No Comment, Six Questions — February 3, 2010, 10:31 am

Six Questions for Rachid Mesli: The missing throats

Rachid Mesli is the legal director of Alkarama, a Geneva-based organization that documents human rights abuses throughout the Arab world. After Ahmed Ali Al-Salami died at Guantánamo Naval Base in 2006, his family asked Alkarama for assistance in arranging a secondary autopsy. As I recently reported, the doctor who performed that autopsy also requested that U.S. authorities send him Al-Salami’s throat, which had gone missing. Now the Pentagon appears to be claiming that Alkarama made no such request, so I asked Mesli for a more detailed account of what happened.

1. How did you come to be involved in the arrangements for a secondary autopsy for Ahmed Ali Abdullah Al-Salami, the Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006?

rachidmesli

Alkarama was approached by Mr. Al-Salami’s family. They made clear that they did not trust the results of the first autopsy performed in Guantánamo Bay by the U.S. authorities. We were formally engaged to organize an alternative autopsy by an independent team of forensic scientists.

2. What specific arrangements were made for a secondary autopsy? Was the body sent directly there by the Americans, or was it transferred from Yemen first?

The body was sent from Guantánamo Bay to Sanaa, Yemen to be returned to the family. They contacted Alkarama after taking custody of the body. Alkarama sought the medical assistance of the University Institute for Forensic Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, which agreed to send a team led by Professor Patrice Mangin to Sanaa. The autopsy was performed on the premises of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. After the autopsy was performed, Professor Mangin and his team produced a detailed report for Alkarama. We have sent you a copy of the public version of the report.

3. When and how did you learn that the neck organs and matter and the internal organs had been removed? What steps did you take to secure their return?

This was discovered by Professor Mangin’s team during the autopsy. I promptly raised this fact in a letter addressed on June 29, 2006 to Dr. Craig Mallak, the head of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland:

The family of Ahmed Ali Abdullah requested our organization to help them organize an autopsy of the body of their son who died on 10 June 2006 in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. We gave a mandate to a medical team directed by Prof. Patrice Mangin, head of the Institute of Legal Medicine of Lausanne University, in Switzerland, to perform this task and the autopsy took place last week in Sanaa.

We would like to put you in touch with the Lausanne medical team which needs some documents, materials and explanations from your side in order for them to finalize their report of autopsy. They need in particular the following:

1) A copy of the report of autopsy carried out by your team and the histological samples as well as the anatomical sample corresponding to the upper airways including the larynx, the hyoid bone and the thyroid cartilage removed in one piece during the autopsy.

2) A copy of the report of the investigation performed by the authorities of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. More information is required about:

a) The circumstances of the discovery of Ahmed Ali Abdullah in a state of hanging in his cell.

b) The modus operandi and the exact nature (documented by photos if possible) of the ligatures used to this effect (the press talked about clothes and bed sheets).

c) If reanimation measures were taken or not. If yes, what is the nature of these measures (administration or not of drugs, endotracheal intubation)?

d) The previous state of the victim, in particular the possible existence of signs of depression, attempt of suicide, hunger strike, and if possible a close photography of the face of Ahmed Ali Abdullah showing his dentition.

e) The exact conditions of conservation undertaken for the repatriation of the body of Ahmed Ali Abdullah.

f) The justifications for cutting off the extremities of all the nails of the fingers and toes of the victim.

g) Any information about suicide attempts during the preceding days or months.

3) A confirmation that the soft internal organs put in a plastic bag inside the body of Ahmed Ali Abdullah belong to him.

So I identified myself as the properly empowered legal representative of the deceased’s family and the requests relayed were, of course, coordinated with Professor Mangin and his team, the pathologists conducting the second autopsy.

This letter was delivered by mail directly to Dr. Mallak, with a copy also delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Bern. No written response was ever received, up to this day. We contacted the Embassy several times by phone and by email to inquire about our letter, without response.

We also followed up many times directly with Dr. Mallak by calling and emailing him at his office in Maryland. On July 31, 2006, Dr. Mallak stated that he was not allowed to cooperate with any organization without an explicit authorization from U.S. authorities. Such authorization had not been granted to him, he said. Accordingly, our request for the missing body parts and other documents was made formally and in writing, we know it was received by Dr. Mallak, and Dr. Mallak made clear that he was not being permitted to cooperate with us or the pathologists conducting the second autopsy.

4. Did you also confer with Dr. Said Al-Ghamadi, the pathologist handling the Saudi autopsies? Did he also attempt to secure the missing body parts to complete his autopsy?

We did try to organize an autopsy of the two Saudi victims. The families, the Swiss medical team and Dr. Said Al-Ghamadi all agreed for it. But this was not authorized by the Saudi authorities.

5. What did the second autopsy conducted by Dr. Patrice Mangin at the University Institute in Lausanne conclude?

You should examine the autopsy report itself for its conclusions. However, the main conclusions were that there were some troubling and unexplained facts: missing organs, cleanly cut nails (Prof. Mangin said that nails are important in forensics as they could give clues about the last movements, fights, etc. of the victims). Prof. Mangin’s conclusion was however that due to the fact that he was performing a second autopsy and important organs were missing, he was not in a position to give a clear opinion on the cause of death. He would neither imply nor rule out any possibility. He insisted he wished he had at least some cooperation from the U.S. pathologists who conducted the original autopsy and who retained the throat organs, internal organs and clippings.

6. Did you research Al-Salami’s psychological state by contacting those close to him?

Yes, we spoke with his father about his mental and physical health. Here is the relevant passage from an interview with Al-Salami’s father from March 1, 2007:

Q: How do you understand what transpired with your son at Guantánamo Bay?

A: What happened in this camp of such sinister reputation is an odious crime. It was an act contrary to the most elementary values shared by humanity. A prisoner has rights, he must be protected until he has been tried and convicted or freed. Those who claim that my son and his two Saudi fellow prisoners have committed suicide are liars. According to the information we received from others at the camp before their murder, the three victims were in good health and good spirits. They continuously studied the Holy Quran.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2018

The Bodies in The Forest

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Minds of Others

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Modern Despots

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Before the Deluge

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Notes to Self

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Within Reach

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Minds of Others·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
Article
Within Reach·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Before the Deluge·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Post
CamperForce·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Minimum number of shooting incidents in the United States in the past year in which the shooter was a dog:

2

40,800,000,000 pounds of total adult human biomass is due to excessive fatness.

Trump’s former chief strategist, whom Trump said had “lost his mind,” issued a statement saying that Trump’s son did not commit treason; the US ambassador to the United Nations announced that “no one questions” Trump’s mental stability; and the director of the CIA said that Trump, who requested “killer graphics” in his intelligence briefings, is able to read.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today