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THE GUANTÁNAMO DETAINEES DURING DETENTION
Data from Department of Defense Records
10 July 2006
Professor, Seton Hall University School of Law
Joshua Denbeaux, Esq.
Denbeaux & Denbeaux
Seton Hall University School of Law
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PROFILE OF DETAINEES DURING DETENTION
The recent deaths by suicide of three detainees at Guantánamo have raised questions
about both the conditions under which such individuals are held and their dangerousness. The
Government, consistent with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s description of the detainees as the
“worst of the worst,” has uniformly portrayed the detainees as highly dangerous, even in the
restrictive environment in which they are confined. Further, the Government has consistently
characterized conduct that, on the surface, seemed to be attempts at suicide, as something other,
and less serious, than suicide attempts. The recent “success” of the suicide attempts by the three
detainees has led the Government to characterize these three suicides, and previous actions of
detainees, as acts of “Asymmetrical Warfare.”
The Department of Defense has produced official records that provide some opportunity
to assess the accuracy of the Government’s description of the detainees and the characterization
of their conduct, both in terms of how dangerous the detainees are to others and how dangerous
the detainees are to themselves. The data does not support the assertion that the detainees are a
serious threat to their captors. More importantly, the data does not support the Government’s
assertion that the detainees are not serious about taking their own lives.
This Report is the first effort to provide a more detailed picture of how the detainees have
behaved during their detention at Guantánamo. This Report provides a window into the detainee
behavior towards themselves and their guards. This Report is based entirely upon the United
States Government’s own documents or the Government’s own public statements. The data
shows, remarkably, that the detainees are comparatively cowed and unthreatening to their guards
but pose a substantial danger to themselves.
• The Government has released a list of 759 individuals who have been detained at
• Government records reflect that detainees committed acts defined by the Government as
“manipulative self-injurious behavior” more often than they commit disciplinary violations:
o Detainees committed 460 acts of “manipulative self-injurious behavior” in 2003
and 2004, an average of one such act every day and a half (one per every 1.59
o Detainees committed 499 disciplinary violations over 2 years and eight months,
an average of one incident every two days (one per every 1.91 days.)
• There are more “hanging gestures” by detainees than there are physical assaults on guards,
based upon 120 “hanging gestures” for 2003 and 95 assaults and 22 attempted assaults for
the 2 years and 8 months of reported disciplinary violations.
* Co-Authors Mark Denbeaux and Joshua Denbeaux represent two Guantánamo detainees.
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o More than 70% of the disciplinary violations, including “assaults,” are for
relatively trivial offenses, and even the most serious are offensive but not
as a result of prisoner misconduct are a handful of cuts and scratches.
o The disciplinary reports reveal that the most serious injuries sustained by guards
• Assuming no recidivism (obviously, an unlikely assumption), at least one third of the
detainees have never committed a Disciplinary Violation.
• Nearly half (43%) of the reported Disciplinary Violations were for spitting at staff.
• Almost half of all disciplinary violations (46%) occurred during a 92-day hunger strike that
followed allegations of Koran abuse by guards.
• For 736 of the 952 days covered by the Incident Reports, or 77%, the Government has
released no report of a disciplinary violation.
• No act of “asymmetrical warfare” (e.g., suicide or hunger strike) is included in any Incident
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The Government has, at various points, characterized the conduct of the detainees, both
in terms of the threat they offer to their guards and the threat they offer to themselves. Analysis
of the Government’s own data strongly suggest that the former has been greatly over-stated and
the latter greatly under-played. While some of the details of the detention are undeveloped
because of the limitations of the data the Government has released, the overall picture of a
cowed, unthreatening, depressed and suicidal detainee population emerges clearly.
The Government on Detainee Misconduct
In any prison, certainly any maximum security prison, disciplinary problems are a
certainty, whether because of general despair, mistreatment or, perhaps, because the prisoners
are, as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld said on CNN, “very vicious, violent extremist
people…who have killed people and who will go -- say they'll go right back out and kill
Americans again.”1 Brig. General Jay Hood, at the time the Commander of the Joint Task Force
Guantánamo spoke of incidents of detainee misconduct, stating “the vast majority of these
detainees we are holding are dangerous men, committed to harming Americans. I know this
because of what we have learned about these men, and the threats and assaults that they make
against the guard forces and interrogators.”2
General Hood, speaking of incidents of detainee misconduct, stated that, on a typical day
or week, “it is not unusual for guards walking a cell block to have urine, feces or spit hurled at
them, to have their ethnic or racial background slurred or to hear detainees threaten to track them
down after being released and kill them and their families.”3
Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris, who succeeded General Hood in March 2006 and is the
current Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, sounded a similar theme in the Chicago
Tribune, “We also provide adequate clothing, including shoes and uniforms, and the normal
range of hygiene items, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and shampoo. Even so, many
detainees have taken advantage of this – crafting killing weapons from toothbrushes and garrotes
from food wrappers, for example.”4
The Government has released “Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations” (IRDVs),
which would necessarily include incidents such as these.5 An examination of these Incident
1Television Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld on CNN's "Larry King Live," U.S. Department of Defense Interview
On CNN’s Larry King Live, Transcript Available at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2006/tr20060525-
2 Donna Miles, Detainees Treated Humanely as Task Force Supports Terror War, AMERICAN FORCES PRESS
SERVICES, June 29, 2005, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jun2005/20050629_1909.html
