January 22, 2010

Killed in Custody

Recently, in A Difficult Case for Suicide, I wrote about the deeply disturbing report  by Seton Hall University's Center for Policy & Research (CPR), which investigated the alleged suicides of three men in American custody at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay in 2006.  The military had declared that the men had killed themselves in a coordinated manner in order to make the U.S. look bad, and simply decided not to bother trying to explain - as if it were possible – just how the prisoners had managed to pull it all off.

After all, to hear the official explanation, the trio - Yassar Talal al Zahrani, Mani Shaman Turki al Habardi al Tabi, and Ali Abdullah Ahmed * – had supposedly somehow hanged themselves unaided, while under heavy guard, having stuffed rags down their own throats, and after binding their own hands and feet.  The Seton Hall report noted the military’s promised investigation had led to no disciplinary action against the guards  - who would have to be either criminally negligent or party to the act for it to have occurred at all – and that it had taken two full years to issue even these tenuous findings.

The stench of cover-up is all over the “suicides”, but it has not been pursued in anything approaching a serious manner by our generally execrable media.  With one exception.

In a new article published at Harper’s, Scott Horton, who has made it his life’s work to confront  human rights abuses, presents evidence he gathered from four men who had served as guards at Gitmo that - and this is not hyperbole - utterly shatters the fairy tale that has been the official position on this matter to date. 

The ranking serviceman Mr. Horton interviewed, Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, enlisted in the Marines at the age of 19 in 1983, and was such a model military man that he was chosen to serve on President Ronald Reagan’s personal detail.  Sergeant Hickman enlisted again – this time in the Army - at the age of 37 after the September 11th attacks, but was so profoundly troubled by the events surrounding the deaths of al Zahrani, al Tabi and Ahmed, that he pulled no punches in his description of the events surrounding their deaths:
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 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 three dead men – none of whom was ever charged with a crime, one of whom was scheduled for release, and another of whom appeared headed in that direction – were killed by American personnel in American custody, and that fact has been covered up.

Mr. Horton’s article is absolutely essential reading, and documents what is only one more in the string of criminal and constitutional crimes enabled by the Bush Administration’s appallingly wasteful, ineffective and disgraceful “War on Terror.”  Please read it in its entirety here: The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta Sergeant Blows the Whistle.

* AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have used the names of the three dead men as they are written in the Seton Hall report.  Mr. Horton names them as Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, and Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, respectively.  This seeming discrepancy is not, in fact, a discrepancy at all, but a product of variation in translating Arabic names phonetically, and of the sometimes inconsistent name usage among people in Arab cultures.  There is no question that these are the same three men.

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