Sunday, 18 June 2006


Liability for abetting triple suicide at Guantanamo Bay

The triple suicide at Guantanamo Bay has been interpreted variously. Whereas the camp commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris considered the triple suicide as "an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us", Colleen Graffy, deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, has seen them as a "PR move" to further the jihadi cause. Others have disagreed and interpreted suicides as an act of despair. To date, the US – the self-proclaimed messiah of human rights – has ignored almost unanimous pleas to close this legal blackhole. The only ray of hope is the much-awaited judgment of the US Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld. In anticipation of this decision, even Bush seems to be softening his stance on the issue.

The circumstances under which attempts to commit suicide succeeded this time will be the subject matter of a military investigation. But this investigation is unlikely to explore whether the camp commanders and higher up administration could be held responsible for abetting these suicides. I think a case could be made out.

The prison authorities are under a duty of care towards all the Guantanamo Bay detainees, even if they are labelled as enemy combatants. In view of well-known harsh confinement conditions (such as solitary confinement, denial of due process and Geneva Conventions protections, almost no hope of being released) and several past unsuccessful suicide attempts, the camp commanders should have reasonably foreseen the possibility of these suicides. Arguably, the prison administration did not desire, intend, or provide active assistance in the triple suicide, but they knowingly created and sustained an environment which facilitated these suicides. A (legal) case for abetting suicides do exist, which might not be as tenuous as one was sought to be made in Jack McColum v CBS Inc. 202 Cal. App. 3d 989 (1988). [In McColum, the family of a teenager, who committed suicide while listening to certain recorded music, had unsuccessfully sued the composer, performer and producer of the music for negligence and encouraging the suicide through their music.]

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