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The Real Meaning of a Gitmo Suicide

12:00 PM, Jun 3, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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A Yemeni detainee committed suicide at Guantanamo earlier this week. Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih became the fifth Gitmo prisoner to kill himself since the detention facility opened. Some of the detainees' advocates are already reacting much as they have in the past. The LA Times quotes the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a radical leftist organization that serves the detainees' cause, as saying: "The cost of keeping Guantanamo open could not be clearer at a time like this, both for the men there and for the perception of the U.S. in the world."

CCR's position is, apparently, that Salih's suicide is a great tragedy, brought on by misguided American detention policies. But, there is a more likely explanation for Salih's suicide. It was a politically motivated act by a committed jihadist who wanted to inflame anti-American sentiment around the world.

This was clearly the case, for example, with the staged suicides of three Guantanamo detainees in June of 2006. Those suicides, instead of being acts of desperation, were orchestrated with the help of senior al Qaeda and Taliban members detained at Gitmo. The intent behind those suicides was to achieve a propaganda victory on behalf of the detainees by portraying them as sympathetic characters in need of assistance. In some ways, it worked. The suicides are still cited by the detainees' advocates as an example of the supposed injustice of America's detention policies.

Who was Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih? And why, beyond his supposed oppression at the hands of Americans, would he be willing to take his own life?

A review of the files created by U.S. authorities for Salih's case reveals that he was an ideologue who was willing to fight and die for the Taliban and al Qaeda. Salih first became interested in jihad by listening to "a cassette tape by a famous Sheik that stated all Muslims needed to visit [the Taliban's] Afghanistan because it was perfect for Islam and is the most pure State."

Like many Yemeni recruits, Salih did not have the resources to organize his travels to Central and South Asia. However, the Taliban and al Qaeda's logistical recruiting network made sure he could fulfill his dream. Salih met a recruiter who gave him "money to buy a passport and completely took care of the rest of the trip." An associate of Salih's was also looking to travel abroad for jihad, the government's files indicate. While this unnamed friend wanted to go to Chechnya, he -- like Salih -- ended up in Afghanistan. There, Salih's associate "served as a senior leader at the front lines North of Kabul" and "became a well known person in his role as a front line Commander."

Salih, for his part, joined the Taliban and served on the front lines for several months. Salih never denied this. He freely admitted it during his combatant status review tribunal at Gitmo. Salih did, however, deny any relationship with al Qaeda during his tribunal. The intelligence authorities that investigated Salih's case did not believe his denials. At one point during his time in U.S. custody, in fact, Salih "admitted to being a member of the 55th Arab Brigade," which included Osama bin Laden's trained "holy warriors" and the "Taliban's most dedicated and highly skilled soldiers."

Indeed, the 55th Arab Brigade was comprised of only elite al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers. It has since been reorganized as part of the joint Taliban and al Qaeda paramilitary "Shadow Army." That Salih was a member of the 55th Brigade is a sure sign he would be willing to do anything for al Qaeda's cause.

After September 11, Salih surrendered with his fellow jihadists to the Northern Alliance. He eventually wound up at Gitmo and made a number of admissions to his interrogators, including some that he would later attempt to take back. Salih admitted, for example, that his group briefly met with Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. While there, the master terrorist "spoke to [Salih's] group for three to four minutes." Salih would later deny this, claiming that he had no intention of ever fighting American forces and that he had no relationship with bin Laden or al Qaeda.