Harper’s: Three Guantanamo “Suicides” Look Like Homicides

Harper’s reports today that three detainee deaths at Guantanamo in 2006 that the officialdom has long insisted were suicides were instead likely homicides, and that the military has engaged in a cover-up. Some extracts:

….new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

Late in the evening on June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven….None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment….

As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves. Only the prisoners’ families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen rejected the notion.

Two years later, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible….

The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.

According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated.

The article by Scott Horton continues by describing how four soldiers assigned to a military intelligence unit (who were not interviewed or included in the preparation of the official story) have an account of what happened that evening that conflicts with the the official account. They were ordered by their commander to remain silent about the case. The soldiers have also supplied evidence that a cover up started almost immediately after the detainee deaths. The story can be read here and is an impressive, if grim, job of reporting.

True to form, a Google news search as of this hour (6:30 PM EDT) shows that the story is widely reported in the UK (“Guantánamo ‘suicides’ were at secret ‘black’ site”, “US magazine claims Guantánamo inmates were killed during questioning”, for instance).

By contrast, while the story has been picked up in the US by the Associated Press, the treatment is anodyne compared to the story itself. Headline “Magazine raises questions over 3 detainee deaths,” it reads:

Did they really commit suicide? That question is being raised about the deaths of three Guantanamo Bay detainees — deaths that had been described as suicides.

According to an article in Harper’s magazine, the three detainees had apparently been transported from their cells just hours before their deaths in June of 2006, and taken to a secret site.

The published account suggests that the U.S. government is covering up details of just what happened in the hours before the deaths.

The magazine says the deaths, or the events that caused their deaths, likely took place at a previously undisclosed facility about a mile or so from the main Guantanamo Bay prison complex.

Harper’s based much of the account on interviews with several prison guards who said they knew of the existence of the site, and that they saw three detainees removed from the prison several hours before the deaths were reported.

Now this version of the story is also reported as Associated Press and is running in Canada and is much more explicit. Just contrast the difference in the opening paragraphs:

Three Guantanamo Bay detainees whose deaths were ruled a suicide in 2006 apparently were transported from their cells hours before their deaths to a secret site on the island, according to an article in Harper’s magazine.

The published account released Monday raises serious questions about whether the three detainees actually died by hanging themselves in their cells and suggests the U.S. government is covering up details of what precisely happened in the hours before the deaths.

Harper’s reports that the deaths of the three detainees, or the events that led directly to their deaths, most likely occurred at a previously undisclosed facility a mile or so from the main Guantanamo Bay prison complex.

Harper’s based much of its account on interviews with several prison guards who said they knew of the existence of the “black” site and that they saw three detainees removed from Camp Delta several hours before the deaths were reported and were in a white van proceeding toward the secret site.

Those who knew of the black facility referred to it as “Camp No,” reported the magazine, quoting Army Sgt. Joe Hickman, one of the guards.

Anyone who asked if the black site existed would be told, “No, it doesn’t,” the magazine reported, quoting Hickman.

Anyone familiar with the cognitive bias literature will recognize that the differences in the two renditions (AP US versus AP Canada) make a great deal of difference in their plausibility. Starting as the first one does, with a question, suggests that either rendition might be equally valid. But accounts that provide detail are consistently found in laboratory studies to be seen as more likely than those that are sketchy (the conjunction fallacy, for instance). The limited detail of the first version makes it seem less plausible, while the second (which includes a key element, that the purported “black site” was denied to exist) would be much more likely to be accepted as true.

So is it any wonder Americans are not as incensed as they ought to be about torture and human rights violations? Aside from the desensitization that has come about via movies (funny how torture scenes became a staple as soon as the “War on Terror” became official policy), the MSM too often gives watered-down reports of abuses, even when they are heinous.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. bob

    The US government has a stated policy of not allowing hunger strikes. They will tie the prisoner down and then shove a tube down his throat in order to administer food directly to the stomach.

    This stated policy is not just for the illegal prison at guantanamo, but also for the legal federal prisons in the US.

    According to federal law, participation in a ‘hunger strike’ is proof of a loss of mental capacity and grounds for the US government to take over health decisions for the well being of the prisoner.

    They are in control.

    1225: Detainee offered food – ate one MRE and drank one bottle of water. Started 9-11 theme. Detainee asked to pray when confronted with photos of child victims and was denied. Interrogators told detainee he was using religion as a tool to escape hard questions. “Al Qaida falling apart” theme was started. Detainee was told God was not with them because He had given detainee to us and helped us defeat Al Qaida and the Taliban. Detainee declared a hunger strike and said he would decide when to eat. Interrogators began “we control all” theme.


    1. Francois T

      According to federal law, participation in a ‘hunger strike’ is proof of a loss of mental capacity and grounds for the US government to take over health decisions for the well being of the prisoner.

      How about that? An insta-diagnosis of mental disease codified in the law, no professional exam necessary.

      For those of us over 40: Doesn’t that trigger a chilling memory? Like, “any individual who considers the Soviet political regime to be inadequate is proof of a loss of mental capacity.”

      Scary stuff indeed!

      Stupid me for thinking that this kind of intolerable intrusion from the law into medicine was and would stay limited to abortion. A situation that is already bad enough in itself. Oh! And before some readers start jumping at me, consider that as a physician, I deeply resented being told by lawmakers how to practice any particular domain of medicine. You would too if Congress started to impose their ideology to how you do your job.

      1. attempter

        They have no lack of “professionals” ready and willing ot make whatever diagnosis is desired and sign the paper.

        Medical doctors and psychiatrists have been willing tools at Gitmo and everywhere else, with very little questions coming from their professional organizations, to those organizations’ eternal disgrace.

        We’ve seen that before with other regimes, of course.

  2. Jim S

    Thanks for reporting this, Yves. I’ve listened to the oft-repeated argument that these prisoners are too dangerous to release, and I certainly agree that many of them are extremely dangerous. But this underscores the fact that the ends do not justify the means: we have become as morally corrupt as we claim they are (and this follows even if the story is false). In a sane world we would release the remaining prisoners immediately and accept the risk that they would further injure us, and thereby regain our souls.

    “George Washington”, please take note; this is what good reporting looks like. Making things up to prove your point does two things: 1. it discredits you as a reporter, and 2. fighting lies with more lies morally corrupts you as a person.

  3. Hugh

    The Horton piece takes on added force if read in conjunction with the Seton Hall report:


    The SH report raises many of the inconsistencies which the Horton article addresses. It is very clear that these were murders and that there have been multiple coverups of them involving both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

    It is no surprise that this story will be underreported in the US and be covered much more so in the international press. Like other criminally stupid acts by our government, it will encourage terrorism against us, not make us safer.

    Because of how the military, NCIS, FBI, and DOJ have handled this, there are also substantial questions of obstruction of justice and other related crimes. And there is the core principle of the rule of law that has once again been violated, precisely by those who have the greatest responsibility to uphold it.

  4. K Ackermann

    I believe fiscal bias is more appropriate than cognitive bias.

    But I nitpick. It doesn’t matter that J&J prescribes poison dope to the elderly for money, or that the military is fighting Al Qaida in a country where they ain’t.

    It’s all about the Benjamins, and we, as a people, are so far gone down the path of moral bankruptcy and spineless indignation that we look like the sheep that punch time clocks in cartoons.

    The sheep are asleep in the field, while the sheppard fleeces the flock.

  5. Doug Terpstra

    This is sickening and a grievous blot on America’s soul. Because these alleged torture-murders took place years ago as had the Abu Graib scandals, one can easily imagine much worse.

    The cover-up often causes more damage than the original crime. By colluding in a cover-up, the Obama administration not only squanders credibility and moral authority (what remains), it follows a slippery slope toward complicity in crimes it promised to end. Already tainted by quashing Abu Ghraib revelations and by continuing extraordinary rendition and illegal domestic wire tapping, I believe Obama has already crossed the line. Worse, neglecting to prosecute war crimes or to protect suspects of such crimes is, I understand, itself a serious crime. I hope this administration has a profound conversion very soon.

  6. bob goodwin

    There is a lot of anti-american rot published in Europe. It may all be true, but I am not impressed simply with someone saying it is so. It reads like Glenn Beck talks. Conspiritorial, and overblowing tidbits.

    1. DingDong

      But you do believe your own government, I hope. One way thinking is just what they’re looking for so you’ll be fine…

  7. dearieme

    When the Great War on the Wrong Sort of Terrorists started, it seemed obvious to me that the US (and perhaps other countries)needed a law that distinguished (1) criminals, to be held, charged and tried, (2) prisoners of war, potentially to be shot if caught out of uniform, or held under the usual conditions, and (3) a new category, suspected terrorists. The new law would govern the holding of category (3) prisoners, the use of judicial scrutiny of their condition, the ability to reclassify them into categories (1) and (2), the conditions under which reclassification would be compulsory, and so forth. In all my years of blog-reading, I’ve never seen an American make so simple, constructive a proposal. Why?

