Detainee Found Dead Trained With U.S. Forces

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007

A detainee found dead in his cell at Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday was a Saudi army veteran who trained with U.S. forces before fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to military hearing records.

Abdul Rahman Ma'ath Thafir al-Amri had been imprisoned at the military detention facility in Cuba since February 2002 without meeting with a lawyer or being charged with a crime, according to a legal defense group -- a circumstance that the group said could explain his apparent suicide.

U.S. officials said he was not on suicide watch at the time guards found him unresponsive Wednesday afternoon, but they have declined to provide details or evidence of his cause of death. Amri's body will be prepared for repatriation to Saudi Arabia after an autopsy, the officials said yesterday.

Saudi officials yesterday identified the detainee as Amri, 34, who told his U.S. captors that he was essentially a foot soldier in Afghanistan because he felt a duty to fight jihad. U.S. Southern Command officials characterized Amri as a mid-level al-Qaeda operative who ran safe houses and fought against the United States in November 2001.

But Amri, appearing at a military hearing in Guantanamo, declared he had no particular animosity toward the United States.

"Detainee said had his desire been to fight and kill Americans, he could have done that while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia," according to a U.S. military account of Amri's statements to a Combatant Status Review Tribunal of military officers, who concluded he was an enemy and needed to be held indefinitely.

"His intent was to go and fight for a cause that he believed in as a Muslim toward jihad, not to go fight against the Americans," the tribunal reported him saying.

U.S. Southern Command said guards found him dead on Wednesday afternoon in his cell in the detention center's Camp 5, a modern building in which detainees have their own small cells. A U.S. military official said Amri was held in high security because he was a noncompliant prisoner and deemed a security threat, even though he was not charged with war crimes.

Three detainees who killed themselves last year used clothes and bedsheets to fashion nooses before hanging themselves. Other detainees have hoarded medicine and slashed at main arteries in numerous unsuccessful suicide attempts. Amri was the fourth detainee to die at the facility.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal group based in New York that represents many Guantanamo detainees, said yesterday that Amri was a party to litigation against the Bush administration but that lawyers had never been granted the opportunity to meet with him.

"To my knowledge, he has not been visited by an attorney," said J. Wells Dixon, a CCR lawyer. He said Amri's death shows how far detainees have deteriorated mentally. "We have actively tried to see him and the other detainees, and the government has prevented that."

A Pentagon official said attorneys were not allowed to meet with Amri because he was not specifically named as a plaintiff in any habeas corpus petition.

Human rights groups yesterday again assailed the military for failing to properly care for the detainees. Some called for an independent investigation and for the military to release a cause of death.

Amri's path to Guantanamo was not unlike the way many other detainees arrived there. According to hearing records, he surrendered to Pakistani police after fighting in Tora Bora and he admitted carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. Amri never completed middle school and spent nine years and four months in the Saudi army, training on antitank weapons, artillery and light weaponry.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company