,” he told NCIS investigators, “when a detainee accuses staff of torture.”

Al Hanashi was stunned by the psychologist’s behavior. In the last note he wrote the night he died, he said, “Even the officer who was close to him [the psychologist] was surprised by his inappropriate behavior as someone who is supposed to be in a humanitarian position. At that time I knew that the only solution is death….”

Al Hanashi did in fact die that night. The full circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown, in large part because someone inside Guantanamo illegally ordered the computer system that recorded what detainees and staff did from minute to minute to be turned off as soon as Al Hanashi’s body was discovered. Other documentary material went missing later. [2]

There is a lot to be said about what happened to Mohamed Al Hanashi, but the psychologists at APA considering putting military psychologists back inside Guantanamo because they supposedly would provide necessary care for detainees have to answer this crucial question.

How do we know inside a secret facility whether or not proper care is taking place? It took me years to ferret out the truth (as much as I could) as to what happened to one prisoner inside Guantanamo’s psychiatric unit. What I discovered was an egregious case of malpractice, at best, and cover-up of criminal activity, including torture, at worst. [3]

Guantanamo is an abomination, and it is a fairy tale to even think that some kind of humane care of detainees is possible there. APA should call for the closure of Guantanamo, and those military psychologists who grotesquely misrepresented APA’s ban as some kind of attack on the Geneva protocols for treatment of prisoners should be ashamed of themselves.

Endnotes

  1. See Cover-up at Guantanamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri (p. 76). Jeffrey S. Kaye, Ph.D.. Kindle Edition. The full story surrounding Al Hanashi’s death, and that of two other prisoners at Guantanamo, is explored in this FOIA-based book. The documents on which the book is based have all been posted for the public at GuantanamoTruth.com.
  2. For an online examination of how computer records were tampered with at Guantanamo, see my October 2017 article, “Computer Irregularities at Guantanamo Taint Investigation into Detainee Deaths,” Medium.com
  3. For other evidence of suppression by medical caregivers of use of torture at Guantanamo, see Iacopino, V. and Xenakis, S. (2011) “Neglect of Medical Evidence of Torture in Guantanamo Bay, A Case Series.” PloS Medicine, April 2011, Volume 8, issue 4.
Jeffrey Kaye

Written by

Psychologist (retired), blogger, author of "Cover-up at Guantanamo" https://www.amazon.com/Cover-up-Guantanamo-Investigation-Suicides-Mohammed/dp/1520587090/

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