Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Murder at Guantanamo

In June 2006, in an act described by the US as "an act of asymmetrical warfare", three prisoners at Guantanamo reportedly committed suicide. Today, Harper's magazine has a major story backed by whistleblower accounts suggesting that the "suicides" weren't; instead, the victims died during interrogation at a secret black site on the Guantanamo base.

The official account of the suicides is simply unbelievable:

According to the NCIS, 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.

Al-Zahrani, according to the report, was discovered first, at 12:39 a.m., and taken by several Alpha Block guards to the camp’s detention medical clinic. No doctors could be found there, nor the phone number for one, so a clinic staffer dialed 911. During this time, other guards discovered Al-Utaybi. Still others discovered Al-Salami a few minutes later. Although rigor mortis had already set in—indicating that the men had been dead for at least two hours—the NCIS report claims that an unnamed medical officer attempted to resuscitate one of the men, and, in attempting to pry open his jaw, broke his teeth.

The fact that at least two of the prisoners also had cloth masks affixed to their faces, presumably to prevent the expulsion of the rags from their mouths, went unremarked by the NCIS, as did the fact that standard operating procedure at Camp Delta required the Navy guards on duty after midnight to “conduct a visual search” of each cell and detainee every ten minutes. The report claimed that the prisoners had hung sheets or blankets to hide their activities and shaped more sheets and pillows to look like bodies sleeping in their beds, but it did not explain where they were able to acquire so much fabric beyond their tightly controlled allotment, or why the Navy guards would allow such an obvious and immediately observable deviation from permitted behavior. Nor did the report explain how the dead men managed to hang undetected for more than two hours or why the Navy guards on duty, having for whatever reason so grievously failed in their duties, were never disciplined.

But in addition to those implausibilities, there are also statements from the guards on duty that night that that three prisoners were taken to the black site, that the van which transported them went immediately to the medical clinic when it returned, and that (most importantly) no bodies were ever taken from the cell block to the medical clinic. The military authorities immediately ordered a coverup, ordering camp staff to remain silent and not contradict the official account, and removing vital evidence from the bodies they returned to relatives. There's also a disturbing report from UK Guantanamo inmate Shaker Aamer, which alleges suffocation torture similar to that apparently carried out on the victims (Aamer is currently suing the UK government over claims that MI5 was complicit in his torture).

This is a serious allegation, and it deserves a serious investigation. Torture is bad enough. Torturing people to death is worse. Those responsible must be held to account.