4 Adm. Harry Harris, Inside Guantánamo Bay, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, May 17, 2006 at C27.
5 Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations released June 2 2006, June 9 2006, June 16 2006, available at the Seton
Hall Law School Peter Rodino Library, Newark, NJ.
Case 1:05-cv-01429-UNA Document 45-3 Filed 07/19/2006 Page 6 of 20
Reports allows a comparison of the two Generals’ statements with the actual disciplinary
infraction record. An exhaustive review of all Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations failed
to uncover even a single event of a toothbrush being made into a “killing weapon” or a food
wrapper becoming a garrote. When compared with the Incident Reports of Disciplinary
Violations, Admiral Harris’ assertion that detainees regularly craft deadly weapons from hygiene
items appears not to be true.
The Government on Detainee Suicide and Other Threat-to-Self Behavior
On June 11, 2006, Mani Shaman Turki Al-Habardi Al-Utaybi, Yassar Talal Al-Zahrani,
and Ali Abdullah Ahmed all committed suicide at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Rear Admiral
Harry B. Harris, Jr.’s immediately proclaimed that that these suicides were "not an act of
desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare aimed at us here at Guantánamo.”6 Other
statements also claimed that the deaths “were means and methods for protestation… a good PR
move to draw attention.”7
In the wake of the suicides and these statements, there has been renewed attention to the
extent to which the detainees are in fact seeking to “escape” their captives by committing suicide
and/or are trying to make political statements by inflicting injury on themselves, even to the
point of risking or suffering death. Admiral Harris stated that asymmetric warfare includes
suicides and suicide attempts.8 Asymmetric warfare presumably includes hunger strikes as well.
In approaching this question, the Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations are of no
assistance because the Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations do not report a single instance
of hunger strikes, suicide attempts or similar acts of “asymmetrical warfare.” At least some of
“incidents” seem to involve conduct that appears similar to or in conjunction with threat-to-self
behavior, however this Report must take the Government data as it exists.
In any event, regarding threat-to-self behavior, the Report draws not from the Incident
Reports of Disciplinary Violations, which are silent on the topic, but from press releases and
other public statements made by government officials.
This Report uses the awkward term “threat-to-self” because the Government has created
an unusual lexicon to describe conduct that might more intuitively be termed suicide attempts.
The Government’s lexicon is problematic in a number of respects, but this Report is committed
to relying only on the Government’s own data, which requires an understanding of the
Government’s terminology, which follows.
6 Sgt. Sara Wood, Three Guantanamo Bay Detainees Die of Apparent Suicide, AMERICAN FORCES INFORMATION
SERVICE, June 10, 2006, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jun2006/20060610_5379.html.
7 Michael Rowland, US Official Calls Guantanamo Suicides a PR Tactic, ABC (Australia), June 13, 2006, transcript
available at http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2006/s1661866.htm, audio available at
8 Prison Boss: No Innocent Men in Guantanamo, ABC NEWS NIGHTLINE, June 27, 2006, available at
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The Government Data
The data reviewed are the documents prepared by the Government reporting on the
disciplinary violations committed by the detainees and the public statements made by
governmental officials describing detainee conduct. This report considers only the Government
data publicly presented and does not dispute, but rather assumes as true, all of the Government
Government Data for Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations
In June 2006, the Government released three documents containing, according to the
Department of Defense website, 499 “Incidents of assault, harassment or humiliation of U.S.
personnel by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”9 These 499 documents are referred to herein
as “Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations.”
The Incidents Reports cover the period between December 19, 2002 and July 27, 2005, a
total of 952 days. These are the only official releases documenting detainee misconduct at
Guantánamo. For each incident, there is a one-page summary referred to as, “Report and/or
Recommendation for Disciplinary Action.” The reports serve as summary of the record of a
particular violation committed by a detainee. All personal information contained in the summary
is redacted. Further, the redaction of names and Internment Serial Numbers (ISNs) makes it
impossible to determine which detainees have committed rule violations. Redaction of tracking
information also precludes this Report from determining recidivism rates among disruptive
prisoners, although the Government does on each Incident Report of Disciplinary Violation have
a field tracking recidivism, which is consistently redacted. It is also impossible, with the lack of
identifying information, to cross-reference violations with other detainee records to compare
disciplinary violations with the summaries of evidence or transcripts available for many
Information in the Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations that is not redacted
includes the Government’s classification of the incident; the date on which the incident occurred;
a description of the incident, ostensibly written by the staff member present at the time of the
violation; and, for the minority of the incidents, whether the detainee was informed of the
Incident Report being filed.
