"According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously."
That's according to an article entitled The Guantanamo "Suicides" by Scott Horton, a professor at Columbia Law School known for his work in human rights law and the law of armed conflict, in Harper's Magazine on January 18, 2010.
Those events took place late in the day on June 9, 2006. The NCIS report was two years later. But Horton tells us that a group of students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey carefully examined 1,700 pages of heavily redacted documents released by the NCIS in response to a Freedom of Information Act demand. The group concluded that the official story was "full of unacknowledged contradictions," and the military's reconstruction of the events was simply unbelievable.
At approximately 12:15 a.m. on the morning of June 10, "Camp Delta suddenly 'lit up' -- stadium-style flood lights were turned on, and the camp became the scene of frenzied activity, filling with personnel in and out of uniform." There was confusion and consternation as rumors spread throughout the remainder of the night in Camp Delta, the largest of five individual prison compounds contained within Camp America.
The next morning, the commander of Camp America, Army Colonel Michael Bumgarner, called a meeting of the guards at 7 a.m. and addressed the crowd of about 50 in the open air. Horton reports:
According to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech, Bumgarner told his audience that “you all know” three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one—even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the rags. But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored. The meeting lasted no more than twenty minutes. (Bumgarner has not responded to requests for comment.)
Admiral Harry Harris, Bumgarner's superior and commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, addressed reporters, Horton says:
When he finished praising the guards and the medics, Harris—in a notable departure from traditional military decorum—launched his attack on the men who had died on his watch. “They have no regard for human life,” Harris said, “neither ours nor their own.” A Pentagon press release issued soon after described the dead men, who had been accused of no crime, as Al Qaeda or Taliban operatives. Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Gordon, the Pentagon’s chief press officer, went still further, telling the Guardian’s David Rose, “These guys were fanatics like the Nazis, Hitlerites, or the Ku Klux Klan, the people they tried at Nuremberg.” The Pentagon was not the only U.S. government agency to participate in the assault. Colleen Graffy, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told the BBC that “taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good P.R. move.”
That was the official story. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News had completed a reporting trip to Guantanamo Bay that day, June 9, and repeatedly claimed, "there's absolutely no evidence that I've seen that says any abuse is taking place at Guantánamo Bay." But reporter Michael Gordon from the Charlotte Observer had arrived that day to do a profile of Bumgarner. Horton says:
As Gordon reported in the June 13, 2006, issue of the Observer, the colonel seemed to enjoy putting on a show. “Right now, we are at ground zero,” Bumgarner told his officer staff during a June 12 meeting. Referring to the naval base’s prisoners, he said, “There is not a trustworthy son of a bitch in the entire bunch.” In the same article, Gordon also noted what he had learned about the deaths. The suicides had occurred “in three cells on the same block,” he reported. The prisoners had “hanged themselves with strips of knotted cloth taken from clothing and sheets,” after shaping their pillows and blankets to look like sleeping bodies. “And Bumgarner said,” Gordon reported, “each had a ball of cloth in their mouth either for choking or muffling their voices.”
This was indiscreet. Immediately after the publication of the Observer article, Gordon and his photographer, along with other journalists who were also there, were summarily ordered off the camp. Bumgarner was called to Harris's office and suspended from duty the same day. He was transferred to a post in Missouri, Horton reports, and "now serves as an ROTC instructor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg."
The military investigation proceeded. There were irregularities with the autopsies, Horton says. The autopsy report of one of the men "states that his hyoid bone was broken, a phenomenon usually associated with manual strangulation, not hanging." The men's throats were removed (the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage), so when the bodies were released and the families of the deceased sought independent autopsies, the body parts "that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking" were missing.
A long article entitled The Battle for Guantánamo, by Tim Golden, was published in the New York Times on September 17, 2006. It essentially presented the military's interpretation of events. That was where things stood on January 10, 2010, when Horton's article was published in Harper's. Horton had spoken with some of the soldiers who had been on duty at Camp Delta at the time of the events on June 9, 2006:
Now four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS report—a report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.
Their story threw an astonishing new light on the events on and subsequent to June 9, 2006. Jack Shafer at Salon responded with a piece entitled Suicide or Murder at Guantanamo? The shortcomings of a Harper's magazine "exposé." on January 28, 2010:
Why aren't more journalists writing about Harper's Guantánamo exposé, which the magazine's editors pushed onto the Web last week in advance of its publication in the March issue? Except for an Associated Press story, coverage in the British press (the Guardian, the Independent), a piece on television (Countdown With Keith Olbermann), and scattered articles on top Web sites (Slate, Salon, Andrew Sullivan's blog), the major press has largely snubbed the Harper's scoop.
And what a scoop. Writer Scott Horton declares that "evidence … suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006."
