Suicidal Detainee's Condition A Mystery

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 8, 2006

Lawyers for a suicidal detainee held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, believe that their client tried to kill himself again by slashing his throat sometime over the past few weeks but say U.S. government officials have refused to answer any questions about his condition.

Jumah al-Dossari, a Bahraini national captured in 2001, has tried to take his own life at least 10 times in his four years at the U.S. detention facility, according to military officials. One of the attempts came during a visit by an attorney, who found him hanging from a noose in a bathroom with a deep gash in his arm.

Dossari and his attorneys have said the attempts are a statement that the conditions and indefinite detention have left him desperate.

The attorneys say other lawyers visiting clients at Guantanamo Bay in late March heard that Dossari had slit his throat and nearly died. Declassified notes obtained by Dossari attorney Joshua Colangelo-Bryan also record the suicide attempt.

Despite weeks of trying to determine Dossari's condition, Colangelo-Bryan said yesterday, he has not heard from the Justice Department, which represents the Pentagon in detainee matters. A Justice spokesman referred questions to the Defense Department.

"I'd like to know if he's alive," Colangelo-Bryan said. "I think it underscores the fact that the government does not believe that it has to play by any rules at all."

Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo, said yesterday that there has been one suicide attempt at the facility so far this year -- on March 11 -- and that the detainee is "clinically stable." But Durand would not identify him.

Apparently referring to Dossari, Durand noted that a single detainee accounts for 12 of the 39 suicide attempts at Guantanamo Bay since it opened in 2002. No detainee has died in custody there.

Lawyers blame the Detainee Treatment Act, enacted a few months ago, for their lack of information about clients. The government has argued that the law severely limits access to federal courts for Guantanamo detainees, and hundreds of habeas corpus cases in U.S. courts have been held up while federal judges weigh the law's impact.

Dossari, who speaks some English, has long claimed he is innocent and is being held improperly, though a military tribunal -- relying on classified evidence -- has determined he is an enemy combatant. According to recently released documents from Guantanamo Bay, government officials believe he was helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in late 2001, shortly before he was arrested at the Pakistani border.

Before his trip to Afghanistan, Dossari lived in the United States on a visa and was an imam at a mosque in Bloomington, Ind., according to military records. Federal agents allege that Dossari was recruiting for al-Qaeda and left shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The only charges levied by the military relate to his allegedly being a cook for enemy forces at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops fought a fierce battle with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001. Dossari denies being there or being an al-Qaeda member.

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