9 “DoD release of records concerning incidents of assault, harassment or humiliation of U.S. personnel by detainees
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” Found on the Freedom of Information Act Defenselink Page
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Government Data for Detainee Threat to Self
The data for detainee self-harm is taken entirely from statements by Government officials
to the press.
During the year 2003, detainees committed 350 acts of “self-harm,” otherwise known as
“manipulative self-injurious behavior.” Of these 350, 120 were classified as “hanging
During the year 2004, detainees committed 110 acts of “manipulative self-injurious
behavior.” The Government did not report how many of these 110 were “hanging gestures.” 11
Detainees commit "manipulative self-injurious behavior" more frequently than they
commit disciplinary violations. The Government reports 460 incidents of "manipulative self-
injurious behavior" over two years, or 731 days, for an average of one such behavior every 1.59
days. The Government reports 499 disciplinary violations over two years and eight months, or
952 days, for an average of one such violation every 1.91 days. Detainees committed 460 acts of
“manipulative self-injurious behavior” during the years 2003 and 2004.12
In August 2003, 23 detainees attempted to hang themselves. The Government classified
only two of these as “suicide attempts;” the other 21 were “hanging gestures,” a category of
“manipulative self-injurious behavior.”
The meaning of the terms of the terms “manipulative self-injurious behavior,” “self-
harm” and “hanging gestures” and the manner in which the Government created them is
discussed in the section “Government Characterization of Detainee Self-Harm”.
Analysis of Government Data
Analysis of Detainee Misconduct Data
Due to the manner in which the Incident Reports are released, it is impossible to
determine which prisoner committed which disciplinary violation; thus, it is impossible to know
whether one detainee, or a relatively few detainees, committed multiple violations. If each
detainee each committed one of the reported disciplinary violations, and none committed two (an
extremely unlikely scenario), then one-third of the detainees never committed a disciplinary
violation of any kind. Taking into account the reports of spitting, and again assuming one
violation per detainee, then almost two-thirds of the detainees have either never committed a
disciplinary violation or, one time, were reported to have spit at a guard.
10 Paisley Dodds, Terror Suspects at Guantanamo Attempted Mass Hanging and Strangling Protest in 2003, U.S.
Military Reports, ASSOCIATED PRESS WORLDSTREAM, Jan. 24, 2005, § International News.
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Forty-six percent of the disciplinary violations occurred during a three-month hunger
It is a virtual certainty that some detainees committed multiple violations. If that is the
case, the number of detainees who have never been cited for any disciplinary violation is much
greater than the 33% reported above.
Taken on average, there is one event every other day (an average of one incident every
1.91 days). We know from the Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations that 46% of the
disciplinary violations happened during a three-month period. A more accurate picture of
Guantanámo prison life is that there were no disciplinary violations of any kind for 736 of the
952 days for which data is available.
The chart below identifies the number of days on which incidents were reported.
The data suggests that the most
likely accurate portrait of the camp is
that a minority of the detainees engage
in repeated disciplinary violations which
are concentrated in a relatively small
number of days. Seventy-seven percent
of the days at Guantánamo are free of
any Incident Reports of Disciplinary
Violations and an unknown but certainly
large percentage of the detainees have
posed no disciplinary problems at all.
Disciplinary Violation Categories within Incident Reports
The Government uses 23 classifications for disciplinary violations, although it would
appear that there are at least 28 possible classification types, with subtypes available for each
violation. The 23 classifications used are not defined, and the categories seem simultaneously
over-inclusive and under-inclusive. Additionally, many classifications seem inconsistent with
the act described in the Incident Report for that disciplinary violation and with the other Incident
Reports reflecting the same or similar misconduct.
Because of these inconsistencies and for more accurate tracking of the conduct
underlying the disciplinary violations, this Report uses three classifications of incidents:
“throwing” violations, “assault” violations, and regulatory violations.13 Each category of
violation—throwing, assault, and regulatory— includes conduct ranging from serious to the truly
petty. Most actions of whatever category are offensive rather than injurious to Guantánamo
staff. The most egregious violations are not assault or battery in the classic sense, but incidents
13 When in doubt or in the case of multiple acts, this report applies the most serious classification available.
Case 1:05-cv-01429-UNA Document 45-3 Filed 07/19/2006 Page 10 of 20
in which the detainee allegedly threw feces or urine at guards and staff.14 The four dozen acts of
this nature, however revolting, are in sharp contrast to the much more common
scenarios—spitting or throwing food. And even these lesser acts are relatively infrequent.