Shafer goes on to say that Horton's piece "never comes close to making its case." He disputes the claims of Horton's main source, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, and says:
But if you were going to torture prisoners to the point of death in interrogations, would you really draw three prisoners from the same cell block, inside the same hour, for that punishment? It would make more sense to torture one to death, cover up that murder, and after a decent interval proceed with the gained information to torture the second prisoner to death. Or, if your aim was to execute them and cover up the murders, why bring the bodies back to a medical clinic where scores of people would examine them and an investigation would be started. Killing three prisoners on one night and then attempting to cover it up is a mission that not even the combined powers of Jack Bauer, James Bond, and Jack Ryan could pull off.
Harper's Senior Editor Luke Mitchell replied in an email to Shafer defending Horton's piece. (Click here for Mitchell's email and Shafer's reply, published in Salon.) Mitchell's email includes this passage:
It is worth noting that Human Rights First and others have reported many cases in which prisoners have died in connection with the use of Justice Department-sanctioned "harsh interrogation techniques." Last summer, General Barry McCaffrey expressed this quite forthrightly. "We tortured people unmercifully," he said. "We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A." So the phenomenon is hardly unknown.
And he concludes:
Scott does not claim to know precisely what happened at Guantánamo in 2006. But we believe he has made a strong case that the NCIS narrative is contradictory on its own terms, that new witnesses have presented compelling new testimony, and that this new testimony cries out for further investigation.
We stand by his story.
Read the link above for Shafer's email to Mitchell in reply.
Fuel was added to the fire on January 22 this year with the publication of a piece on CNN.com by Jennifer Rizzo entitled Documents raise questions on treatment of detainees.
Washington (CNN) -- New documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show "unjustified homicide" of detainees and concerns about the condition of confinement in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, according to the ACLU.
Thousands of documents detailing the deaths of 190 U.S. detainees were released by the ACLU on Friday. The U.S. military gave the ACLU the documents earlier in the week as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the rights group.
And on April 24, 2011, the New York Times published The Guantanamo Files. In a piece entitled Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees, by Charlie Savage, William Glaberson, and Andrew W. Lehren, it was reported that more than 700 classifed military documents outlined proof of harsh treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Military intelligence officials, in assessments of detainees written between February 2002 and January 2009, evaluated their histories and provided glimpses of the tensions between captors and captives. What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution, and the leaked files show why, by laying bare the patchwork and contradictory evidence that in many cases would never have stood up in criminal court or a military tribunal.
On May 9, 2011, the American Society of Magazine Editors awarded writer Scott Horton the National Magazine Award for Reporting for The Guantanamo "Suicides."
On May 17, Charles “Cully” Stimson, of The Heritage Foundation, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs (2006-2007), blasted the Society for Horton's award. In an article entitled American Society of Magazine Editors’ Disgraceful Award, Stimson said that he was awakened in the middle of the night on July 9, 2006, to deal with the events at Guantanamo. He states:
A thorough investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service confirmed what was obvious to us on the day of the suicides: three detainees, with the assistance and encouragement of other detainees, killed themselves in their cells by hanging themselves with bed linens.
Apparently, however, the truth is a hard pill to swallow for some, especially those who wallow in conspiracy theories.
In January 2010, a writer named Scott Horton wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine in which he argued that the detainees deaths were not suicides, but “most likely” caused by U.S. personnel stationed at Guantanamo. Not only does he accuse U.S. military personnel of homicide, he accuses senior attorneys in both the Bush and Obama administration of lying to federal judges about the affair.
Harper’s Magazine knew that Horton’s article was chock full of factual errors. In fact, the former Chief Defense Counsel for Military Commissions, Marine Colonel Dwight Sullivan, contacted the article’s editor at Harper’s to notify him about a key factual mistake. This happened after the article was posted online, but before it went to print. Not only did the editor not contact Colonel Sullivan (who in his own words “was hardly an apologist for Guantanamo”), they printed the article with the factual inaccuracies nonetheless.
And finally, just yesterday, the following article appeared in the New York Times (AFP): "Afghan dies in apparent suicide at Guantanamo."
The U.S. military have announced that an Afghan detainee at the Guantanamo Bay prison died Wednesday, May 18, 2011, in an apparent suicide.
The prisoner, known only by the name Inayatullah, was not conscious or breathing when guards checked on him in the morning, and they immediately tried to resuscitate him, U.S. Southern Command stated.
"After extensive lifesaving measures had been exhausted, the detainee was pronounced dead by a physician," the statement said.
The apparent suicide is under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is standard practice for the death of a detainee at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
Inayatullah was the eighth person to die at Guantanamo since the US government started transferring prisoners there following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan.