We have learned, in the past few years, that "battlefield" now means "entire earth"; that treatment that is "abusive and degrading" can still be "humane"; that "enemy combatants" can include little old ladies from Switzerland who give to the wrong charity; and that most "hanging incidents" are examples of "manipulative self-injurious behavior" rather than suicide attempts. Well, it's time for a new vocabulary lesson:
"They hung themselves with fabricated nooses made out of clothes and bed sheets,'' Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris told reporters in a conference call from the U.S. base in southeastern Cuba.
"They have no regard for human life,'' he said. ``Neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us.''
Two of the prisoners were Saudis, one Yemeni. The U.S. government hasn't released their names--waiting, most likely, for someone from their governments to identify the bodies--but naturally is releasing vague, unsourced charges against them:
"One of the detainees was a mid- or high-level al-Qaida operative, Harris said, while another had been captured in Afghanistan and participated in a riot at a prison there. The third belonged to a splinter group." (link)
None had a lawyer, and none has been charged before a military commission.
I don't know who the Yemeni is. Saudi Arabia has identified its two nationals as Manei al-Otaibi and Yasser al-Zahrani according to one source; another source gives the names as Mani bin Shaman bin Turki al Habradi and Yasser Talal Abdullah Yahya al Zahrani.
The Pentagon's list of prisoners includes a man named Yasser Talal Al Zahrani from Yenbo, Saudi Arabia whose prisoner number (ISN) is 93 and whose date of birth is September 22, 1984. The ISNs are assigned chronologically, and I know that prisoners captured in September 2002 have ISNs in the 800s. Based on that DOB and that ISN, he was probably seventeen years old when he was captured. This is his photograph, I think.
The closest match I can find for the other name is prisoner number 588, Mana Shaman Allabardi Al Tabi of al-Qarara, Saudi Arabia, whose date of birth is given as January 1, 1974.
I looked up the ISN numbers so I could find the transcripts of their Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and/or Annual Review Boards (ARBs) in the documents the Pentagon released. As far as I can tell, nothing's been publicly released for either prisoner.
One thing that does seem to being handled right is the burial:
Former Army Captain James Yee, the onetime Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo, said in an interview yesterday that he had prepared detailed Muslim burial procedures when stationed at the base in 2002 and 2003.
Under the procedures, he said, if the military decides to bury the detainees at the base, the bodies would be washed and put in the ground wrapped in white sheets rather than placed in coffins, according to Muslim tradition.
The military has set aside a section in a base cemetery for Muslim use, Yee added. The base ordered U-shaped concrete covers to go over detainee bodies, making it easier to exhume them in case their remains were later sent to their home nations.
Muslim tradition usually calls for bodies to be buried with 24 hours of death, a timeline that could not be met because the bodies are undergoing autopsies. Harris said the military had obtained a fatwah, or religious ruling, from a "reputable imam" that the 24-hour deadline could be waived when the cause of death is under investigation (link).
Yee, of course, was later arrested on espionage charges; blindfolded, taken to a Navy brig and held in solitary confinement for 76 days (his family did not know where he was for the first 10); charged with and reprimanded for adultery when the espionage charges fell apart; had the adultery charges dismissed on appeal; and received an honorable discharge. (link) As I understand it there's no Muslim chaplain in Guantanamo right now, but I could easily be mistaken about that. Anyway, we're in Yee's debt for thinking ahead. It's entirely predictable that there will be rumors that these aren't really suicides, and outrage if we don't bury the bodies according to Muslim custom. It will still be bad, but it would've been even worse.
I guess what Harris means by an "act of asymmetric warfare" is that this makes us look terrible, and may motivate people to commit acts of terrorism. That is possible. Although there's no evidence that the motivation of these suicides was to inspire attacks (rather than to increase pressure to free the other prisoners, or simply to die), they may have that effect. But if making the world think that the US mistreats prisoners is an act of war against the US, then it looks like George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, David Addington and Geoffrey Miller (to name a few) are also "enemy combatants".
[edited to add missing links & fix typos]