By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Military officials at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have moved a suicidal detainee out of his isolation cell after he said he was trying to kill himself because of the "intolerable" conditions of his incarceration.
Jumah Dossari, 32, a Bahraini detainee who attempted to kill himself during a visit from his attorney in October, was moved from a segregation cell at the prison's Camp Five to a steel-mesh cell in Camp One, where he can interact with other detainees, government lawyers said. They informed Dossari's attorneys of the move on Thursday afternoon, a day before a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington that was scheduled to address Dossari's case.
Dossari's attorneys have been asking the court to order Guantanamo Bay officials to improve his living conditions, which they argue have led him to attempt suicide at least nine times. In a letter to the lawyers Thursday, Edward H. White, a Justice Department lawyer, described what appeared to be a 10th suicide attempt Monday, when Dossari tried to open an existing gash on his right arm.
Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, one of Dossari's attorneys, said in court yesterday that his client is in imminent danger because of the extreme stress caused by captivity in a tiny isolation cell.
"The purpose of Guantanamo is to create a sense of hopelessness in detainees," Colangelo-Bryan said. "That appears to have worked on Mr. al-Dossari."
In declassified notes from a meeting with the lawyer last month, Dossari said that he "wanted to kill himself so that he could send a message to the world that the conditions at Guantanamo are intolerable" and said he tried to do it in a public way "so that the military could not cover it up and his death would not be anonymous."
Dossari slashed his arm and tried to hang himself during a bathroom break while he was meeting with Colangelo-Bryan, who found him. The suicide attempt left him with a fractured spine and 14 stitches in his arm.
Dossari reported that he felt on the "brink of collapse" and "destroyed" and said all he wanted was to interact with other detainees.
White said Dossari has been diagnosed with four different psychological disorders, including depression, and has been receiving regular treatment from a psychiatrist and a psychologist. He said it is unclear whether Dossari arrived at Guantanamo Bay with the psychological problems.
"Despite the fact that petitioner has repeatedly attempted suicide, he is getting extensive medical treatment," White said, adding that the move to Camp One allows Dossari adequate human interaction. "If anything they're being very diligent about monitoring the petitioner and treating him."
Camp One is a group of cell blocks that hold approximately 150 -- about 30 percent -- of the detainees at Guantanamo. Detainees live in their own cells, which are constructed of steel mesh, and can see and speak to others on the block. They also share an exercise yard.
By moving Dossari out of Camp Five -- the equivalent of a U.S. maximum-security prison -- the government effectively sought to remedy the problem before a federal judge stepped in. Judge Reggie B. Walton is still considering an order that would force the prison to put fewer restrictions on Dossari.
But Walton said yesterday that if judges begin issuing such orders, "we become the warden."
Human rights groups and lawyers are watching a proposal under discussion on Capitol Hill that would strip detainees of the ability to file habeas corpus claims and other cases with U.S. federal courts.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), would instead direct a federal appeals court in Washington to review the decisions of Guantanamo Bay military panels that determine whether a detainee is "an enemy combatant." The measure would, however, allow those panels to use evidence against enemy combatants that was obtained by coercion.
Detainees also could appeal the verdicts of Guantanamo Bay military trials in the same court. No detainee has yet been tried before those "military commissions," whose authority is being challenged in a case that has gone to the Supreme Court.
"We're not going to turn the war on terror over to the judges," Graham said in a conference call with reporters yesterday. He has advocated, instead, for congressional oversight.
The legislation would effectively dismiss pending federal habeas cases on behalf of more than 300 Guantanamo Bay detainees.