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.