Cablegate: Death in Custody of Ahmed Ali Abdullah - #19 in Geneva 2007

Published: Tue 10 Jul 2007 09:59 AM
R 100959Z JUL 07
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Death in Custody of Ahmed Ali Abdullah - #19 in Geneva 2007
Communications Log
1. Mission has received a communication from the Special Rapporteur
on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston,
regarding the death in custody of Ahmed Ali Abdullah. This
communication has been sent via e-mail to IO-RHS and is #19 on the
Geneva 2007 Communications Log.
2. Begin text of letter:
I have the honour to address you in my capacity as Special
Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2004/37, to
General Assembly resolution 60/251 and to Human Rights Council
decision 2006/102.
In this connection, I would like to bring the attention of your
Excellency's Government information I have received regarding the
death in custody of Mr. Ahmed Ali Abdullah, named Salah Addin Ali
Ahmed Al-Salami in other reports, at the Guantanamo Bay detention
facility on 10 June 2006.
According to the information I have received,
Mr. Abdullah was a citizen of Yemen detained at the Guantanamo Bay
detention camp since 2002. He died there on 10 June 2006, on the
same day as two other detainees of Saudi citizenship, Messrs. Yassir
Talal Az-Zahrani and Mani' Shaman Al-Utaybi. Your Excellency's
Government explained that the three men had committed suicide by
hanging themselves in their cells. A medical team directed by Dr.
Craig T. Mallak, Armed Forces Medical Examiner, carried out an
autopsy. A few days after the incident, the bodies of the three men
were transported back to their respective home countries.
Refusing to accept your Government's statement that Mr. Abdullah had
committed suicide, his family asked a Geneva-based non governmental
organisation, Alkarama for Human Rights, to assist with organising
an autopsy. Alkarama gave a mandate to this effect to a medical team
headed by Prof. Patrice Mangin, director of the Institut de Medecine
legale of Lausanne University in Switzerland. This autopsy was
carried out at the military hospital of Sanaa and was followed by
further laboratory analysis at the Institut in Lausanne on samples
taken from Mr. Abdullah's body.
By letter to Dr. Mallak, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, dated 29
June 2006 and sent to the US Embassy in Bern with a request to
forward it to the addressee, Alkarama expresses the wish "to put you
[Dr. Mallak] in touch with the Lausanne medical team which needs
some documents, materials and explanations from your side in order
for them to formalize their report of autopsy". The letter then sets
forth some specific requests, in particular a copy of the autopsy
report of the US Armed Forces Medical Examiner and a copy of the
report of the investigation carried out by the authorities of the
detention facility into the death, including information on the
circumstances of the discovery of the deceased, on the ligatures he
used to hang himself, on reanimation attempts, on the reasons all
the finger and toe nails were cut, on his psychological state in the
days preceding his death, as well as on previous suicide attempts by
Mr. Abdullah. Neither your Excellency's Government nor Dr. Mallak
ever replied to this request.
On 20 July 2006, Prof. Mangin transmitted his team's autopsy report
to Alkarama. The conclusions of the report, insofar as relevant to
the present letter, are:
1) That Mr. Abdullah's death was most probably caused by
asphyxiation through violence against the neck due to hanging,
although other dynamics could not be formally excluded;
2) That it should be possible to explain the traces of
puncture/injection with bleeding into the skin and the dental trauma
found on the body as consequences of attempts to reanimate Mr.
Abdullah. If that was not the case, they would constitute elements
of suspicion with regard to the cause of death;
3) That at the current state of the medical team's investigation
(and subject to (2) above), the findings are not incompatible with
suicide by hanging.
As your Excellency's Government will know, the family of Mr.
Abdullah and others have raised doubts as to whether he really did
commit suicide. In support of their doubts they argue that:
1) according to co-detainees, Mr. Abdullah (as well as Messrs.
Yassir Talal Az-Zahrani and Mani' Shaman Al-Utaybi) was in good
spirits in the days preceding his death;
2) as a person known to follow strictly the precepts of Islam, he
would never have committed suicide;
3) the tight surveillance of the cells, with permanent
video-surveillance and guards passing in front of each cell every
two to five minutes, would make a suicide by hanging impossible in
the absence of collusion by the guards; and
4) it is materially impossible for a detainee to hang himself in
the cell, as there is (again according to reports of other former
detainees) absolutely no place a detainee could fix the ligature
used to hang himself.
The suspicions harboured by Mr. Abdullah's family have been
reinforced by the reported refusal of your Excellency's Government
to share the results of its investigation into the death with a
US-based law firm retained by them or with any of the other entities
who have requested information (including Prof. Mangin and a
renowned US-based non-governmental organisation).
Notwithstanding these arguments, I do not at present have reason to
doubt your Government's assertion that Mr. Abdullah's death was due
to suicide. I would like, however, to draw your Government's
attention to a fundamental principle applicable under international
law to this case: When the State detains an individual, it is held
to a heightened level of diligence in protecting that individual's
rights. As a consequence, when an individual dies in State custody,
there is a presumption of State responsibility. In this respect, I
would like to recall the conclusion of the Human Rights Committee in
a custodial death case (Dermit Barbato v. Uruguay, communication no.
84/1981 (21/10/1982), paragraphe 9.2):
"While the Committee cannot arrive at a definite conclusion as to
whether Hugo Dermit committed suicide, was driven to suicide or was
killed by others while in custody; yet, the inescapable conclusion
is that in all the circumstances the Uruguayan authorities either by
act or by omission were responsible for not taking adequate measures
to protect his life, as required by article 6 (1) of the Covenant."
In order to overcome the presumption of State responsibility for a
death in custody, there must be a "thorough, prompt and impartial
investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and
summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or
other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above
circumstances" (Principle 9 of the Principles on the Effective
Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary
Executions). This principle was reiterated by the 61st Commission on
Human Rights in Resolution 2005/34 on "Extrajudicial, summary or
arbitrary executions" (OP 4), stating that all States have "the
obligation ... to conduct exhaustive and impartial investigations
into all suspected cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary
executions". I would like to add that even the most "thorough,
prompt and impartial investigation" of a custodial death will not
satisfy your Excellency's Government's obligations under
international law if its results are not shared with the family of
the victim and subjected to public scrutiny.
I therefore urge your Excellency's Government to respond positively
and exhaustively to the requests for information and copies of
reports or other documents regarding your Government's investigation
into the death of Mr. Abdullah, particularly so when these requests
are made by persons acting with due authorization on behalf of his
It is my responsibility under the mandate provided to me by the
Commission on Human Rights, extended by the Human Rights Council and
reinforced by the appropriate resolutions of the General Assembly to
seek to clarify all cases brought to my attention. Since I am
expected to report on this case to the Human Rights Council, I would
be grateful if you could also share with me copies of all the
clarification and documents you will provide to Mr. Abdullah's
family through their US lawyers (Dickstein Shapiro LLP), Prof.
Mangin or Alkarama.
I would appreciate a response within sixty days. I undertake to
ensure that the response of your Excellency's Government to each of
these questions is accurately reflected in the reports I will submit
to the Human Rights Council for its consideration.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest
Philip Alston Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or
arbitrary executions
End of text.
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