Sunday, June 11, 2006

Suicides. Not "acts of war".

Three prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay committed suicide yesterday morning by hanging themselves with clothing and bed sheets in their cells. The three were the first successful suicides, although dozens of “detainees” in the illegal prison camp had previously made attempts.

The US military has made the outrageous statement that the suicides of the three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, were “acts of war”.

Anyone who has known someone who has committed suicide knows that suicide is an act of despair, not of war.* I have read Moazzam Begg’s account of being a prisoner in Guantánamo, and it is very easy to see why someone would want to commit suicide there. Moazzam Begg had help and hope as a UK citizen; I imagine that two Saudis and a Yemeni could easily have had no hope at all.

Many rights groups have made statements, all of them expressing the opinion that the men had been driven by despair.

These people are despairing because they are being held lawlessly. There’s no end in sight. They’re not being brought before any independent judges. They’re not being charged and convicted for any crime. – Ken Roth, Human Rights Watch

The Guantánamo camp commander, on the other hand, is certain that the suicides amount to war.

They are smart. They are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us. – Rear Adm Harry B. Harris, Jr

“Asymmetrical warfare”? I don’t even know what that means, unless it means that the three men were very small and powerless against the behemoth war machine that was keeping them illegally imprisoned. They were three men who were effectively stateless and therefore could not commit “acts of war” on behalf of anyone but themselves. They were being denied rights as prisoners of war so it is wrong to suddenly accuse them of committing acts of war.

Semantics aside, killing oneself in isolation cannot be an act of war, or even of terror, by any definition I know. It is fundamentally ridiculous, and even offensive, for a military commander to refer to a suicide as such.

* with the exception of suicide bombers, suicide plane hijackers, etc, whose acts can be said to be “of war”, but which sometimes also have an element of desperation.


Ludovic said...

I was having trouble with this asymmetrical warfare line ... so I stole these comments from some war type over at the excellent BitchphD's blog

the explanation is as unpalatable as you might have imagined
Ludo ...

"Assymetrical warfare" is both useful and widely used; the implication of this specific quote is that the tactics of the other side - including suicide bombing are a rational - if ruthless -reaction to the disparity of resources available.
TStockmann | 06.11.06 - 8:27 am | #

I'm sorry - I should have said "planned, coordinated suicides were a rational and probably organizational response to discredit Gitmo detentions and U.S. practice in general."
TStockmann | 06.11.06 - 8:46 am | #

They're also, unfortunately, a rational and not at all uncommon reaction to torture and indefinite imprisonment without charges. To dismiss the problem--conditions at Guantanamo and the very real issue of the prisoner's lack of legal status--in order to perceive suicide as an attack is pretty much a textbook definition of blaming the victim, no?
bitchphd | Homepage | 06.11.06 - 8:52 am | #


Anonymous said...

They had a debate about this on the CBC, whether or not these suicides were acts of war. Someone (either a us rep or a reporter not sure so don't quote me on this) went as far to say that they were similar to suicide bombers because they were detained for attempted suicide bombings, or bombings that killed loads of people but not the bomber himself, they committed suicide to finish the job so they could reach mecca.
If this was the case wouldn't they have committed suicide sooner after being detained?
I just think that these people should be charged and dealt with already or deport them back to where they came from.

Anonymous A-Hole said...

The rear admiral (don't ask, don't tell) is merely saying that these suicides were at least somewhat politically/strategically motivated. These guys had already comitted themselves to fighting the great satan to the death. This wasn't exactly a quantum leap.

Conditions at Gitmo (I'd board my dog there), I'm sure, made their decisions easier.

I'd be more concerned with the three incarcerated American citizens not comitted to jihad, that comitted suicide yesterday (I'm wholly speculating on the prison suicide rate only to make a semi-cogent point), than the three Al-Qaeda who did the same last week.

Monkey's Max said...

Ludo, thanks for the stolen comments.

Celinko, don't worry I won't quote you. One usually takes a plane to Mecca, but I know what you mean. I think you are right, that they would have committed suicide sooner. I think Gitmo should be closed down already, it's an evil place.

Asshole, I just happen to not agree with the rear admiral. And you have assumed that the prisoners were guilty although they had never been charged with anything and, apparently, one of them was due to be released.

The prison problem in the US is another issue. We have a ridiculously high percentage of our population locked up, and it is likely to get even higher in the coming years. I would probably kill myself too.