By far the largest percentage of incidents
is “throwing” (69%); the next largest category is
assaults, including attempted assaults (23%); and
the third category, violations of rules and
regulations of the camp, accounts for 7% of
reported incidents. (See Chart)
An analysis of each of the three categories is necessary to present a clear picture of the
actual violations committed by the detainees.
A. Throwing Incidents
Of the 499 total Incident Reports of
Disciplinary Violations, there were 346
incidents that this Report classifies as
“throwing” violations, comprising 69% of the
Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations.
Spitting is by far the most common throwing
violation, accounting for 217 of all throwing
incidents. Of the 499 total Incident Reports of
Disciplinary Violations, fully 43.5% were
confined only to spitting. There are 48
instances of throwing feces or urine. There
were 43 instances of throwing food or
beverages. Finally, there were 38 instances of
throwing objects; primarily flip-flops, and
occasionally meal trays or stones. (See Chart)
14 The Government data describes such offensive acts 48 times. The Government does not report which detainees
committed these acts. It is possible that most of these acts were committed by a handful of very angry detainees, but
that possibility cannot be confirmed or denied by the data now available.
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These numbers and percentages give only part of the full story of “throwing” violations.
The events underlying the classifications of the different types of throwing fail to fully portray
the detainee conduct upon which the Incident Report of Disciplinary Violation rests. While there
are 48 acts of throwing offensive substances, the vast majority (298 acts) are neither offensive
nor serious. Examples of typical throwing acts include:15
• On 29 May 2004 …detainee spit at MP for not giving him additional toilet paper.
• On 06 July 2005 …detainee was sleeping and MP woke detainee up to tell him that
his chow was here. Detainee got angry and spit at the MP and made gestures of
poking his finger in the MP's eye. No spit/body fluids hit the MP.
IRDV 2 (this incident occurred during the hunger strike in 2005)
• On 13 May 05… detainee threw a cup of tea on a block guard and then tried to hit the
guard with his flip flop. The block guard shut the bean hole and walked off the tier.
IRDV 186 (This incident occurred during the hunger strike)
• On 11 July 2005… detainee assaulted an MP by throwing his shower shoes, a cup of
water, and two tubes of toothpaste.
IRDV 73 (This incident occurred during the hunger strike)
• Detainee threw a pear core from his food tray slot and struck the Block Guard on the
B. Assault Violations
Of the reported incidents, 23% were for some form of assault, attempted battery or
battery of staff. Assaults can be classified into three types of conduct: (1) striking; (2) grabbing,
and (3) attempted striking and or grabbings.
“Striking” includes hitting, kicking, head-
butting, and stabbing and comprises 56% of the
reported assault incidents, or 13% of all Incident
Reports of Disciplinary Violations. “Grabbing”
includes reported incidents where clothing,
whistles, radios, or staff are grabbed, and account
for 24.8% of the reported assault incidents.
Attempted assaults in which there was no contact
account for 19% of the total assault incidents.
15 The descriptions are quotations from the Incident Reports written by the MP present at the time of the incident.
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(2) through the “bean hole”;16 and (3) in “other” or unspecified contexts.
Assaults by detainees are committed in one of three reported ways: (1) during shackling;
shackling, account for 22% of all reported assault
incidents. There are 30 assaults that cannot be
classified as either shackling or “bean hole”
delivery and thus are listed in this report as “other”
and comprise 26% of all assault deliveries.
More than half of the assaults occurred through the “bean hole” (52%). The “bean hole”
is a small aperture in the cell walls through which the guards pass meals to the detainees. The
opening is small—see picture below—with doors that the guards can close.
A Guantánamo Bean Hole17
16 To conduct an assault through a bean hole, the detainee would have to crouch or bend down, reach his arm
through the bean hole, and then swing or slap at the staff member. While this clearly is a violation subject to
disciplinary action, the danger to staff members from this type of assault appears minimal.
17 Image of bean hole at “Camp 4” published in The Guardian June 29, 2006. Available at
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While there are a handful of cuts and scratches, the Incident Reports of Disciplinary
Violations do not reflect a single assault in which any guard or staff member suffered a reported
injury requiring medical attention.
Perhaps the most serious incident report of an assault, IRDV 336, occurred on 21
December 2004 when a detainee stabbed the MP guard in the hand with his “spork,” a plastic
eating utensil combining a spoon and a fork. This occurred when the guard attempted to collect
utensils after morning chow. After jabbing the MP, the spork fell to the floor, and the bean hole
was secured. The detainee came to the cell door window and made a slicing motion across his
neck and stated loudly yelling, "I will kill you" and other threats while the MP guards finished
collecting the chow.
