SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay who died of an apparent suicide this week was not on a hunger strike at the time of his death, but he had been force-fed with a nasal tube in the past, a prison spokesman said Wednesday.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt said the prisoner, who the military said was found unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Monday night, had resumed eating on his own "in mid-May." He said he did not know if the longtime Guantanamo detainee had ever attempted suicide in the past.
The military has refused to reveal how they believe Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al-Hanashi died in his cell, other than saying it was an apparent suicide. His is the fifth apparent suicide at the isolated U.S. prison, which President Barack Obama hopes to close by Jan. 22.
DeWalt said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has started an investigation to determine the cause and manner of al-Hanashi's death, and that Guantanamo commanders are reviewing procedures in the wake of his apparent suicide.
"All elements are being looked at," DeWalt said from the U.S. Navy base, which sits on an arid corner of southeastern Cuba overlooking the Caribbean. "We are always doing what we can to avoid these types of incidents."
The military has also not disclosed any potential motive for the Yemeni's suicide, although Guantanamo critics say indefinite confinement has clearly caused desperation among many detainees held for years without charges on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.
Attorney David Remes identified the dead man as one of six inmates held in the prison's psychiatric ward along with his client, Adnan Latif. He said all the prisoners in the ward had been force-fed a liquid nutrition mix through a tube inserted in their noses and down their throats and that al-Hanashi had been the only one force-fed in a restraint chair.
DeWalt said he couldn't disclose if al-Hanashi, who allegedly had fought alongside the Taliban and who had been held without charge at Guantanamo since February 2002, was in a ward for psychologically troubled captives. Military records show he was about 31.
Meanwhile, an official with the Republic of Yemen's embassy in Washington, Khalid al-Kathiri, has traveled to Guantanamo to ensure the man's remains are treated as dictated by Islamic custom.
"We have also requested a full investigation," embassy spokesman Mohammed Albasha said during a Wednesday telephone interview.
The apparent suicide of the Yemeni has underscored an "urgent need" for Washington and Yemen to figure out what to do with detainees from that Middle Eastern country who are locked up in Guantanamo, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
About 100 of the roughly 240 prisoners at Guantanamo are from Yemen, more than from any other nation. Some of the Yemenis have been approved for release from the prison for several years but they are in limbo because the U.S. is unwilling to release prisoners to Yemen, fearing the weak central government there will be unable to monitor and control them.
Discussions over where to send the Yemeni detainees have complicated Obama's plan to close the prison. The Obama administration has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia and Yemen for months to send them to Saudi terrorist rehabilitation centers.
"More than a dozen Yemenis have been cleared for return, and the vast majority have never been charged, but in the more than seven years since Guantanamo began receiving prisoners, the U.S. has sent only 14 Yemenis home and only two in the past two years," Human Rights Watch said.