More on Graffy and the Guantanamo Suicides
I can understand Roger’s desire to defend his former colleague, Colleen Graffy, whose ill-considered comments compounded the diplomatic problem facing the U.S. following the suicide of two Saudis and one Yemeni at Guantanamo last weekend. But there is little there to defend. Certainly the administration did not think so. The State Department distanced itself from Graffy’s remarks with lightening speed after the massive public fallout overseas. Spokesman Sean McCormack noted, “I would just point out in public that we do not see it (the suicides) as a PR stunt. We have a serious concern anytime anyone takes their own life.” The Defense Department also rebuked Graffy; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Detainee Affairs, Cully Stimson said, “I wouldn’t characterize it is as a good PR move.”
Graffy’s attempt to equate suicide by detainees kept in solitary detention for several years with suicide bombers who kill others when they take their own lives is off base. (By the way, the full audio link is available on the BBC radio website here.) The key complete quote:
Taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good PR move. It does sound like this is part of a strategy – in that they don’t value their own lives, and they certainly don’t value ours; and they use suicide bombings as a tactic.
Bombings that kill other people are tactical. Suicides by detainees being held for years with no reasonable probability of a public trial or eventual release are, almost by definition, neither tactical nor strategic.
The damage of Graffy’s remarks was done almost as soon as she uttered them, fueling rumors throughout the Arab and muslim world that the deaths were not suicides at all. Now, to be fair, even without Graffy’s statement, the rumors that the deaths resulted from abuse would likely have be aroused. After all, didn’t we all reasonably believe that the US military could keep a Gitmo detainee from slowly hanging himself? As wrong as such a reasonable belief turned out to be, it is completely understandable and very predictable. Graffy is one of the top officials in charge of public diplomacy at State. She should have known better.
The fact that the three suicides appear coordinated suggests that they were planned, and they may well have been thought by the detainees, as Roger argues, to be part of Jihad. But if the suicides were part of a jihadist plan, the fact that they took place is even more disturbing. The guards at Guantanamo — which we are told by the administration houses the “worst of the worst” — could not keep these charges alive? If these are committed jihadists, and suicide is one of their tactics, why are we allowing them to further their cause? What more evidence do we need to shut down the Gitmo operation immediately?
I am setting aside, for now, the question whether the US has an obligation under international humanitarian and human rights law to prevent detainees from committing suicide. (This is an interesting question, which has been raised in a different context by human rights lawyers alarmed at the suicides among immigration detainees — who are frequently held indefinitely without an opportunity for a public hearing — in the UK and Australia.)
Comments are open, to give readers a chance to weigh in on this issue.