Saturday, April 08, 2006

Doctors, soldiers, and one suicidal cook: what happened to Jumah al-Dossari?

If an honest history is ever written about life at JTF GTMO, something tells me that Jumah al-Dossari's story will figure prominently. al-Dossari has attempted suicide more than any other prisoner at Guantanamo: at least 10 times. I first learned about him in an October 2005 WaPo story about suicide and hunger-striking at the prison. I wrote a bit about him--and the military whitewash of the desperate conditions there--in a piece called 'Dispatch from the War on Brains.' At the time, al-Dossari's lawyer, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan had just told WaPo about witnessing his client's suicide attempt (Oct 31, 2005 WaPo):
Jumah Dossari had to visit the restroom, so the detainee made a quick joke with his American lawyer before military police guards escorted him to a nearby cell with a toilet. The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had taken quite a toll on Dossari over the past four years, but his attorney, who was there to discuss Dossari's federal court case, noted his good spirits and thought nothing of his bathroom break.
Minutes later, when Dossari did not return, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan knocked on the cell door, calling out his client's name. When he did not hear a response, Colangelo-Bryan stepped inside and saw a three-foot pool of blood on the floor. Numb, the lawyer looked up to see Dossari hanging unconscious from a noose tied to the ceiling, his eyes rolled back, his tongue and lips bulging, blood pouring from a gash in his right arm.
And now? WaPo reports that, sometime over the last few weeks, al-Dossari was discovered to have slashed his own throat. It is unknown whether he survived this latest attempt, since "officials have refused to answer any questions about his condition." His lawyer only found out about it from other lawyers:
The attorneys say other lawyers visiting clients at Guantanamo Bay in late March heard that Dossari had slit his throat and nearly died. Declassified notes obtained by Dossari attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan also record the suicide attempt.
Despite weeks of trying to determine Dossari's condition, Colangelo-Bryan said yesterday, he has not heard from the Justice Department, which represents the Pentagon in detainee matters. A Justice spokesman referred questions to the Defense Department.
"I'd like to know if he's alive," Colangelo-Bryan said. "I think it underscores the fact that the government does not believe that it has to play by any rules at all."
Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said yesterday that there has been one suicide attempt at the facility so far this year -- on March 11 -- and that the detainee is "clinically stable." But Durand would not identify him.
Apparently referring to Dossari, Durand noted that a single detainee accounts for 12 of the 39 suicide attempts at Guantanamo Bay since it opened in 2002. No detainee has died in custody there.
So why can't al-Dossari's own lawyer obtain critical information about his client's condition (you, "Hey, is my client alive?!")? Remember the "Detainee Treatment Act"? That incredibly fucked up 'compromise' sponsored by Senators Graham (R-SC) and Levin (D-Mich)? The one that denies GTMO inmates habeas corpus (ostensibly in "exchange" for not torturing prisoners). Well, today's WaPo indicates that this same Detainee Treatment Act serves as a barrier between lawyers and their clients:
Lawyers blame the Detainee Treatment Act, enacted a few months ago, for their lack of information about clients. The government has argued that the law severely limits access to federal courts for Guantanamo detainees, and hundreds of habeas corpus cases in U.S. courts have been held up while federal judges weigh the law's impact.
How did Jumah al-Dossari find himself in this desperate state? According to Josh White at WaPo, he was arrested "in late 2001, shortly before he was arrested at the Pakistani border.":
Before his trip to Afghanistan, Dossari lived in the United States on a visa and was an imam at a mosque in Bloomington, Ind., according to military records. Federal agents allege that Dossari was recruiting for al-Qaeda and left shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The only charges levied by the military relate to his allegedly being a cook for enemy forces at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops fought a fierce battle with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001. Dossari denies being there or being an al-Qaeda member.
al-Dossari has documented his long, horrifying ordeal for us in a July 2005 letter--a suicide 'note'--in which he wrote about being kidnapped and sold to the Americans by the Pakistani military. After a gruelling series of beatings by Pakistani forces, al-Dossari goes on to describe the handover to American forces and his torture in Afghanistan (Kandahar and Bagram AFB) including brutal beatings, electroshock, extreme cold, starvation, stubbing cigarettes out on his wrist, defiling the Koran in waste-buckets and witnessing the sexual assault of an Afghan prisoner. And then: the packaging-off to GTMO...
The second stage in Kandahar, with its pain and affliction, had ended. I had spent two weeks there from the beginning to mid January, two [illegible] weeks, full of sadness, pain and torture, only to start a new stage of afflictions in American detention camps, a stage of organised torture. In this stage, it was not only the soldiers who tortured us but also the doctors, nurses, investigators, translators and officials. Each of them played their part in torturing us, physically and psychologically, and all of this in the name of the law. [...]It was then [at Guantanamo] that my suffering started.
al-Dossari goes on to describe unspeakable abuse by soldiers and medical staff. I should hasten to add that there are witnesses to at least some of these instances: videotapes and the testimony of U.S. military linguist Erik Saar ("Inside the Wire"). As for the medical staff and their alleged complicity in torture/abuse, please see: "The Experiment" (Jane Mayer, The New Yorker) and "Glimpses of Guantanamo - Medical Ethics and the War on Terror" (Susan Okie, M.D.; you can listen to Dr. Okie talk about her visit to GTMO at More recently, over 255 doctors wrote to The Lancet in protest of medical involvement in the abuse: "Forcefeeding and restraint of Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers" by David J Nicholl, Holly G Atkinson, John Kalk, William Hopkins, Elwyn Elias, Adnan Siddiqui, Ronald E Cranford, Oliver Sacks and on behalf of 255 other doctors (The Lancet, March 11, 2006 issue, subscription only):
...The World Medical Association specifically prohibits forcefeeding in the Declarations of Tokyo and Malta, to which the American Medical Association is a signatory.
Fundamental to doctors' responsibilities in attending a hunger striker is the recognition that prisoners have a right to refuse treatment. The UK government has respected this right even under very difficult circumstances and allowed Irish hunger strikers to die. Physicians do not have to agree with the prisoner, but they must respect their informed decision. Those breaching such guidelines should be held to account by their professional bodies.
...[John Edmondson, former commander of the hospital at Guantanamo] in a signed affidavit, stated that “the involuntary feeding was authorized through a lawful order of a higher military authority.” This defence, which has previously been described as the Nuremberg defence, is not defensible in law.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pardon the intrusion, but your blog came up in a search for those who commented on Jumah Al-Dossari’s writings and appeals American people against the torture he has suffered at Guantanamo Bay. I am trying to raise a direct response to that letter. I am looking for people who are also moved by this issue and might be looking for an outlet to do something to help Jumah. On my site,, you can access a petition on Jumah’s behalf, and a one-click link to email Congress about him. PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO TAKE ACTION.



A cry for help deserves an answer. Please spread the word to anyone who would be willing to speak up for this guy! And I welcome feedback if you have any further ideas on what can be done.
Thanks. - Sara

1/24/2007 3:52 PM  

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