Were Gitmo Suicides Actually Murders?
When three detainees at Guantanamo Bay were found hanged in their cells on June 9, 2006, the official explanation was suicide. Human rights attorney Scott Horton, however, believes that “clearly these were homicides.”
Horton has been speaking out about the incident since last winter, apparently motivated by a concern that the Obama administration may be participating in a cover-up. A Justice Department investigation was closed last fall without challenging the official version of the men’s deaths.
In an appearance on Fox News’ Freedom Watch, Horton stated that the only real question in his mind is whether the men’s deaths were deliberate murders or were “negligent homicides” resulting from “some sort of procedure that was performed on them.” He suggested, for example, that they might have suffocated as a result of being gagged while undergoing torture.
“The father of one of the deceased,” Horton noted, “who himself was a general in the Saudi Arabian police, said he examined the body and he saw evidence of torture. He’s convinced of that.”
The show’s host, Judge Andrew Napolitano, appeared clearly skeptical of the government account, and the segment was bannered, “Are the ‘suicides’ really torture interrogations gone wrong?”
As described by Napolitano, the three men “had cloths shoved down their throats, and at least two of them had masks covering their faces, presumably to prevent the cloths from being ejected.” After doing all that, the men allegedly tied sheets around their necks to hang themselves and “performed this feat simultaneously although they were not in adjoining cells.”
Horton added that it also seems unlikely the men could have died in their cells as claimed because “under the procedures there, they were subject to examination every ten minutes, and according to the official report, the bodies were hanging there for two hours, dead, without being observed.”
Horton said there is evidence that the three men had been removed from their cells for interrogation on the night of their deaths. Sergeant Joe Hickman, who was a guard at Guantanamo, has stated that on the evening prior to the deaths, he “was observing … as a paddy wagon came by and extracted, in three separate trips, three prisoners from Cell Block A, which is where these three prisoners were held, and these prisoners were taken to a secret facility that the guards referred to as ‘Camp No.’ … He speculates that these three people are the prisoners who died.”
When the deaths occurred, the New York Times reported that they “come at a time of mounting international criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of terrorism suspects at Guantánamo and other prisons around the world.” Military officials, according to the Times, “suggested that the three suicides were a form of a coordinated protest.”
Admiral Harry B. Harris, the commander at Guantanamo, stated at the time, “I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” A Bush administration official subsequently described the alleged suicides as a “good PR move to draw attention.”
In a lengthy account published earlier this year, however, Horton points out that “in the weeks following the 2006 deaths, the Justice Department decided to use the suicide narrative as leverage against the Guantánamo prisoners and their troublesome lawyers, who were pressing the government to justify its long-term imprisonment of their clients.”