Murat Kurnaz on the deaths in custody of al Zahrani and al Tabi
From Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008
by Murat Kurnaz
Several weeks later I got some new neighbors, who had been in Block Alpha the night Yasser [= Yasser Talal al Zahrani] and the other two men died [allegedly by their own hand]. They had spoken to Yasser that day. They said that dinner had come early that evening and that everyone in the block suddenly got tired and had fallen asleep--even though it was never quiet in the block at that hour, even when the guards left us in peace. There was always someone who couldn’t fall asleep, who wanted to pray or who kept waking up throughout the night. The metal shutters in front of the windows had also been closed from the outside, Yasser’s last neighbot told us, as if a storm was approaching.
He said he had been woken up in the middle of the night by a loud bang and had seen the IRF team enter Yasser’s cage […] A short time later, everyone was woken up by the guards, who made them hand over their mattresses, sheets, and clothes. Medics were already carrying Yasser out of his cage on a stretcher. The prisoners saw a piece of sheet in Yasser’s mouth, and other pieces of sheet binding his arms and legs. There was more sheet around his neck, like a noose.
The Americans said he had hung himself. But we didn’t think that could be true. He would have had to attach the noose to the sharp metal lattices with his hands and feet tied and with no chair to stand on. That was nearly impossible. There had been suicide attempts after the other incidents involving the Koran, but none of them had been successful, and the attempts were discovered immediately. Once I talked to Yasser about the idea of committing suicide, but he had rejected it. He said our faith prohibited suicide.
It seemed highly unlikely that the guards would have failed to catch him this time. They barely let us out of their sight for a minute. Yasser would have needed several minutes to tie himself up like that and several more to actually die. It seemed suspicious when the Americans said that they cut him down he had already been dead for a considerable time.
The guards claimed he had covered the walls of his cage so that [t]he[y] hadn’t seen him do it. But what was he supposed to have used to cover the cage? The same sheets with which he had allegedly hung himself? And what about the rule prohibiting us form hanging anything on the walls of our cells?
When the guards were patrolling the corridors, it never took long before other guards came to ensure we were following the rules. The guards never took a break since they, too, were kept under surveillance to ensure they were carrying out their duties. Where had they been that night? And what about the sharpshooters in the watchtowers? Hadn’t they noticed anything?
The other Saudi who had allegedly hung himself [= Mana Shaman Allabardi al Tabi] had been told a few days earlier that he was going to be released. Overjoyed, he had told everyone about it. In fact, a short time after the alleged suicides, a group of Saudis had been sent home. This man didn’t seem to have much of a reason for killing himself.
No, we prisoners unanimously agreed, the men had been killed. Maybe they had been beaten to death and then strung up, or perhaps they had been strangled […] It seemed like a suspicious coincidence that several weeks before, three prisoners had been poisoned. One evening, out of the blue, the guards had brought us baklava. They told us that the unusual gift was to celebrate the imminent release of a number of prisoners. Almost everyone ate it, but I was suspicious. The next morning one of the prisoners couldn’t get up.
I had seem him fall [a]sleep right after dinner, and when we knelt down for our morning prayers, he was lying in his cage, not moving. We noticed that there was white froth around his mouth and saw the medics take him away. A short time later, we heard that two others had also been removed from their cells in a similar state.
A few days later, rumors began to circulate that all three had been poisoned. When the prisoners returned to their cells, they tried to tell us that they had attempted suicide by taking pills. We didn’t believe them. What sort of pills would they have taken, and how would they have gotten them? No one had any pills, and we were searched, orally as well, three times a day in Camp 1. When prisoners got sick and received medicine from the Americans, they were always searched with special care.
Murat Kurnaz's Five Years of My Life was first published in German as Fünf Jahre meines Lebens by Rowohlt Berlin Verlag GmbH, Berlin, 2007.