The Guantanamo “Suicides” Need to Be Investigated - updated 4/16/10

Sheila Musaji

Posted Apr 16, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Guantanamo “Suicides” Need to Be Investigated

by Sheila Musaji

Glenn Greenwald has just reported  that the Obama Administration has made the decision to indefinitely imprison about 50 of the Guantanamo detainees without charges.

This decision follows on the most recent information about an investigation into suspicious deaths at Guantanamo.  The investigation was begun by Seton Hall Law School who produced a report on their findings.  The Seton Hall report is long and very detailed. 

A Harpers magazine article “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle” by contributing editor Scott Horton a NY human rights lawyer was the first to break the story about a possible coverup of deaths by torture at Guantanamo being called suicides.  This is a very detailed article going through each allegation and counter claim using information from the NCIS report and from interviews with former soldiers at Guantanamo.  Here are a few of the highlights:

“Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that 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.”
Horton also reports that “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.”  ...  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.” ... The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS documents were carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.  ...  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.  ...  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.  ...  Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain. Those charged with accounting for what happened—the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and ultimately the attorney general himself—all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.”

The Benzinga blog did an excellent short summary of the Harpers’ articles findings:

“Horton’s article demonstrates that official claims are surely false.

Three prisoners believed to be those who later died were removed from Camp 1 (where they were held) early the evening of June 9. It appears that they were driven to a secret compound (known as “Camp No”), which soldiers believed was being operated by the CIA.
A great deal of commotion occurred in the camp shortly after the van used to transport prisoners returned to the Camp Delta detention clinic. This was well before the time when official reports allege that the prisoners were found hanging in their cells. Accounts quickly spread that three prisoners had died by “choking on cloth.”

The article flags the account of a fourth prisoner, Shaker Aamer—who was brutally tortured that same day, had his throat blocked and a mask placed over his face, using procedures that seem suspiciously similar to those which may have been applied to the three dead prisoners.
The following morning, the camp’s commanding officer told a gathering of personnel that “we all know” that the prisoners died by choking on cloth, but that an official account would soon be released saying that they had committed suicide by hanging themselves. All present were ordered not to contradict or undermine the official account in any way.

The story then traces an audacious cover-up of the deaths involving many different agencies of the federal government—including the Justice Department—that has continued for three and a half years, and has continued into the Obama Administration.”

At this point the Justice Department is saying that it had thoroughly reviewed the allegations and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

As Glenn Greenwald points out: “I want to note two points from all of this:  (1) The single biggest lie in War on Terror revisionist history is that our torture was confined only to a handful of “high-value” prisoners.  New credible reports of torture continuously emerge.  That’s because America implemented and maintained a systematic torture regime spread throughout our worldwide, due-process-free detention system.  There have been at least 100 deaths of detainees in American custody who died during or as the result of interrogation.  Gen. Barry McCaffrey said:  “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”  Gen. Antonio Taguba said after investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses and finding they were part and parcel of official policy sanctioned at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, and not the acts of a few “rogue” agents:  “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes.  The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” ... “(2) Incidents like this dramatically underscore what can only be called the grotesque immorality of the “Look Forward, Not Backwards” consensus which our political class—led by the President—has embraced.  During the Bush years, the United States government committed some of the most egregious crimes a government can commit.  They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the U.S. has long been a party.  Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that—at most—they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important “state secrets,” thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.”

Jon Soltz OpEd Newsreports that  “Dozens of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from are flying into Washington, DC to join with the Campaign to Close Guantanamo in lobbying Congress to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  These veterans will deliver a letter to a number of Congressmen and Senators, co-signed by about 2000 veterans, calling for Congress to follow President Obama’s lead, and move to shut down the facility that has become a blight on America’s reputation.”

In a press release Witness Against Torture has reported that

“In a dramatic protest, 42 activists with Witness Against Torture were arrested this afternoon at the U.S. Capitol. The protest comes on the eve of the since-voided deadline President Obama had set for closing the prison camp at Guantanamo.

Those arrested on the Capitol steps held banners reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives.” Inside the Capitol, 14 activists performed a “memorial service” for the three men whose deaths at Guantanamo in 2006 were initially reported as suicides and callously described as “acts of asymmetrical warfare” by military officials. New reports provide strong evidence that the men may have been tortured to death at a CIA secret prison in Guantanamo.

The ceremony brought the names of the men—Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani—into the Capitol Rotunda, where deceased presidents have lay in state. “We perform this ceremony to recognize the humanity of those whose lives have been broken by our government’s policies of torture and indefinite detention,” says Jerica Arents of Chicago, Illinois, one of those arrested in the Capitol.

Witness Against Torture has called for an immediate, independent investigation of the deaths, as it has called for the criminal investigation of all those who allegedly designed, executed, and carried out torture policies.”

The Daily Record reports that  “Citing reports by Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy & Research and an investigative exposé by Harper’s Magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to fully investigate the “supposed suicides” of three detainees at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in 2006.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called for further investigation into other events following the deaths, including the “military cover story,” which the Post-Dispatch says “strains credulity,” and the subsequent inquiry by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which the Post-Dispatch described as seeming “to have been pursued with either inexcusable incompetence or using a massive cover-up.”

I hope that the President and our elected officials in Washington, D.C. listen and have a full and open investigation into this incident.  It’s shameful enough that we are now a nation that allows torture, it would even more shameful for us to cover up the results of that torture.  There have been rumors and allegations about torture and deaths at other U.S. detention facilities, and therefore this may be just the tip of the iceburg.  Only a full and public investigation can either put these rumors to rest, or allow us to bring the criminals to trial. 

