- Alternet -
It’s hard to know where to begin with this profoundly important story by Scott Horton, for next month's Harper’s Magazine (available on the web here), but let's try this: The three "suicides" at Guantánamo in June 2006 were not suicides at all. The men in question were killed during interrogations in a secretive block in Guantánamo, conducted by an unknown agency, and the murders were then disguised to look like suicides. Everyone at Guantánamo knew about it. Everyone covered it up. Everyone is still covering it up.
Establishing a case for murder -- and the disclosure of a secret prison at Guantánamo
The key to the discovery of the murder of the three men -- 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami, a Yemeni, 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a Saudi, and 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani (photo, left), a Saudi who was just 17 when he was captured -- is Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, a former Marine who reenlisted in the Army National Guard after the 9/11 attacks, and was deployed to Guantánamo in March 2006, with his friend, Specialist Tony Davila. On arrival, Davila was briefed about the existence of "an unnamed and officially unacknowledged compound," outside the perimeter fence of the main prison, and explained that one theory about it was that "it was being used by some of the non-uniformed government personnel who frequently showed up in the camps and were widely thought to be CIA agents."
Hickman and Davila became fascinated by the compound -- known to the soldiers as "Camp No" (as in, "No, it doesn't exist") -- and Hickman was on duty in a tower on the prison's perimeter on the night the three men died, when he noticed that "a white van, dubbed the 'paddy wagon,' that Navy guards used to transport heavily manacled prisoners, one at a time, into and out of Camp Delta, [which] had no rear windows and contained a dog cage large enough to hold a single prisoner,” had called three times at Camp 1, where the men were held, and had then taken them out to "Camp No." All three were in “Camp No” by 8 pm.
At 11.30, the van returned, apparently dropping something off at the clinic, and within half an hour the whole prison "lit up." As Horton explains:
Hickman headed to the clinic, which appeared to be the center of activity, to learn the reason for the commotion. He asked a distraught medical corpsman what had happened. She said three dead prisoners had been delivered to the clinic. Hickman recalled her saying that they had died because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised. Davila told me he spoke to Navy guards who said the men had died as the result of having rags stuffed down their throats.
As Horton also explains:
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 agency’s use -- or 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 Bush's defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had hoped to transform into a Pentagon version of the CIA. Under Rumsfeld's 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 construction of the "suicide" narrative, and the widespread cover-up
This is disturbing enough, of course, and should lead to robust calls for an independent inquiry, but the problem may be that almost every branch of the government appears to be implicated in the cover-up that followed the deaths.
As Horton describes it, an official "suicide" narrative was soon established, and widely accepted by the media, if not by former prisoners and the dead men’s families. With extraordinary cynicism, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the commander at Guantánamo, not only declared the deaths "suicides," but added, "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." What was not mentioned were the rags stuffed into the prisoners’ mouths, even though this knowledge was widespread throughout the prison. Horton adds that when Col. Mike Bumgarner, the warden at Guantánamo, held a meeting the following morning, "the news had circulated through Camp America that three prisoners had committed suicide by swallowing rags."