Monday, December 7, 2009

Report Questions Detainee Deaths At Gitmo

A report published today by the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research - "Death in Camp Delta" - questions the reported suicides of three Guantanamo Bay detainees.

All three died on the same night: June 9, 2006, in a maximum security section of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility.

A press release issued by the military said that the three were found hanging in their cells - and that their suicides were part of a campaign to discredit the United States. But suspicions over that account were raised when the military ordered all media to leave the camp, and prevented lawyers from visiting their clients there.

The military launched an investigation into the deaths, but it took two full years to complete it - and the published account was heavily redacted. What was made public supported the initial conclusions. It said that all three had hanged themselves in their cells and that another detainee, while walking the corridors before the suicides, announced that "tonight's the night."

But the Seton Hall report suggests that the investigatin left many questions unanswered.

Three years later, the report concludes, it is still unclear how such a coordinated triple suicide could have occurred. Also still unanswered is the question of how it was possible that the swinging bodies of the heavily supervised detainees could have remain undetected for two hours.

The report says basic facts of their deaths remain uncertain, including the time and exact manner of deaths. The report also notes that the presence of rags stuffed in their throats remains unexplained.

Even if the official account is correct - that the trio committed suicide as part of an asymmetrical war against the United States - the report questions why the possibility of negligence on the part of guards was ruled out by the military. No disciplinary action was taken against any military personnel in the wake of the deaths.

While the Seton Hall report does not investigate the deaths themselves - it questions why these - and other - significant issues were never addressed by the military investigation.

For example, the Seton Hall report notes that the original military press releases failed to note that the detainees had been dead for more than two hours when they were discovered and that rigor mortis had set in by the time they were discovered. All the cells, the report notes, were under video camera surveillance. Guards were assigned to constantly walk the halls. And the guards in that section had to watch only 28 detainees.

How, the report asks, could the three detainees manage to tear up their sheets or clothing in order to braid nooses, make a mannequin so it would appear that they were asleep in their cells, hang sheets to block the vision of the guards, tied their feet together, tied their hands together, hang the nooses, climb up on their sinks, put the nooses around their necks, hang themselves and remain completely unnoticed by guards for two hours.

Another curious fact that the Seton Hall report notes remains unexplained. The guards were ordered to not provide sworn statements about what happened that night. And the government seemingly is unable to even determine which guards were on duty in the Alpha Block at the time of the deaths.

Not only were the guards not interviewed - neither - the report finds - were the medics who responded to the block.

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