Ed Tubbs, an Army Vet summed it up best“And a homicide demands a full and unwavering commitment to the pursuit of the truth, and of the levying of justice. What anyone thinks of the victims or the perpetrators is irrelevant. The only thing that counts is JUSTICE. At least, in America it should be the only thing. Or, we’re not Americans, only lawless gangs of thugs who happen to be citizens of the United States.  Nor must it concern us who is swept up in a criminal investigation, nor any ancillary possibilities such as a suborning to commit perjury by senior officers of junior officers or enlisted men, or of any conspiring to conceal, or of any felonious act associated with a murder, whether they be members of the Bush or Obama administrations, or of the FBI, the CIA, or the US military. I take great umbrage with President Obama’s assertion that his desire to look forward militates against a full look into the past. Either we believe in what we say we believe in, or we do not. Today, we are being tested, perhaps not near so grandiosely as we were when Lincoln declared the test was “. . . whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” But we are being tested. Our answer will answer who we really are as a people. Let us comport ourselves in alignment with the words in our National Anthem . . . “the brave.”  I love my country and want to be proud of it.”

The Muslim Statement Against Torture published in May of 2009 speaks to the importance of this issue:

We, the Muslim-American community, condemn torture. It is irreligious, immoral, and unethical.

Our religious history is replete with stories demanding that we condemn abuse and torture. The Prophet Moses (AS) sacrificed his royal position to stop an act of torture. The Prophet Jesus (AS) was tortured in an exercise of the brutality of power. The Prophet Muhammad (SAS) forbade the mistreatment of prisoners. Husayn (AS), the Prophet’s grandson, was denied food and water, an act of torture, the abhorrence of which is now part of Muslim cultural memory.

We are are compelled to speak out against torture—just as we condemn acts of terrorism because of their immoral nature. We challenge our co-religionists to live to a higher standard and we challenge our fellow Americans to live to a higher standard.

The torture of human beings at the behest of the American government must be condemned. Extraordinary rendition must be stopped. Simply because another country allows torture does not mean we should encourage and utilize the moral weakness of others. When we ratified the Convention Against Torture President Ronald Reagan said, “[We] clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.” The violence of torture is the result of power without a moral compass; it is not a model that we as Americans and Muslims believe is one that should be emulated.

We believe America must not torture and it is the ultimate act of being American to hold our government responsible for actions done in our name. We believe, as Pres. Kennedy, Pres. Reagan, and Sec. Clinton, that the US can be a shining beacon on a hill. When Rev. Winthrop made that statement over 300 years ago, he said that we must hold ourselves to higher standard both because others will, and because it is right.

We applaud President Obama for shining light on these shameful practices. We now need to ensure that we do not participate in torture ever again. As citizens, it is incumbent on us to be aware of what is being done in our name. We urge President Obama to meet this challenge as well.

We cannot be deaf to the voice of justice, but must establish it. Torture is not just.

Hussein Rashid, Associate Editor – Religion Dispatches
Shahed Amanullah, Editor-in-Chief – AltMuslim
Fatemeh Fakhraie, Editor-in-Chief – Muslimah Media Watch
Tina M. Foster, Executive Director – International Justice Network
Zeba Iqbal, Vice-Chair – Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals
Aziz Poonawalla, City of Brass, BeliefNet
G. Willow Wilson, Author
Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, Editor, Living Islam Out Loud
Wajahat Ali, Playwright, The Domestic Crusaders
Saeed Khan, Professor, Wayne State University
Sheila Musaji, Editor, The American Muslim
Yasir Qadhi, PhD Candidate, Yale University
Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)

UPDATE 4/16/2010

Tim Reid reports in the Times Online that “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”. “



Abu Ghraib leaked report reveals full extent of abuse
ADC Troubled by Destruction of CIA Tapes, Allegations of Torture
Anti-Torture Activists to Fast and Rally for Closing of Guantanamo and Banning of Torture, Frida Berrigan
The Evil of Torture and the Power of Non-violence, Mike Whitney
From Sarajevo to Guantanamo: The Strange Case of the Algerian Six, Marc Perelman
The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us, Frank Rich
Guantanamo as a Symbol, Ramzy Baroud
Guantanamo: the David Hicks case, John Pilger 
Guantanamo Detainee Ordered Freed, William Fisher
How Dubious Evidence Spurred Relentless Guantánamo Spy Hunt, Tim Golden
How our lawlessness strengthens our enemies, Shahid Buttar
In Secret Unit’s ‘Black Room,’ a Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse
Is repeated near-drowning torture?  Should the Atty-Gen know?, Rabbi Arthur Waskow 
Language and the Politics of the Living Dead, Henry A. Giroux
The Levin-Graham Amendment and Due Process at Guantanamo, Brian J. Foley 
Muslim Statement Against Torture, Hussein Rashid
“No Blood, No Foul” - Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq
Of Torture, Pardons and Amnesty, Jeff Siddiqui
Keith Olberman report and interview with Seton Hall University professor Mark Denbeaux 
To Torture Or Not To Torture?, MPAC
Torture and Cowardice: Why are American Religious Leaders Silent?, Ray McGovern
UN inquiry demands immediate closure of Guantanamo
VIDEO Chaplain James Yee on Guantanamo and Human Rights
Who Is Stanley McChrystal?, Andrew Sullivan
Will President Obama Take the Next Step to Reverse Bush’s Policy on Torture?, Habib Siddiqui