Monday, December 7, 2009

Seton Hall Report on Guantanamo "Suicides": "Death in Camp Delta"

Marcy Wheeler reports this morning on the new Seton Hall University School of Law/Center for Policy and Research report, Death in Camp Delta (PDF). Drawing on evidence in the Seton CPR report, she notes that government claims that the three men found dead by purported suicide, June 10, 2006, were in reality practitioners of "asymmetrical warfare," i.e., not suicide or homicide victims, is highly dubious:

As the report describes, for the three detainees to have really committed suicide, they would have all had to have done the following:
  • Braided a noose by tearing up their sheets and/or clothing
  • Made mannequins of themselves so it would appear to the guards that they were asleep in their cells
  • Hung sheets to block the view into the cells, a violation of SOPs
  • Tied their feet together
  • Tied their hands together
  • Shoved rags in their mouths and down their throats
  • Hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling
  • Climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around their necks and released their weight, resulting in death by strangulation
  • Hung dead for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards
The amount of surveillance of prisoners at Guantanamo makes most of these suicide stories suspicious. The new report (which at over 100 pages I haven’t fully absorbed yet, am much beholden to EW for taking such quick notice and posting) makes it clear that the prisoners were under constant surveillance. Note that autopsy reports demonstrate that two of the prisoners had been dead for two hours prior to being discovered. One of the prisoners had a broken hyoid bone, a clear sign of manual strangulation.

I’m working on a follow-up to the story of Mohamed Saleh Al Hanashi, another purported Guantanamo "suicide" from earlier this year. While that story is not complete yet, I can reveal one thing from that material. Lt. Commander Brook DeWalt, the Director of Public Affairs at Guantanamo, told me in a telephone interview on Nov. 24 that while he couldn’t confirm the extent of video surveillance, he could confirm that “all detainees are on line-of-sight” monitoring, “or at most a 3 minutes check on every detainee in the facility.” How these three prisoners, who were in separate, non-contiguous cells, were able to do all that Marcy notes above, and not be noticed for hours boggles the imagination, and suggests — no, demands, a fuller investigation.

While one is thinking of the all the great work done by Mark Denbeaux and the whole Seton Hall University School of Law team, it would do everybody some good to go back and look at their December 2007 report, Captured on Tape: Interrogation and Videotaping at Detainees in Guantanamo (emphasis in original):
More than 24,000 interrogations have been conducted at Guantánamo since 2002.

Every interrogation conducted at Guantánamo was videotaped.

The Central Intelligence Agency is just one of many entities that interrogated detainees at Guantánamo.

The agencies or bureaus that interrogated at Guantánamo include: the Central Intelligence Agency and its Counterterrorism Center; the Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI; Defense Intelligence Analysis (DIA); Defense Human Intelligence (HUMINT); Army Criminal Investigative Division (ACID); the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI); and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Private contractors also interrogated detainees….

One Government document, for instance, reports detainee treatment so violent as to “shake the camera in the interrogation room” and “cause severe internal injury.” Another describes an interrogator positioning herself between a detainee and the camera,in order to block her actions from view.

The Government kept meticulous logs of information related to interrogations. Thus, it is ascertainable which videotapes documenting interrogations still exist, and which videotapes have been destroyed.

This earlier Seton Hall report on the suicides has more information about the prisoners. One of the latter, Yassar Talal Al-Zahrani, was only 17 years old when he was arrested by anti-Taliban forces in late 2001. He was never accused of being al Qaeda, but he was, again, like Hanashi, one of the prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif at the time of the prisoner uprising in late 2001 (where John Walker Lindh was also captured). It’s unknown if, like Hanashi, he was later sent to Shabraghan Prison, where he could have heard of the mass killings by Dostum and (arguably) U.S. Special Forces.

Meanwhile, in the current report just released, readers may wish to take a look at Appendix J, “Missing and Redact ed Pages.” One hundred eight-six of 191 photo pages in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigative file are listing as “missing”. The photos are said to be located at parent Guantanamo command, SOUTHCOM. Another big chunk of missing or redacted pages: 250 SOUTHCOM documents.

Meanwhile, 91 pages of documents from the Armed Forces Medical Examiners are likewise “missing.” I suppose we should be thankful the Seton Hall investigative crew got the autopsies. I have a feeling this new Seton Hall study will be worth examining in detail.

Addendum: Scott Horton has an article at Huffington Post on the new Seton Hall Guantanamo revelations, Law School Study Finds Evidence Of Cover-Up After Three Alleged Suicides At Guantanamo In 2006:

The Seton Hall study concludes that the NCIS investigators made conclusions completely unsupported by facts. For instance, they concluded that the three prisoners committed suicide as part of a "conspiracy." But, according to the study: "The investigations... fail to present any evidence of a conspiracy. In fact, all other evidence is inconsistent with the conclusion that the detainees conspired"....

When the NCIS report was finally released, it was redacted so heavily as to make it almost incomprehensible. More than a third of the pages were fully redacted, and very few pages were released without some redaction. The NCIS report itself is highly disorganized, without an index or even a chronological progression in its recounting of events. All this appears intended to make review and criticism of the report much more difficult. While the redaction of names of service personnel is appropriate, it is difficult to understand why many other redactions were undertaken.

Human Rights Watch is calling for the release of the unredacted NCIS report. HRW's Joanne Mariner stated, in response to a request for comment, that "the heavy-handed nature of the redactions to the publicly-released reports of the investigations makes it impossible to get a clear picture of the events of that night. We think that the heavy redactions currently found in the documents -- by which names, dates, and other key facts are completely obscured on many pages -- raise concerns about whether the military is trying to hide embarrassing facts."

Also, here's a link to the PDF of the fragmentary NCIS report itself, released, as Horton points out, two years after the fact.

A Final Update, 10:45 pm -- "Gitmo Meets Lord of the Flies" (Denbeaux):

Glenn Greenwald has an article up on the Seton Hall report:

There is one way that a meaningful investigation could be conducted into what happened to these three detainees: a lawsuit filed in federal court by the parents of two of the detainees against various Bush officials for the torture and deaths of their sons -- who had never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing (indeed, one had been cleared for release). By itself, discovery in that lawsuit would shed critical light on what was done to these detainees and what caused their deaths.

The problem, however, is that the Obama DOJ has been using every Bush tactic -- and inventing whole new ones -- to block the lawsuit from proceeding.

Also, Scott Horton, who was interviewed on the story by Keith Olberman tonight (video), has an interview with the reports main author, Mark Denbeaux, over at Huffington Post.

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