The US military has long maintained that the deaths of three detainees at Guantanamo Bay in one night in 2006 were suicides, but to the authors of an exhaustive report on the incident, it looks like anything but.
One question that the authors of a report (PDF) from the Seton Hall University Law School have is just how — and why — three people who hanged themselves would have managed to stuff rags down their throats before they died. Another question is why neither the guards on duty nor the paramedics who showed up were interviewed; or, for that matter, why the paramedics who showed up didn’t even ask the guards what had happened.
On the night of June 9, 2006, three detainees at Guantanamo’s Camp Delta were found hanged in their cells. The US military initially described their deaths as “asymmetrical warfare” against the United States, before finally declaring that the deaths were suicides that the inmates coordinated among themselves.
The Seton Hall report questions virtually every major element of the Pentagon’s story, and suggests a cover-up of the events of that night. But, lacking a clear picture of what happened, the report has nothing to offer as to what it was that was covered up.
The report’s description of the military investigation into the matter suggests a less-than-exhaustive review:
The investigation … leaves many unanswered questions. Three years later it is still unclear how such coordinated conduct could have occurred, much less how heavily supervised detainees could have been dead for more than two hours before they were discovered. Both the time and exact manner of the deaths remain uncertain, and the presence of rags stuffed in the detainees‘ throats is unexplained. Negligence of the guards seems to have been ruled out by the absence of any disciplinary action by any military personnel. Although some of the guards were formally warned that their original statements were suspected to be false or that they were suspected of failing to follow direct orders, no guard was ultimately charged with either making a false statement or being derelict in his duty….
There is no explanation of how each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell—a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation, hanged until dead and hung for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards.
The report notes that three detainees were on the cell block together for less than three days prior to their deaths, making some sort of suicide pact between them unlikely. It also notes that the guards were ordered not to give sworn statements about what happened that night; that the investigation was unable to determine which guards were on duty that night; and neither the prison and tower guards nor the paramedics on the scene were interviewed for the investigation.
“The investigations were themselves contrary, not only to best practices for investigations of serious matters, but also failed to conform to minimum standards in several ways,” the report states.
“It’s inconceivable that three prisoners could do this without anyone noticing it,” said Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, in a Huffington Post interview with constitutional scholar Scott Horton. “We would have assumed that investigators would have run simulations or contacted experts. The [Naval Criminal Investigation Service] investigation did not address this question, or if it did it was discussed in the portion of the report that has been redacted.”
The most innocent explanation I can come up with that comports with all the facts is that this is Gitmo meets The Lord of the Flies and the Stanford Prison Experiment: no one really cares about the rules. Even in that reading, the NCIS investigation is a cover-up of a gross dereliction of duty for which nobody was disciplined, leading to the deaths of three men.