Three “Suicides” At Gitmo: The Story So Far

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 7 2010 @ 10:23pm

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My column this week in the London Sunday Times is on a story the US MSM has so far decided not to delve into more deeply. I believe the weird lacunae in the Pentagon report on the alleged suicides, carefully examined by the Seton Hall Study, and reported in extreme detail by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine, merit much more scrutiny than they have so far gotten – and it remains instructive to me that, apart from one small AP story, only the foreign press is interested:

During the night of June 9-10, 2006, something nightmarish happened in the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Three prisoners, we were told, had committed suicide simultaneously by hanging themselves in their cells. Rear Admiral Harry Harris explained it thus: “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.” A Bush administration official said the suicides — one by a man captured at 17, charged with no crime and scheduled for release — was “a good PR move”. At the time I remember thinking how off-key that sounded in response to three suicides. But then I moved on. The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service took two years to complete an inquiry which came to the same conclusion as Harris immediately after the event. There have been many suicide attempts at Gitmo and hunger strikes. And collective suicide by terrorists is not unknown. Members of the Baader Meinhof gang killed themselves in Stammheim prison in 1977. But that was accomplished by gunshots, impossible in such a tightly controlled jail as Gitmo. And the Alpha Block where their bodies were allegedly discovered is supposed to be closely monitored, with guard checks of every cell required every 10 minutes. There were five guards for 28 prisoners. And yet the NCIS report found that the bodies were not discovered for two hours. More to the point, none of the guards on duty was ever disciplined for negligence, a baffling decision after such a massive and embarrassing breach in protocol.

The NCIS report was 1,700 pages long and heavily redacted. It was released only by court order through a freedom of information request. Last autumn a group of students at Seton Hall University law school undertook a thorough assessment of the report and found its conclusions incredible. I’ve read the full report. It’s bizarre.

The report claimed that the three men — not in adjoining cells — braided a noose from their sheets or clothing, attached them to the top of a wire mesh wall, hung sheets to prevent the guards seeing into their cells, bundled other sheets up to make it look as if they were in bed, bound their own hands and feet, tied cloths over their faces like a mask to muffle any sound they might make as they died, then climbed onto their sinks, or by some other means hanged themselves, swinging there for two full hours before being found. When discovered, the military said that rags were stuffed down their throats. They claimed these were the remnants of the cloth masks which had been “inhaled as a natural reaction to death by asphyxiation”.

For the Obama administration’s decision to “move on” from re-examining the case, read on here.

(Photo: Google Earth picture of a facility, allegedly known as “Camp No”, outside the perimeter of the main detention camp, where Gitmo guards say they saw prisoners being taken to on a regular basis.)