Perhaps the second most severe acts of assault, IRDV 288, occurred on 4 April 2004
when a detainee assaulted an MP who was unshackling the detainee. The detainee reached
through the bean hole with his good hand while being unshackled and grabbed the MP by the
neck. The MP pulled away, and the detainee grabbed the front of his BDU jacket and T-shirt
ripping buttons off the uniform and tearing the shirt. Medical care was not needed.
The assaults can generally be divided into two categories: those in which the detainee
resists being shackled and all of the others. The more common examples of assaults were
unrelated to shackling. They were also the least threatening:
• On 25 Jun 2004 at approx 0720 the detainee refused to give up the cup in his cell, then
proceeded to grab the MP's arm and spit on the MP. During a random cell search he was
found to have one orange and 2 MRE wrappers.
• On 05 May 2005 at 2105 Detainee redacted grabbed the MP's arm while he was handing out
• Detainee…grabbed the block NCO's whistle on 20 1310R May 04
• On 6 June 2004 at approx 1305 detainee… assaulted an MP by grabbing his arm while he
was taking up the lunch plates. The MP pulled his arm out from the bean hole and closed it
• On 24 June 2005 detainee swung his flip flop at MP three times hitting the MP once on the
brim of his cover and twice on the left side of his face because [detainee] believed the MP
did not bring him a pear and some salt during the dinner meal.
• On 15 Jun 05 detainee grabbed the block guard's arm while the guard was retrieving the
lunch tray and immediately released it. The bean hole was also immediately closed with no
further issues. The detainee was upset because he wanted to talk to the Block NOCO about
getting some water. While conducting linen exchange detainee grabbed the hands of the
female MP through the bean hole and would not let go. Detainee let go of MP's hands after
being told four times and MP pulled away
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• On 24 June 2004 at approx 0630 detainee in cell [ISN redacted] reached through bean hole
swung his hand towards MP and grabbed MP's whistle. Detainee refused to give back
whistle until SOG arrived
Examples of assaults when being shackled:
• During the Force Cell Extraction of Detainee…for refusing Intel reservation, the Detainee
resisted the IRF team as they entered…. The detainee continued to resist during the shackling
procedures of the move. No injuries were received by the Guards or the Detainee
• On 15 Jun 05 at approximately 0907 detainee… hit [redacted] in the stomach and [redacted]
in the hand while they were attempting to shackle him in the shower
• On 26 July 2005 at 1515 Detainee… spit on the block guard… while he was being
handcuffed and said fuck you 3 times. As [redacted] was being escorted out of the shower he
pushed the shower door into the block guards hitting [redacted] with the door
There were 36 incidents that this Report classifies as “regulatory” violations. These
comprise 7% of the total Incident Reports for Disciplinary Violations. Violations of rules and
regulations appear to be in almost all instances petty. Some examples follow:
• On 20 June 05 detainee did in fact communicate several threats. Detainee requested to be
moved to isolation, Camp Five, or Camp Echo, due to air conditioned boundaries in these
locations. Detainee was informed that his reason for Camp Four removal wasn't a valid one.
Detainee stated that we (JDOG Staff) had one week to move him or he would grab an MP's
arm and break it. Redacted asked detainee why would he do this because MPs had done
nothing wrong to him. Detainee replied "You're right; bring me [Redacted] and I will break
his arm or spit on him." Camp IV OIC spoke with detainee concerning his comments.
Detainee stated that he is angry at America for holding him there and no one wants to help
him. Detainee stated that he wants to go home. I think he is acting out in frustration. No
further action required.
IRDV 41 (emphasis added)
• On 04 Feb 2005 at 0835 Detainee was cross block talking with [Redacted]
• On 16 Jan 05 at 1325 hrs detainee was in possession of 6 different pieces of white and orange
string of varying length
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Government Characterization of Detainee Self-Harm
In trying to work with Government data on detainee self-harm, the threshold problem is
terminological since the Government employs categories that are neither intuitively obvious nor
defined in terms of objective criteria. For example, from August 18 to August 26, 2003, 23
prisoners attempted to hang themselves.18 To those not familiar with the Guantánamo lexicon,
these actions might have been viewed as suicide attempts. But this would be incorrect, as a
recitation of the story reveals.
The Government did not report the mass hanging to the public until January 2005, when a
Guantánamo Naval Hospital administrator, Capt. John S. Edmundson, 19 speaking to an L.A.
