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The Minutes of the Guantánamo Bay Bar Association


In October 2005, Colangelo-Bryan went to Guantánamo to see Al Dossari again. His client handed him an envelope and said they would discuss the contents later. They talked for a while. Eventually, Al Dossari said he needed a bathroom break, so guards were summoned to move him. A few minutes passed with no indication from Al Dossari that he was done, so Colangelo-Bryan went to check on him. He found Al Dossari hanging unconscious by a noose. A stream of blood from a gash in his arm had formed a puddle on the floor. The envelope contained a suicide note that read in part:

Josh . . . I feel very sorry for forcing you to see a human who suffered too much . . . dying in front of your eyes . . . I know it is an awful and horrible scene, but . . . there was no other alternative to make our voice heard by the world from the depth of the detention center except this way in order for the world to re-examine its standing and for the fair people of America to look at the situation and try to have a moment of truth with themselves.

Al Dossari survived, though Colangelo-Bryan was told that someone in the military might have suggested that he had supplied the implement Al Dossari used. Back in New York, Colangelo-Bryan filed a motion asking that Al Dossari be permitted to speak with his family, that he be granted more human contact and reading material, and that he be examined by an independent psychologist. The government countered that there was no need to grant any of Colangelo-Bryan’s “laundry list” because it would place an undue burden on the United States. Furthermore, it claimed, Al Dossari didn’t need more human contact because he had daily interaction with guards, medical staff, and interrogators.

Three weeks after Al Dossari’s suicide attempt, three of Dorsey & Whitney’s clients were released, but Al Dossari was not among them. Colangelo-Bryan doesn’t know what brought about their release, but family members say the firm’s meetings in Bahrain, as well as the constant presence of the lawyers in the media, made an impact.

“Josh,” Al Dossari wrote before one of his suicide attempts. “I feel very sorry for forcing you to see a human who suffered dying in front of your eyes. I know it is an awful and horrible scene, but there was no other alternative to make our voice heard.”

Late last year, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced legislation that called for the detainees to be treated humanely but also stripped U.S. courts of jurisdiction over Guantánamo. In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, the senator claimed that CSRTs went well beyond the Geneva Convention and that therefore there was no need to give the detainees “unlimited access to U.S. courts.” He accused the lawyers of abusing the legal system by clogging the courts with frivolous motions, citing the lawyers’ requests to show their clients DVDs as an example. “Can you imagine Nazi prisoners suing us about their reading material?” he asked.

The measure passed as an amendment to the defense-authorization bill, effectively stripping the detainees of the right of habeas corpus. “It’s now statutory law that a confession forced by coercion has to be considered in deciding whether to lock someone up forever in Guantánamo,” says Colangelo-Bryan. “Tin-pot dictatorships don’t have statutes that say you can imprison people when they confess after being tortured. Dictators may do that, but it won’t be explicitly authorized by the law.”

In March, Colangelo-Bryan received a call from some other detainee lawyers who said they had just returned from Gitmo and heard from their clients that Al Dossari had tried to cut his throat. Colangelo-Bryan called the Justice Department to find out what had happened. They refused to tell him anything. A few weeks later, he received a handwritten letter from Al Dossari in English. It was dated March 8 and read:

“My dear friend Josh, Finally I found a good chance. Finally I will get my freedom very very [sic] soon. When you receive this letter I will be done. . . . Thank you Josh about evry [sic] thing, you did for my [sic].”

Fearing Al Dossari might be dead, Colangelo-Bryan spoke to a reporter at the Washington Post, who was able to get confirmation from the military that there had been another suicide attempt.

Colangelo-Bryan visited Gitmo again in May. He and a colleague met with Al Dossari in the naval hospital. Al Dossari had a massive scar on his leg and another across his Adam’s apple. Al Dossari explained that he had gotten hold of a safety razor, broken it apart, and hid the blade behind a mirror in his cell, then drafted the letter to Colangelo-Bryan. Three days later, on March 11, Al Dossari stuffed the lid of a yogurt container into the lock on his cell door, then cut open his leg with the razor. As guards tried to unlock the door, Al Dossari slit his throat. He awoke in the hospital. When he returned to his cell a few days later, he was strapped to a bed with three-point restraints for seven weeks. He was unstrapped only a couple of days before Colangelo-Bryan arrived. Now Colangelo-Bryan’s hopes for Al Dossari rest in two new psychiatrists at Guantánamo, whom his client describes as professional and smart. It’s much less than he and the other lawyers had hoped for when they started out.


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