An attorney who represented prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay was found dead last week in what sources said was a suicide.
Andy P. Hart, 38, a federal public defender in Toledo, Ohio, apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Hart left behind a suicide note and a thumb drive, believed to contain his case files. It is unknown where Hart died, what the suicide note said or whether an autopsy was performed.
Hart’s death comes amid escalating chaos that has engulfed Guantanamo over the past three months—from a mass hunger strike to military commissions and renewed pressure on the White House to shut down the prison facility. Hart was one of three-dozen Guantanamo attorneys who signed a letter in March urging Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to take immediate action and bring about an end to the hunger strike.
Because Hart was a federal employee working on sensitive legal issues the FBI was contacted about his death. It is unknown if the agency has been investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.
Neither the FBI nor local law enforcement officials in Toledo, Ohio returned calls for comment. A phone number listed for Hart was disconnected Wednesday.
UPDATE: On Thursday, FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson, a spokeswoman at the bureau’s Cleveland field office, told Truthout the FBI received a “courtesy call” about Hart’s death late last Thursday evening. Anderson said that was the extent of the FBI’s involvement.
Truthout learned about the details of Hart’s death Wednesday from an investigator who has been tapped by attorneys to work on a number of cases involving Guantanamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions. The investigator requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.
Dennis Terez, the top federal public defender in the Northern District of Ohio, where Hart worked, declined to comment on his colleague’s death.
“At this time and out of respect for Mr. Hart’s family and friends, we have no comment,” Terez said.
Hart’s name has since been removed from the federal public defender’s website.
Hart worked closely with attorney Carlos Warner, who was based out of the federal public defender’s Akron, Ohio office. Warner referred requests for comment about Hart to Terez.
With Warner, Hart was assigned by the government to defend Mohammed Rahim al-Afghani, who was detained by the CIA and allegedly subjected to torture methods until his transfer to Guantanamo in March 2008. The government maintained that al-Afghani was Osama bin Laden’s translator and a top al-Qaida official.
Hart also represented Saudi Khalid Saad Mohammed, who was transferred back to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo in 2009. He was also the attorney for Adel Hakeemy, a Tunisian who has been detained at Guantanamo for 11 years.
The Guantanamo prisoners he represents have not yet been notified about Hart’s death, according to the investigator.
In addition to defending Guantanamo prisoners, Hart also was the defense attorney for Richard Schmidt, an alleged white supremacist and convicted felon who was under federal investigation over allegations he amassed high-powered weapons and ammunition.
In 2011, Hart was assigned to represent Jeff Boyd Levenderis, 54, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on suspicion of concealing a biological toxin, ricin, and making false statements to federal investigators. Hart was also co-defense counsel for Joshua Stafford, 23, one of five men associated with Occupy Cleveland who were accused of plotting to blow up the Ohio 82 bridge over the Cuyahoga River with fake explosives supplied by an undercover FBI agent. Stafford is due to stand trial in June. It’s unclear if Hart’s death will have any impact on Stafford’s prosecution.
Recently, it was announced Hart’s entire office would face furloughs as part of the sequestration.
An 11-year-old daughter survives Hart.