Times reporter, casually referred to “the mass hanging incident.”20 The Government
immediately denied that the event was a mass suicide attempt,21 but rather described it as “a
coordinated effort to disrupt camp operations.”22 In a statement, Lt. Col. Leon
explained that only two of the hangings were suicide attempts since only those two resulted in
hospitalization combined with psychiatric treatment.23 The other 21 were described as “hanging
gestures,” without any explanation of what that term might mean.24
In the same statement, the Government revealed that there had been 350 “self harm”
incidents -- including 120 “hanging gestures” -- in 2003, and 110 “self harm” incidents in
2004.25 Therefore, 460 self-harm incidents occurred in the two-year period from 2003 to 2004.
At this point, then, there seemed to be three categories of such conduct: suicide attempts,
self harm incidents, and a subdivision of self-harm called hanging gestures. In September 2003,
the Government created a new category for detainee actions called “manipulative self-injurious
behavior.” According to Capt. Edmondson, this category includes acts of self-harm in which
"the individual's state of mind is such that they did not sincerely want to end their own life," but
instead was intended to obtain release or better treatment. This designation has no apparent
basis in psychiatry.26
Since the Government refers to the 2003 mass hanging incident both as “manipulative
self-injurious behavior” and as a “self harm” incident, the former seems to be simply another
18 Charlie Savage, Detainees Attempted to Hang Themselves: Scrutiny Widens at Guantánamo, BOSTON GLOBE, Jan.
25, 2005, at A1.
19 Cpt. John S. Edmondson is identified as both Cpt. Stephen Edmundson and Cpt. John Edmondson in various news
20 Carol J. Williams, Editorial, Covering Gitmo, L.A. TIMES, June 18, 2006, at M1.
21 Adam Fresco, Mass Suicide Bids at Guantánamo Bay Dismissed as Only a Guesture, TIMES (London), Jan. 25,
2005, available at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1455415,00.html.
22 U.P.I., Guantánamo Detainees Attmpted Hangings, news release, January 25, 2005.
23 Paisley Dodds, Terror Suspects at Guantánamo Attempted Mass Hanging and Strangling Protest in 2003, U.S.
Military Reports, ASSOCIATED PRESS WORLDSTREAM, Jan. 24, 2005, § International News.
26 David Rose, Operation Take Away My Freedom: Inside Guantánamo Bay on Trial, VANITY FAIR, Jan. 2004, at
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term for the latter; this Report, therefore, treats the two labels as interchangeable.27 But this
leaves the question as to what conduct, other than “hanging gestures,” is included in self harm/
manipulative self-injurious behavior. There is evidence that detainees have attempted to slit their
wrists on the bars of their cells,28 and have attempted to overdose on medicine. 29 It is not clear
whether the Government would categorize these as suicide attempts or as some kind of
manipulative behavior or gesture.
It is possible that the Government also counts other kinds of detainee actions as
“manipulative self-injurious behavior.” Hunger strikes have been endemic to Guantánamo since
its opening.30 There have also been reports of detainees banging their heads on the walls of their
The category “manipulative self-injurious conduct” appears to have been created in
response to the August 2003 mass hangings. Although the Government did not coin the label
until September 2003, it then retroactively classified 21 of the 23 hanging attempts as
“manipulative self-injurious behavior.” 32 At that point, and including the two just added, the
suicide attempt count was 32.33 By June 10, 2006, the count had increased by only 9, to total 41
suicide attempts.34 Therefore, in the twenty-one month time period between January 2002 and
September 2003, the Government reported 32 suicide attempts, and in the 32 month time period
between October 2003 and June 2006, the Government reported 9 suicide attempts.
Either the frequency of suicide attempts decreased dramatically since September 2003, or
the Government began classifying acts that would have been previously reported as suicide
attempts as “manipulative self-injurious behavior.” It is not likely that the frequency of suicide
attempts decreased. In fact, given the suicide attempts that sparked a detainee riot in May 200635
and the three successful suicides in June, the frequency seems to have increased.
27 Dodds, supra note 17.
28 David S. Cloud & Neil A. Lewis, Prisoners’ Ruse Is Inquiry Focus at Guantánamo, N.Y. TIMES, June 12, 2006, at
29 Carol J. Williams, 4 Guatánamo Prisoners Attempt Suicide in One Day, L.A. TIMES, May 19, 2006, at A10.
30 See, e.g., Paul Harris and Buran Wazir, Prisoners at Camp X-Ray Go on Hunger Strike, NEW ZEALAND HERALD,
March 1, 2002, at § News; Paul Harris and Burhan Wzir, Distant Voices Tell of Life for Britons Caged in Camp
Delta, OBSERVER, Nov. 3, 2002, at 3; Detainees’ Hunger Strike in Month 2, WASHINGTON POST, Sept. 10, at A06;
Jim Loney, Hunger Strike by 52 Terror Suspects, COURIER MAIL (Queensland, Australia), July 23, 2005, § World at
20; Hunger Strike Expands, TORONTO SUN, Dec. 30, 2005, § News at 43; Jane Sutton, 75 Prisoners Join in Hunger
Strike at U.S. Base at Guantanamo Bay, WASHINGTON POST, May 30, 2006.
