Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 4 2011 @ 1:27pm


One small detail of the torture of terror suspect Ali al-Marri in US custody contains a nugget that might cast light on the still bizarre circumstances of the three Gitmo "suicides", revealed by the National Magazine Award winning report by Scott Horton. For in that detail, we learn of a new torture technique devised at Gitmo, in a must-read piece by Almerindo Ojeda:

It would have gone unnoticed were it not for a recent article by Tony Bartelme in Charleston's Post and Courier. [But] on one occasion, interrogators decided to stuff Mr. al-Marri's mouth with cloth and cover his mouth with heavy duct tape – a technique of controlled suffocation that Mr. al-Marri's lawyer, Andrew Savage, has called dryboarding. Dryboarding is not just a criminal practice; it is a potentially lethal procedure. As he was being dryboarded, Mr. al-Marri tried to relieve the pain caused by the duct tape by loosening the tape with his lips. He succeeded. Taking note of this, the interrogators taped his mouth again, but this time more tightly. At this point, Mr. al-Marri began to choke to death. Panicking, the interrogators acted quickly and removed the tape, thus managing, narrowly, to keep Mr. al-Marri alive (Memorandum, p. 5).

This account of the events is apparently undisputed. Ms. Joanna Baltes, who appeared on behalf of the government in the sentencing of Mr. al-Marri, seems to have acknowledged that this incident took place. She also recognized that this procedure was inconsistent with the Army Field Manual (Sentencing, pp. 259, 261). There are no signs, however, that anyone has been held accountable for carrying it out.

No surprise there. But notice the strange parallels with the Gitmo "suicides". You may recall that three prisoners at Gitmo were found simultaneously hanging in their cells from nooses fashioned from the bedsheets, with their hands tied behind their backs. More weirdly:

The information that the dead prisoners were gagged with rags came out before the NCIS report was even begun. This information was provided by Col. Michael Bumgarner, one of the Guantánamo commanders. Speaking to The Charlotte Observer, Col. Bumgarner said that the prisoners who had hanged themselves, "each had a ball of cloth in their mouth either for choking or muffling their voices."

They also each had some kind of mask on to prevent the ball of cloth from coming out. To commit suicide, a rope made of sheets will do. But masks? Cloth gags? And how exactly does someone tie his own hands and then hang himself? Why was the throat of one corpse removed before the autopsy, which could have helped resolve the issue of how he died? Why was there blood on the shirt of one dead suspect? Why was one page removed from the jail log that night? Why did Baumgarner clearly tell his men and women that the public story would be hanging, but the reality was the victims also suffocated themselves, allegedly to stop possible death-cries being heard. Then this:

Two of the documents in the NCIS report affirm that the rags in the mouths of the deceased were socks. One of these socks was described as white athletic; the other as white nylon (NCIS1073f, NCIS1091). Interestingly, the cloth used in the dryboarding of Mr. al-Marri was also a sock.

No proof of anything. But more powerful evidence that a serious inquiry – not the joke touted by the Pentagon and the Obama administration – is still necessary. It should be completely independent, and start from scratch. If a democracy cannot adequately investigate credible concerns that it accidentally killed three prisoners while experimenting with new torture techniques, then it really isn't a democracy any more.

(Photo: the mysterious "Camp No" at Gitmo, where some eye-witnesses saw the suicide victims being taken to the night of their deaths.)