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Relatives of 2 who died at Gitmo sue Pentagon

Families of two Saudi detainees who committed suicide in June 2006 while being held at Guantanamo Bay have sued the Pentagon, alleging  that torture and brutal conditions led the men to their deaths.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Families of two Saudi detainees who committed suicide in June 2006 while being held at Guantanamo Bay have sued the Pentagon, alleging Thursday that torture and brutal conditions at the offshore prison led the men to their deaths.

The New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights said the parents of Yassar Talal al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami are seeking unspecified damages for the "illegal detention, torture, inhumane conditions, and ultimate deaths" of their sons.

The final brief in the civil suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

"It doesn't really matter if this was an intentional death or an accidental death or suicide. The point is that the U.S. government bears responsibility," said Talal al-Zahrani, father of Yassar Talal al-Zahrani and one of the plaintiffs, in a statement from the legal group.

He alleged his son "experienced harm, systematic torture, and then wrongful death" at Guantanamo, where he had been detained for more than four years without charge. He was 21 when he died.

Relatives of a third prisoner, Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi of Yemen, who was also found dead in his cell on June 10, 2006, declined to join the suit naming former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 23 other military and medical officials at the remote U.S. base in Cuba.

Lawyer: Close Gitmo
U.S. Navy investigators said the three hanged themselves with bed sheets inside their cells and the military said the suicides prompted a complete review of operations at the prison where the U.S. now holds about 245 men on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

But Pardiss Kebriaei, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said conditions the prisoners "lived and died under haven't changed significantly" since June 2006.

"Guantanamo needs to be closed before another detainee dies," Kebriaei said.

President Barack Obama has ordered that the prison be closed within a year.

A Pentagon spokesman referred comment about the lawsuit to the U.S. Justice Department. A Justice spokesman, Charles Miller, said Thursday afternoon he could not provide specific comment until later in the day.

Hunger strikes
Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights said al-Salami and al-Zahrani were longtime hunger strikers who underwent forced feedings by being strapped in a restraining chair and fed a liquid nutrition mix through a tube inserted in their noses and down their throats.

They also said the U.S. government never directly notified the men's families of their deaths, and medical officials conducted autopsies on the corpses without obtaining relatives' consent.

At the time of the three suicides, Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris, then-commander of the prison, described the suicides as "not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us" — an effort to increase condemnation of Guantanamo.

Talal al-Zahrani said the U.S. government showed "a level of arrogance and total disregard for the feelings of others — like this was a traffic accident."

Buttressing his claim of torture, he pointed out that a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, has said she refused to refer charges against another Saudi detainee because she believes he was tortured at Guantanamo. She recently told The Washington Post that the U.S. tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani in 2002.