By Carol Rosenberg
The Miami Hearld
Tuesday 13 June 2006
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba - Five Muslim men working for the U.S. military held rituals at dawn Tuesday for a trio of Arab captives who committed suicide over the weekend at this offshore prison, the military said.
A Navy chaplain named Lt. Abuhena Saiful Islam held the 6 a.m. janaza rituals for about two and a half hours somewhere on this base, said Army Lt. Col. Lora Tucker, a prison camps spokeswoman.
The men washed and shrouded the bodies and offered an Islamic prayer, led by Saiful Islam, an imam, or Muslim prayer leader who came from Quantico, Va., to supervise the rites.
None of the other participants was identified. Some U.S. service members, as well as contract translators, are among the Muslims serving in the prison camps.
No detainee had died before Saturday, when the military said guards found the three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, hanging in their cells at Camp Delta before dawn in an apparent group suicide.
Commanders and the Navy Criminal Investigative Service are investigating whether procedures were followed, and were appropriate, or whether the four-year-old prison project needs to revamp its rules to prevent further death.
At the same time, the Southern Command in Miami issued a clarification Tuesday that one of the three men was represented by an attorney and had a habeas corpus petition pending in U.S. District Court, challenging his detention.
Ali Abdullah Ahmed, 29 or 30, of Yemen, had an attorney after all, a Southcom statement said late Tuesday. The Pentagon earlier had issued a statement describing him as a "mid- to high-level al Qaeda operative," but commanders said he had never sought nor received an attorney.
The New York Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been coordinating U.S. lawyers volunteering to represent the captives here, argues that all three men had representation.
CCR Staff attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez said both Ahmed and a Saudi named Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi, also 29 or 30, had petitions filed under their names.
She said the CCR considers the third man who killed himself as included in a petition it filed on behalf of unnamed detainees more than a a year ago. He was alleged Taliban fighter named Yasser Talal al Zahrani, 21, of Saudi Arabia, who would have been a teenager when he was taken to Guantánamo.
"Ahmed's counsel are now working with his family to repatriate the man's body for burial in Yemen," said Gutierrez.
U.S. diplomats were speaking to officials in Yemen and the Saudi kingdom to determine if the three men would be repatriated for burial.
Navy Rear. Adm. Harry Harris Jr. said the military had obtained a fatwa, or religious ruling, that let them waive the traditional requirement of burial within 24 hours to permit an autopsy and discussion of whether they would be sent home or buried at this remote Navy base in southeast Cuba.
Also Tuesday, the military ordered all independent news media off the base by 10 a.m. Wednesday, and had arranged a flight to Miami to expedite their departure.
A two-sentence email to reporters for The Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times, citing a directive from the Office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, stated: ``Media currently on the island will depart on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 10:00 a.m. Please be prepared to depart the CBQ [quarters] at 8:00 a.m."
The correspondents came down to the base on Saturday to cover the aftermath of the suicides, at the invitation of the admiral in charge of the prison. The Pentagon canceled the invitation Tuesday night, despite protests from the newspapers.