31 Stevenson Jacobs, Guantanamo By Suicide Priosners ‘Showed No Sign of Being Depressed’, INDEPENDENT
(London), June 28, 2006, § News at 24.
32 U.P.I., Guantánamo Detainees Attempted Hangings, news release, January 25, 2005; see also Savage, supra note
34 James Risen & Tim Golden, Three Prisoners Commit Suicide at Guantanamo, N.Y. TIMES, June 11, 2006, § 1, at
35 Harry B. Harris, Jr., Statement on Suicide Attempts at Guantanamo, news release, May 19, 2006, available at
Case 1:05-cv-01429-UNA Document 45-3 Filed 07/19/2006 Page 17 of 20
Various journalists have asserted that “manipulative self-injurious behavior” is simply a
re-classification of suicide attempts.36 Although the decline in the number of suicide attempts
reported and the subjectivity of the categories suggest that this may be correct, the data do not
allow a conclusive confirmation of this claim.
The Government appears to use both subjective and objective elements to distinguish
“manipulative self-injurious behavior” from a “suicide attempt.” The objective element is the
extent of the detainee’s injury. The subjective element is the Government’s interpretation of the
detainee’s intent. Apparently, if a detainee does not sustain serious injury, his act is not
considered a suicide attempt. If a detainee does sustain serious injury, his intent is determined to
be either to kill himself or to attain improved treatment or release.
To understand the two factors, it is important to note that the Government’s
categorization could focus either on objective facts, for example, how serious an injury the
detainee inflicted on himself, or on subjective facts, for example, the detainee’s perceived state
The Government states that the difference between a “suicide attempt” and “manipulative
self-injurious behavior” is that, in a “suicide attempt,” a detainee could die without intervention,
whereas in “manipulative self-injurious behavior,” a detainee seeks only to gain attention.37
The August 2003 hangings illustrate the application of both the objective and the
subjective factors. When Capt Edmondson revealed the August 2003 mass hanging, he did so to
clarify that the incident was the only time when the 48-bed hospital ward was at or near
capacity.38 The Government reported that only two of the hangings resulted in hospitalization,
even though many more detainees filled hospital beds as a result of their hangings. The other 21
were called “hanging gestures,” a type of “manipulative self-injurious behavior.” 39 Yet the
Government reported only two of the attempted hangings that resulted in hospitalization as
suicide attempts.40 The Government could have utilized either test. The Government may have
meant that only two detainees required hospitalization and that their injuries mandated more care
than the others (the objective factor). Alternatively, the Government may have decided that
hospitalization is not the deciding factor in determining the presence of a suicide attempt, and
instead considered the detainee’s motive in hanging himself (the subjective factor). The
hospitalization of so many of the detainees was not a sufficient basis to conclude that any one
detainee had attempted suicide.
More recently, on May 18, 2006, at least four detainees engaged in what might have been
classified as attempts to commit suicide, resulting in a detainee riot. In a statement released the
following day, Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr. revealed that only two of these efforts were
36 See, e.g., David Rose, How US Hid the Suicide Secrets of Guantanamo, GUARDIAN (London), June 18, 2006, §
Observer Foreign Pages at 30; Jason Oddy, Living With the Enemy, Independent (London), Dec. 7, 2003, § Features
37 Mass Suicide Bids at Guantanamo Bay Dismissed as Only a Gesture, TIMES (London), Jan. 25, 2005, § Home
News, at 6.
38 Rose, Operation, supra note 20.
39 Dodds, supra note 17.
40 Rose, Operation, supra note 20.
Case 1:05-cv-01429-UNA Document 45-3 Filed 07/19/2006 Page 18 of 20
counted as “suicide attempts,” apparently because only two detainees lost consciousness due to
their attempts. Two others complained of dizziness and nausea, one claiming that he had
attempted suicide but did not have enough pills. These latter two received a medical and
psychiatric evaluation, but Harris called these detainees “attention-seeking sympathizers who
were not trying to actually commit suicide.”41 Since this quote is a concise restatement of the
definition for “manipulative self-injurious behavior,” the latter two detainees were probably
classified as having exhibited such behavior, even though they received a psychological and
medical examination and one of them claimed that he was trying to kill himself. The
Government may have used both factors in making this distinction, as well.
As for subjectivity, the Government defines “manipulative self-injurious behavior” as an
insincere effort to end life.42 Thus, the classification of a given act will depend on the classifier’s
assessment of the detainee’s real purpose in engaging in the self-injurious conduct. Only if the
Government concludes that the behavior was “sincere,” however, does the act become a suicide
attempt. In all other cases, it is classified as merely “manipulative self-injurious behavior,” even
if the act resulted in injury sufficient to require hospitalization.
