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Lawyers Seek Improved Conditions for Suicidal Detainee

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 5, 2005

Lawyers for Jumah Dossari, a detainee held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, filed a motion in federal court yesterday asking for improvements in the conditions of their client's confinement, arguing that his nearly complete isolation from human contact has led him to become suicidal.

Dossari, one of about 500 detainees held without criminal charges at the U.S. military base, tried to commit suicide on Oct. 15 by hanging himself with a makeshift noose and by gouging his right arm. Dossari's lawyer found his client dangling in a cell after he did not return promptly from a bathroom break during their meeting.

The lawyer, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, said he believes Dossari, 26, timed the attempt so that an outsider would witness it. Military officials have said Dossari's condition is stable; his lawyers have since had no contact with him.

The suicide attempt came as two dozen detainees are being force-fed at the facility because of a lengthy hunger strike protesting conditions and treatment at Guantanamo Bay. Military officials at the base say that 27 detainees are engaged in a hunger strike that began in August, a strike that at one point had 131 participants.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Washington yesterday, the legal team working for the Center for Constitutional Rights argued for a face-to-face meeting with Dossari as soon as possible, and sought to have independent medical professionals assess his psychological condition and medical records.

The lawyers also asked that Dossari be allowed to have regular telephone calls with a member of his family and be allowed to view a digital video recording from his relatives containing "personal greetings and expressions of concern," a statement from the center said.

Specifically, the motion also asks that Dossari's "near complete isolation" in the Guantanamo prison be changed to include regular interaction with other detainees, that the lights in his cell be turned off or dimmed during sleeping hours and that he be allowed at least one hour of exercise a day. The lawyers also ask that Dossari be allowed to receive English-language children's books and English textbooks, so he can learn English, along with traditional religious texts and Arabic-language novels.

In a 35-page legal memo filed with the court, Dossari's lawyers say their client is held at Guantanamo's Camp Five in a single room that contains one small window in the door with one-way glass and a cover that prevents him from seeing out. Dossari is allowed to leave his cell for exercise for one hour each week, alone, in a small cage, the document said.

"As could be anticipated easily, these conditions have had a severely destructive effect on Mr. Al Dossari's psychiatric health," the lawyers wrote. Dossari, a Bahraini national, has been held at Guantanamo for nearly four years; he was arrested by the Pakistani government and was turned over to U.S. authorities in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in late 2001. Dossari has alleged abuses both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, his lawyers say.

Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, has said that all detainees are being treated humanely and have access to mental health experts. Officials have declined to discuss individual cases.

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