Military: Detainee found dead at Guantánamo

Miami HeraldSeptember 10, 2012 

A Guantánamo captive who had until this summer been a hunger striker was found dead in his cell on Saturday and an investigation is under way, a spokesman for the U.S. detention center said Monday afternoon.

Navy Capt. Robert Durand would not identify the dead man, saying the military was waiting until his family was notified of the death to disclose his name, age or native country.

Durand did say that the captive was in the maximum-security Camp 5 prison building — a cement block building where up to 100 captives can be kept in single-cell lockups. At the time of his death, Durand said, the captive was “in a disciplinary status,” meaning he had reduced privileges, for hurling a container of his bodily fluids on a guard.

Asked whether foul play was suspected, Durand said the detainee was found unconscious and unresponsive in his cell during a routine check. Guards and military medical staff attempted first-aid and other life-saving techniques but could not revive him, the Navy captain said.

“The cause of death is under investigation,” Durand said, noting the range of possible reasons appeared to be either “natural or self-inflicted.”

Just like in the other Guantánamo deaths, the base called in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to document and investigate the circumstances of the death.

Durand said a pathology and mortuary affairs team was brought to the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba on Sunday to attend to the dead man. A Muslim imam was brought in as well, said Durand, to make sure the dead man received Islamic rites.

“The detainee was not hunger striking at the time of death,” Durand said by email, adding that the captive had in the past been classified by the military as a hunger striker. His body weight had dipped so low at times that the captive required feedings of cans of Ensure nutritional supplement. At Guantánamo, it is delivered to a detainee who, while shackled to a chair, has a tube inserted into his nose and snaked down the back of his throat and into his stomach.

The captive quit his hunger strike on June 1, Durand said, but was being monitored by military medical staff. “Recently, his weight was recorded at 95 percent of his ideal body weight, and 14 pounds heavier than he was when he arrived at Guantánamo.”

The latest death raises to nine the number of detainees who have died in Guantánamo custody since the prison camps were established in January 2002. Two of the deaths were attributed to natural causes, one of colon cancer and the other of a suspected heart attack. The military characterized the other six as suicides.

The latest death, announced on the eve of Sept. 11 commemorations at the Navy base and across the United States, lowered the detainee population to 167 at the detention center.

The Pentagon’s Southern Command in Miami first disclosed word of the death to national news outlets just before noon on Monday, after members of Congress were notified that a detainee was dead. “The release was distributed once Congressional notification was completed,” said Southcom’s Jose Ruiz, in response to a question of why it took so long to disclose the information.

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