Given the sheer number of incidents of “manipulative, self-injurious behavior,” combined
with the paucity of governmental detail as to why particular actions are classified to be insincere
and thus count as such behavior, it is impossible to definitively conclude that the 460 incidents of
“manipulative, self-injurious behavior” are, or are not, suicide attempts. To the extent that there
is any bias in the system, however, it certainly tilts in terms of under-counting suicide attempts.
This is underscored by the fact that the Government has from the outset recognized the
high risk of detainee suicide. One factor in determining whether to transfer a person to
Guantánamo Bay was his propensity for self-injury. “‘Right from the start, it was known there
were individuals capable and willing to harm themselves,’ a U.S. military official familiar with
the assignment process said. ‘One of the reasons they were brought there was because it was
thought they would be a harm to themselves.’”43
Reflecting that reality, Guantánamo officials have for years taken precautions against
detainees committing suicide and prepared for that eventuality. In a Navy e-mail dated August
2003, the month of a mass hanging incident, an officer asked what should be done in the event of
a successful suicide. 44 Former Cpt. James Yee served as the Muslim Chaplain at Guantánamo in
2002 and 2003, and in this capacity he helped develop detailed burial protocols.45 In the summer
of 2005, in response to an increased number of hunger strikes, the military again considered
procedures in the event of a successful detainee suicide.46 In February 2006 officials began
reciting to detainees passages of the Koran that forbid suicide.47
41 Harris, supra, note 29, http://www.southcom.mil/PA/Media/Releases/Media%20Advisory%20-%205-19-
42 Rose, Operation, supra note 20.
43 Manuel Roig-Franzia, Guantánamo Was Prepared for Suicide Attempts, WASHINGTON POST, March 2, 2003, at
44 Dodds, supra note 17.
45 Savage, supra note 12.
46 Risen & Golden, supra note 28.
Case 1:05-cv-01429-UNA Document 45-3 Filed 07/19/2006 Page 19 of 20
The Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations do not mention detainee acts of
“asymmetrical warfare” by any name in the lexicon the Department of Defense has developed to
describe self-harm. A system that records an act of spitting or throwing a glass of water by a
detainee, however, would be expected to include acts of asymmetrical warfare against the
Guantánamo Detention Authorities. This suggests, but does not prove, that the Government did
not regard these acts of self-harm as “asymmetrical warfare” until the Government’s own public
relations concerns were implicated.
The failure to cite suicide attempts and hunger strikes in the Incident Reports of
Disciplinary Violations cannot be the result of inadvertence. This is especially true since the
times when hunger strikes were taking place and mass hangings were occurring coincided with
the greatest cluster of Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations. (See Timeline)
Timeline of Incidents
The 92 days of May, June and July 2005 encompassed a major hunger strike. During that
time, 46% of all Incident Reports of
Disciplinary Violations occurred. (See
Chart) The omission of any reference to
the hunger strikes during this period of
turmoil of Incident Reports of
Disciplinary Violations makes it clear
that the camp did not treat such acts as
asymmetric warfare at that time.
Case 1:05-cv-01429-UNA Document 45-3 Filed 07/19/2006 Page 20 of 20
The content of the Incident Reports during the August 18-26, 2003 “mass hanging”
attempt by a number of inmates is the starkest example that attempted suicides were not
considered to be disciplinary violations. The 13 Incident Reports of events that occurred on
August 18, 2003 are most revealing. These 13 Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations make
no mention of any suicide attempts or “mass hangings.”
The Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations of that date describe “block
disturbances” and “riots” but no acts of self harm, manipulative self injurious behavior,
attempted suicide, or suicide. The 13 reports cites as disciplinary violations 12 instances of
detainees throwing water. There exist only two descriptions for the 12 incidents, with duplicate
descriptions occurring on the Incident Reports of Disciplinary Violations.
The reports of the events for that day, one at 1220, the other at 1230, as written by the
MPs, are as follows:
• On 18 Aug 03 @ 1220 hrs the detainee on [Redacted] block rioted over a complaint of a MP
touching a Koran. The riot carried over to Charlie block, and detainee threw water/fluids on
the MP guards. Medical was not needed
• On 18 Aug 03 at approximately 1230 hours, detainee [redacted] was involved in a block
disturbance in reaction to an MP accidentally knocking the Koran out of detainee redacted
surgical mask while searching the cell. During the disturbance, redacted through (sic.) cups
of water on the MP Staff. One MP reported to medical to be decontaminated as she suspected
there to be body fluids in the fluid thrown
The reports make clear that throwing water is recorded as a disciplinary violation yet
attempting suicide is not.