Shocking update to the stories of the three men who were alleged to have committed suicide at Gitmo in 2006.
There's much more at the link that I would recommend you read.When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great. Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order. Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obamas young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriouslyand may even have continueda cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.
Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.
As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths suicides. In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. I believe this was not an act of desperation, he said, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.
This is the official story, adopted by NCIS and Guantánamo command and reiterated by the Justice Department in formal pleadings, by the Defense Department in briefings and press releases, and by the State Department. 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 reporta report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.
All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harpers Magazine that strongly suggests the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.
The night the prisoners died, Hickman was on duty as sergeant of the guard for Camp Americas exterior security force. When his twelve-hour shift began, at 6 p.m., he climbed the ladder to Tower 1, which stood twenty feet above Sally Port 1, the main entrance to Camp Delta. From there he had an excellent view of the camp, and much of the exterior perimeter as well. Later he would make his rounds.
Shortly after his shift began, Hickman noticed that someone had parked the paddy wagon near Camp 1, which houses Alpha Block. A moment later, two Navy guards emerged from Camp 1, escorting a prisoner. They put the prisoner into the back of the van and then left the camp through Sally Port 1, just below Hickman. He was under standing orders not to search the paddy wagon, so he just watched it as it headed east. He assumed the guards and their charge were bound for one of the other prison camps southeast of Camp Delta. But when the van reached the first intersection, instead of making a right, toward the other camps, it made the left, toward ACP Roosevelt and Camp No.
Twenty minutes laterabout the amount of time needed for the trip to Camp No and backthe paddy wagon returned. This time Hickman paid closer attention. He couldnt see the Navy guards faces, but from body size and uniform they appeared to be the same men.
The guards walked into Camp 1 and soon emerged with another prisoner. They departed Camp America, again in the direction of Camp No. Twenty minutes later, the van returned. Hickman, his curiosity piqued by the unusual flurry of activity and guessing that the guards might make another excursion, left Tower 1 and drove the three quarters of a mile to ACP Roosevelt to see exactly where the paddy wagon was headed. Shortly thereafter, the van passed through the checkpoint for the third time and then went another hundred yards, whereupon it turned toward Camp No, eliminating any question in Hickmans mind about where it was going. All three prisoners would have reached their destination before 8 p.m.
By dawn, the news had circulated through Camp America that three prisoners had committed suicide by swallowing rags. Colonel Bumgarner called a meeting of the guards, and at 7:00 a.m. at least fifty soldiers and sailors gathered at Camp Americas open-air theater.
Bumgarner was known as an eccentric commander. Hickman marveled, for instance, at the colonels insistence that his staff line up and salute him, to music selections that included Beethovens Fifth Symphony and the reggae hit Bad Boys, as he entered the command center. This morning, however, Hickman thought Bumgarner seemed unusually nervous and clipped.
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 oneeven 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.
The investigators conducted interviews with guards, medics, prisoners, and officers. As the Seton Hall researchers note, however, nothing in the NCIS report suggests that the investigators secured or reviewed the duty roster, the prisoner-transfer book, the pass-on book, the records of phone and radio communications, or footage from the camera that continuously monitored activity in the hallways, all of which could have helped them authoritatively reconstruct the events of that evening.
When I asked Talal Al-Zahrani what he thought had happened to his son, he was direct. They snatched my seventeen-year-old son for a bounty payment, he said. They took him to Guantánamo and held him prisoner for five years. They tortured him. Then they killed him and returned him to me in a box, cut up.
Al-Zahrani was a brigadier general in the Saudi police. He dismissed the Pentagons claims, as well as the investigation that supported them. Yasser, he said, was a young man who loved to play soccer and didnt care for politics. The Pentagon claimed that Yassers frontline battle experience came from his having been a cook in a Taliban camp. Al-Zahrani said that this was preposterous: A cook? Yasser couldnt even make a sandwich!
Yasser wasnt guilty of anything, Al-Zahrani said. He knew that. He firmly believed he would be heading home soon. Why would he commit suicide? The evidence supports this argument. Hyperbolic U.S. government statements at the time of Yasser Al-Zahranis death masked the fact that his case had been reviewed and that he was, in fact, on a list of prisoners to be sent home. I had shown Al-Zahrani the letter that the government says was Yassers suicide note and asked him whether he recognized his sons handwriting. He had never seen the note before, he answered, and no U.S. official had ever asked him about it. After studying the note carefully, he said, This is a forgery.
When Al-Zahrani viewed his sons corpse, he saw evidence of a homicide. There was a major blow to the head on the right side, he said. There was evidence of torture on the upper torso, and on the palms of his hand. There were needle marks on his right arm and on his left arm. None of these details are noted in the U.S. autopsy report. I am a law enforcement professional, Al-Zahrani said. I know what to look for when examining a body.
The presence of a black site at Guantánamo has long been a subject of speculation among lawyers and human-rights activists, and the experience of Sergeant Hickman and other Guantánamo guards compels us to ask whether the three prisoners who died on June 9 were being interrogated by the CIA, and whether their deaths resulted from the grueling techniques the Justice Department had approved for the agencys useor from other tortures lacking that sanction.
Complicating these questions is the fact that Camp No might have been controlled by another authority, the Joint Special Operations Command, which Bushs defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had hoped to transform into a Pentagon version of the CIA. Under Rumsfelds direction, JSOC began to take on many tasks traditionally handled by the CIA, including the housing and interrogation of prisoners at black sites around the world. The Pentagon recently acknowledged the existence of one such JSOC black site, located at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, and other suspected sites, such as Camp Nama in Baghdad, have been carefully documented by human-rights researchers.
In a Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture released last year, the sections about Guantánamo were significantly redacted. The position and circumstances of these deletions point to a significant JSOC interrogation program at the base. (It should be noted that Obamas order last year to close other secret detention camps was narrowly worded to apply only to the CIA.)