NEW YORK - A leading
good-government group is asking the U.S. Justice Department to disclose
details of its investigation into the deaths of three Guantanamo
prisoners in 2006.
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Wednesday sent a Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Justice Department seeking
information about the Criminal Division's handling of allegations of
wrongdoing in the deaths of the detainees and their subsequent
investigation by military officials.
said investigative reports by Harper's Magazine and the Seton Hall
University School of Law - based on the whistleblowing testimony of a
decorated non-commissioned Army officer - have raised serious questions
about the government's response to the Jun. 9, 2006 deaths.
absence of clear information has allowed for a confusing and
contradictory public debate, replete with conspiratorial claims of
cover-ups and purported debunkings," the organisation said in a
CREW said it is seeking "evidence of DOJ's ability
to handle allegations of government wrongdoing, to inform the public
and hold the government accountable".
CREW's FOIA has been
sparked by a question many human rights organisations are asking: Is
the administration of President Barack Obama concealing evidence
suggesting that three suicides at Guantanamo Bay were not suicides at
The question arose after publication of an article in
Harper's Magazine by Scott Horton presenting whistleblower testimony
suggesting that the three dead prisoners likely suffered particularly
abusive interrogations in a remote corner of the base in the hours
before they died, and their deaths were then passed off as suicides by
the Bush administration.
Horton presented new evidence from
then-Sergeant Joe Hickman, a whistleblower formerly stationed in
Guantánamo, that the three dead prisoners were taken to a remote corner
of the base in the hours before they died.
There they were
tortured, GITMO officials came up with the suicide cover, and the Bush
administration capitalised on the panic by ordering further abuse of
prisoners, and by spreading self-serving and poisonous lies about the
dead men, adding to their families' distress, he charged.
Horton says that President Obama's Justice Department has refused to fully investigate the incident.
to the U.S. Navy, GITMO detainees Salah Ahmed Al- Salami, Mani Shaman
Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani were found hanged in their cells
on Jun. 9, 2006. The U.S. military initially described their deaths as
"asymmetrical warfare" against the United States, before finally
declaring that the deaths were suicides that the inmates coordinated
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But a report from Seton Hall University Law
School, released last fall, cast doubt on almost every element of the
U.S. military's story. It questioned, for example, how it would have
been possible for the three detainees to have stuffed rags down their
throats and then, while choking, managed to raise themselves up to a
noose and hang themselves.
Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman
told Harper's magazine that he was made aware of the existence of a
secret detention centre at Guantanamo, nicknamed by some of the guards
"Camp No", because "No, it doesn't exist."
According to Hickman, it was generally believed among camp guards that the facility was used by the CIA.
also said there was a van on site, referred to as the "paddy wagon",
which was allowed to come in and out of the main detention area without
going through the usual inspection. On the night of the three
detainees' deaths, Hickman says he saw the paddy wagon leave the area
where the three were being detained and head off in the direction of
Camp No. The paddy wagon, which can carry only one prisoner at a time
in a cage in the back, reportedly made the trip three times.
says he saw the paddy wagon return and go directly to the medical
centre. Shortly after, a senior non- commissioned officer, whose name
Hickman didn't know, ordered him to convey a code word to a petty
officer. When he did, the petty officer ran off in a panic.
Hickman and Specialist Tony Davila told Harper's that they had been
told, initially, that three men died as a result of having rags stuffed
down their throats. And in a truly strange turn of events, the
whistleblowers say that - even though by the next morning it had become
"common knowledge" that the men had died of suicide by stuffing rags
down their own throats - the camp commander, Col. Michael Bumgarner,
told the guards that the media would "report something different".
to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech,
Bumgarner told his audience that "you all know" three prisoners in the
Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing
rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one -
even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the
But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media
would report something different. It would report that the three
prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells.
It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or
suggestions that in any way undermined the official report.
of the dead prisoners were plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit brought by the
Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the deceased and
their families, Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld.
George Brent Mickum
IV, an attorney who is currently handling a number of Guantanamo cases,
told IPS, "There have been 100 deaths of detainees since 2006.
Thirty-six of these have been declared homicides. Only one case has
ever been prosecuted. The probable reason: The CIA is responsible for