Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a prisoner in Guantánamo, died on June 10th, aged 21
Nonthing much distinguished Yasser Talal al-Zahrani from the 500 or so other prisoners held by the Americans at Guantánamo Bay, in Cuba. In his loose-fitting orange clothes and flip-flops, he spent the long days sitting or lying in his wire-mesh cell. He washed with water from one bucket, made water in another.
Five times a day, when the call to prayer came over the camp PA system (sometimes overlaid, or garbled, with announcements in English), he would spread a towel on the cement floor and pray. At least it was not hard to determine Mecca’s direction. The sun blazed in through the mesh and baked the roof of corrugated iron. If he left his cage to be escorted, in leg shackles, to interrogation or the hospital, humidity quickly soaked his shirts with sweat.
. . .
On June 10th, near midnight, he made his bed to look as if he was in it, wrote a suicide note, pushed a wad of cloth into his mouth, then hanged himself among the laundry drying from the ceiling. His colleagues did the same.
As he had hoped, his death led voices around the world to demand that the camp be closed. One senior American official, immovable, called his suicide “a good PR move”. She may have been right; Guantánamo, alas, remains wrong.
When a magazine such as the Economist feel compelled to make such a statement, something is very wrong. What is happening to that very important intangible asset: the American brand – the image of America? What ever happened to the “shining city on the hill” that Ronald Reagan talked about?