The Mysterious Deaths of 3 Guantánamo Prisoners—Update

Thursday, January 21, 2010
Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, arrested at age 17, died age 21

Written off by the military as not only “suicides” but also deliberate attempts to make the U.S. look bad, the deaths of three detainees at Guantánamo Bay in 2006 may have been in fact the result of torture by interrogators at a secret location which led to a massive cover-up by camp personnel, according to an investigation by Harper’s Magazine.

According to official accounts, including an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Salah Ahmed Al-Salami of Yemen, and Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia died in June 2006 as a result of a well-coordinated suicide. The military’s story goes something like this: on the night of June 9-10, the suspected terrorists—each in his own, non-adjoining cell—made nooses from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied them to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high wall. Each prisoner bound his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuffed rags deep down his own throat. The men then climbed atop their washbasins, slipped on the nooses and jumped, all at about the same time.
Guantánamo’s commander, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, said after his men discovered the bodies: “I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” The media accepted the official explanation of what happened, as did some of the detainees’ defense attorneys.
The first indication that something was wrong with the military’s account of the deaths came when Seton Hall University’s Center for Policy and Research examined a heavily redacted copy of the NCIS report and found numerous discrepancies.
Harper’s Magazine went further and managed to interview four members of the Military Intelligence unit that was stationed at Camp Delta, where the detainees were held. All four soldiers had been told by their superiors not to speak about what happened that night.
One of them, Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman, was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9–10 and told Harper’s about “an unnamed and officially unacknowledged compound” located outside the main prison which soldiers referred to as “Camp No”—as in, “No, it does not exist.” The secret location was used by the CIA to interrogate prisoners, including the three men who died the night of June 9-10. Each detainee was transferred to “Camp No” by 8 pm on June 9 and subsequently was returned to Camp Delta later that night in an unmarked van that arrived at the base clinic about a half hour before the prison “lit up” over news of the “suicides.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Death in Camp Delta (Center for Policy and Research, Seton Hall University) (pdf)
The Mysterious Deaths of 3 Guantánamo Prisoners (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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