Monday, January 18, 2010

Scott Horton Drops the Bomb on Gitmo: Massive Cover-up of Murder Exposed

When it comes to the torture scandal, I agree with Andrew Sullivan: there's not been as big a story on the lies and crimes committed under the U.S. torture program since the Abu Ghraib photos were released. This story has no pictures, but the details are in and of themselves gruesome in the extreme.

Andy Worthington, who knows more about the Guantanamo prisoners than any other journalist, wrote of Scott Horton's bombshell article in Harper's Magazine:
Despite studying Guantánamo on a full-time basis for nearly four years, this is one of the most chilling accounts of the prison that I have ever read, and one which should not only lead to an independent inquiry, but also to calls to press ahead with the closure of Guantánamo — and the repatriation of as many prisoners as possible — without further delay.
Horton's story, The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle, is dense, and full of amazing facts about the deaths of three Guantanamo prisoners, officially by "suicide." The article is a veritable prosecutor's brief accusing the U.S. government, under both the Bush and Obama administration, of criminal cover-up of these deaths, which were, it seems more and more likely, murder.

We will be absorbing the various facts revealed in this article for weeks or months to come, and it is my fervent hope that tremendous heat will be put on to have an independent investigation. As Sullivan notes, no one in the government can be trusted to investigate this case. It will take a Blue Ribbon panel, or a tribunal, or at the very least an independent prosecutor with power of subpoena.

I'm going to post a bit of Horton's article (I believe "fair use"), but you have to read the entire thing. Really. (I haven't even included any quotes from Horton's compelling story about how the Obama administration jacked around the whistleblowers, then dropped the investigation. After reading Horton, take a look at Keith Olbermann's interview with him on the Jan. 18 edition of Countdown.
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 9–10, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS report—a report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.

All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners’ deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper’s Magazine that strongly suggests that the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards’ accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred....

The compound was not visible from the main road, and the access road was chained off. The Guardsman who told Davila about the compound had said, “This place does not exist,” and Hickman, who was frequently put in charge of security for all of Camp America, was not briefed about the site. Nevertheless, Davila said, other soldiers—many of whom were required to patrol the outside perimeter of Camp America—had seen the compound, and many speculated about its purpose. One theory 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.

A friend of Hickman’s had nicknamed the compound “Camp No,” the idea being that anyone who asked if it existed would be told, “No, it doesn’t.” He and Davila made a point of stopping by whenever they had the chance; once, Hickman said, he heard a “series of screams” from within the compound....

By dawn, the news had circulated through Camp America that three prisoners had committed suicide by swallowing rags. Colonel Bumgarner called a meeting of the guards, and at 7:00 a.m. at least fifty soldiers and sailors gathered at Camp America’s open-air theater....

According to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech, Bumgarner told his audience that “you all know” three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one—even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the rags. But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored. The meeting lasted no more than twenty minutes....

All the families requested independent autopsies. The Saudi prisoners were examined by Saeed Al-Ghamdy, a pathologist based in Saudi Arabia. Al-Salami, from Yemen, was inspected by Patrice Mangin, a pathologist based in Switzerland. Both pathologists noted the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat. Both pathologists contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, requesting the missing body parts and more information about the previous autopsies. The institute did not respond to their requests or queries. (It also did not respond to a series of calls I placed requesting information and comment.)

When Al-Zahrani viewed his son’s corpse, he saw evidence of a homicide. “There was a major blow to the head on the right side,” he said. “There was evidence of torture on the upper torso, and on the palms of his hand. There were needle marks on his right arm and on his left arm.” None of these details are noted in the U.S. autopsy report. “I am a law enforcement professional,” Al-Zahrani said. “I know what to look for when examining a body.”

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For those who are interested, here's a link (PDF) to the Seton Hall law school investigation into the 2006 "suicides," an investigation that was key to breaking the story open.

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