Colleen Graffy and the Guantanamo Bay Suicides

by Roger Alford

Colleen Graffy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has been in hot water this week for her remark that the three suicides at Guantanamo Bay were a “PR stunt.” She did not actually use those words, which were quoted as verbatim from the BBC and ignited the controversy. There is no BBC link to the transcript of the interview, and the initial audio link which provided the full context is no longer on the BBC site. A copy of the full audio interview is here, and a transcript of the same is here. Here is an excerpt:

It does sound like this is part of a strategy in that they don’t value their own life and they certainly don’t value ours, and they use the suicide bombings as a tactic to further their Jihadi cause. So, I think that it does make a certain amount of sense in that there were means and methods for protestation, and certainly taking their own lives is not necessary, but it is certainly is a good PR move to draw attention.

When asked whether these suicides were committed out of a sense of desperation she had this to say:

I don’t agree with that. Because they certainly had access to lawyers; they had access to mail and ability to write to their families; they had prospects of legal process, in fact habeas rights that are not accorded under the Geneva Convention, and that they had a review and a yearly review where if they agreed that they wanted to give up fighting they would be able to be returned. These reviews are also appealed to domestic courts in the United States. So I find it hard to understand that they didn’t see the ability to protest their situation.

Her comments echo statements by Harry B. Harris, the commander at Guantanamo Bay, who has highlighted recent inspections of the facility by the Red Cross and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (More details on the OSCE inspection here). A similar investigation by an Afghan delegation described the treatment of Afghans there as humane.
Then in response to the allegation that perhaps these individuals were killed by the U.S. military, Graffy’s response was:

Well, as far as the accusation that they have been killed, I find that incredible to believe. When you think of all the efforts that the U.S. government has made to make sure detainees have been kept safe it defies logic that they would kill them or allow them to kill themselves. We know the efforts have been gone into to prevent individuals from committing suicide through hunger strikes. We know that the guards put themselves at personal risk by going in to save detainees who had faked a suicide. So why in the world would it make sense for them to either allow individuals to kill themselves or to kill them by their own hands? It doesn’t make sense.

As you can see from the remarks, Graffy stated that it was certainly plausible that the suicides were a tactic to further their jihadi cause. Just how plausible? Well, that in part depends on the nature of these individuals. If these individuals were true jihadists and members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, then the likelihood that they would take their lives in furtherance of their cause becomes highly plausible.
Details about these individuals recently have been released by the Department of Defense, detailing their affiliation with terrorist organizations and activities. According to the released information the three individuals were the following:
Ali Abdullah AHMED (also AKHMED) was a mid-to-high level Al Qaeda operative who had key links to principal Al Qaeda facilitators and senior membership. He was a close associate of al-Zubaydah, who in turn is a confidante of Osama Bin Laden. Ahmed has been non-compliant and hostile to the guard force throughout his time at Guantanamo Bay, and was a long term hunger striker from late 2005 to May 2006. Ahmed also has been formally recommended for continued detention at Guantanamo Bay.
Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi AL-UTAYBI (also AL-TABI) was a member of Jama’at Tabligh, the militant missionary/recruitment group for Al Qaeda and other jihadist terrorist groups. That organization is a high level terrorist group that has been used by Al Qaeda to cover travel throughout the world and has been banned in Saudi Arabia since the 1980s. Al-Utaybi has confirmed knowledge of Jama’at Tabligh’s operations in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan, and has been recommended for transfer to another country for continued detention in that country.
Yassar Talal AL-ZAHRANI was an actual front line fighter for the Taliban who traveled to Afghanistan to take up arms against anti-Taliban forces. He facilitated weapons purchases for Taliban offensives against US and Coalition forces and was captured by Afghan anti-Taliban forces. He also participated in an Afghan prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan which resulted in the death of CIA officer Johnny Michael Spann.
Do these individuals strike you as members of a terrorist organization that plausibly would be willing to take their lives in a jihadist fight against the United States? Commander Harry Harris described the individuals as smart, creative, committed, and having no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. Graffy described their acts as a “tactic to further their Jihadi cause.” Given the circumstances and details that are now in the public domain, their remarks that these individuals took the action they did not out of a sense of desperation, but to further their cause against the United States seems fairly persuasive.

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