    1. balance

      Then, maybe you should read the article. It shows a picture of the facilities and hi-lights “camp No”. Its well documented that the CIA has black sites. They admitted to one at Bagrahm for instance.

  8. Siggy

    This is a difficult story to accept. I suspect that it is composed of truths and half truths. Secret black sites at Gitmo? It’s not a very big place. Now there may be sites with very limited access, but they would be very hard to hide. Somethings not quite right in the narrative.

    1. Uncle Bill

      C’mon, Siggy. The black site was outside the gate, in other words it was in Cuba. Perfect cover, U.S. laws don’t apply. That’s why we have black sites all over the world. The two most important parts of the piece: 1) All three of the suicided didn’t belong there, they were low-level at best and probably involved just tangentially, but we couldn’t let them go for fear the world would find out; 2) It’s not CIA running the black sites, it’s another unit of the Justice Dept/Pentagon that is under direct control of the Defense Sectretary, the same guys who are using Blackwater to deploy drone strikes in Afgan. Obama found these things in place upon election, and he decided to keep them. Sad, from a man of “change.”

      1. mikefromArlington

        What exactly did he find in place upon election and decided to keep them?

        I’m curious too hear your response.

        1. Uncle Bill

          Sure, let’s start at the top with Gates, who Obama kept. Any idea why it was Blackwater paying the Taliban, thru security intermediaries in Afgan, to keep the highways clear so we could get from Kabul to our bases? I’ll answer: Deniability. Nice way to run a war. Blackwater said it was out of Afgan, except for protection services, and then two Blackwater guys got blown up along with the CIA station chief. The JSCC is running the drone program thru Blackwater, something that began with Rumsfeld. That’s just the war side.

          On the financial side, do I need to re-iterate what has been written here about the Rubin Gang? Of all the people in the world — Larry Summers? My god. Obama was elected to free us from these people, and he went and joined with them instead.

          By the way, I think you are one of those gov’t blogger plants, who now roam the blogs of all those who were called to that meeting with the gov’t.

      2. Martin

        The black site described is only outside Camp America which is the detention area of Gitmo reserved for the prisoners…it is not outside of Gitmo itself (Cuba is not friendly to our interests if you hadn’t noticed). It is not described as completely hidden in the article either…it is described as fairly well known to the soldiers on the base but off limits for most except for those with special clearance, it is also described as being in a low area between 2 plateaus giving it natural cover and as having a chained off access road. It is also described as being located down a road whose only other attraction is a beach for soldiers to swim. It is black only in terms of being officially non-existent and having limited access even by soldiers and other governmental types on Gitmo which itself is very limited access.

        Or maybe I should have just said read the article. I read the entire Seton Hall pdf last night and it is staggering how poor the investigation was…it reeks of a decently large cover up at best and given that they document the commander in the field talking on Fox News the day before the events stating “the detainees were planning something more violent” at worst it could mean premeditated murder although accidental death due to interrogation techniques seems most plausible to me when taking the Harper’s article and Seton Hall pdf together without any other evidence.

    2. Hugh

      I recommend to you and all again to read both the Seton Hall report and the Horton article. They provide much more detail than can be found in a few excerpts.

      As for Albert below, adherence to the rule of law and the Constitution are what keep you from someday being number 4.

      And as for cdubya, life as you or may not have noticed is not a movie. Or are we to assume that people can go endlessly flying through the air because you saw it in a kung fu movie?

  9. cdubya

    I saw a movie years ago, the woman “hung” herself from a door knob. took a bit of work but she was (successful). Now granted it WAS A movie, but if you looked at her preparations you could see how she was working to be able to prevent herself from the natural instinct to survive.

    the OSTERMAN weekend was the movie I think. But not 100% sure.

    as to the goof babbling about stuffing the rags, you do that just before you loop the hand bindings and jump.

    very simliar to the actions portrayed in the movie.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      You need to read the piece. The bodies were sent to the families mutilated, specifically, with the throats removed. The families asked for the missing parts to be returned. They weren’t.

      Those are the body parts you’d need to ascertain whether they died by hanging or by strangulation.

      The fact that you deem a hanging to be remotely plausible does not even begin to rebut the information in the article.

  10. Vinny G.

    “…three detainee deaths at Guantanamo in 2006 that the officialdom has long insisted were suicides were instead likely homicides, and that the military has engaged in a cover-up.”

    What? Our military engaged in cover-up? No way! Sorry, but that’s not possible. Our military are true professionals. I’m pretty sure the rag heads did themselves in.

    And notice I’ve used very strong language here: “I’m pretty sure”…lol

    PS — I’m being ironic and joking. Please don’t jump on me, everybody.

Comments are closed.