WASHINGTON — The families of two detainees who died in Guantanamo Bay in 2006 on Monday challenged the government’s assertion that the prisoners committed suicide, saying they were tortured to death.
Relatives of Saudi national Yasser al-Zahrani and Yemeni Salah al-Salami demanded the federal appeals court reconsider their cases in light of new information, including eyewitness accounts from four US military guards.
“They have direct eyewitness accounts of a cover-up of the actual circumstances of the deaths” their attorney, Padriss Kebriaei, said, adding that both the Bush and Obama administrations maintain they were suicides.
At the time of their deaths, Al-Zahrani, 21, and Al-Salami, 33, had been detained without charge and held incommunicado for about four years at the US base in southeastern Cuba.
The Pentagon maintains that the two men, along with a third detainee whose family is not party to the complaint, committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells.
But Joe Hickman, a US soldier who was on guard duty in a watchtower the night of their deaths, said he had seen three detainees escorted by van to a secretive site outside the main compound known as “Camp No.”
“Guards nicknamed the facility ‘Camp No’ because anyone who asked if it existed would be told, ‘No, it doesn’t,'” the families’ petition said.
The van later dropped off the the three bodies at a medical facility, where Hickman was told the prisoners had swallowed rags.
Last November the Justice Department concluded that “the gist of Sergeant Hickman’s information could not be confirmed.”
But Talal al-Zahrani, the father of one of the inmates, said that when he was invited to retrieve the body he saw “all the traces of torture, on his face, on his chest, on his head.”
“I refused to sign the form that was given to me by the authorities claiming falsely that he had committed suicide. It was very clear he didn’t.”
A subsequent medical exam revealed that his son’s esophagus had been ripped out and his body bore signs of torture, including several injection marks on his hands, according to Zahrani.