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US judge dismisses hearing into Guantanamo ‘suicides’

A U.S. Secret Service agent stands post as Pre...

President Barack Obama speaks to the Human Rights Campaign

(AFP) – 1 day ago

WASHINGTON — A US federal judge dismissed Wednesday a complaint by the families of two Guantanamo detainees who alleged the men’s deaths in 2006 had been covered up when the Pentagon ruled them as suicides.

In her ruling, US District Judge Ellen Huvelle said “the highly disturbing nature of allegations in a complaint cannot be a sufficient basis in law” for the case to be heard.

The families of Saudi prisoner Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami of Yemen had asked the judge to reexamine the case in March after adding new testimony from military officials, including an officer who served at the US prison camp in southern Cuba the night of the events.

At the time of their deaths, Al-Zahrani, 22, and Al-Salami, 33, had been detained without charge and held incommunicado for about four years at the US naval base.

The Pentagon maintains the two men, along with a third detainee, Mani al-Utaybi of Saudi Arabia, committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. Utaybi’s family did not file a complaint.

But first-hand accounts provided by soldiers raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the deaths, and suggested the men may have died as the result of torture at a site off base known as “Camp No,” according to the petition.

One of the soldiers — Joe Hickman, an army officer on duty at a watch tower with a view of the cells where the men were held overnight June 9-10, 2006 — said he witnessed them being transported by van to Camp No — so called because when asked if the camp existed soldiers would say “no”.

Later, rather than returning the men to their cells, the van pulled up to an infirmary.

Hickman was told by a medical soldier that three dead prisoners had been brought to the infirmary “because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised,” the petition said.

But he was later told that the official cause of the men’s deaths was that they had been found hanged in their cells.

In her ruling on Wednesday, Huvelle pointed to a decision by a federal appeals court in Washington stating that matters relating to the conditions of detention in Guantanamo remain the purview of Congress alone — not the courts — due to national security concerns.

“The question before the court is not whether homicide ‘exceeds the bounds of permissible official conduct in the treatment of detainees in US custody and demands accountability’ or whether the families of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami deserve a remedy,” Huvelle said.

“Rather, the question is ‘who should decide whether such a remedy should be provided.'”

Al-Zahrani’s father Talal denounced the ruling, saying “the courts should be investigating my son’s death and holding those responsible accountable.”

“President Obama should be defending human rights and the democratic values the US preaches to the world, rather than going to court to defend the lies and gruesome crimes of the Bush administration,” he added.

President Barack Obama has acknowledged his administration has “fallen short” of his campaign promise to shutter the controversial facility within a year of taking office.

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