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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Prosecutor Should Investigate Questionable Gitmo Suicides

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Top national security and intelligence officials from President Barack Obama on down are examining closely the communications lapses that contributed to the shootings at Fort Hood by U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan last November and the near catastrophe aboard a Detroit-bound airliner by an al-Qaida "Christmas bomber" in December.

The public has the right to expect a full and complete accounting, given the profound implications of what appear to be basic system failures.

Principles of accountability and correction up the chain of command should apply with the same urgency to a less-publicized but equally disturbing breach of discipline - one that calls into question the integrity of our military command.

There's growing evidence that suggests that three detainees - two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen - died from torture-related injuries at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in 2006. The military cover story strains credulity. A subsequent inquiry by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service fared worse.

Methodically examined and parsed by a team from Seton Hall Law School in Newark, N.J., the Navy investigation seems to have been pursued with either inexcusable incompetence or using a massive cover-up.

The detainees - none of whom had been charged with a crime - were found dead in their cells, allegedly the result of identical suicides by hanging. The details are gruesome.

For the deaths to have occurred as Navy investigators claimed, each of the men would have had to construct a braided noose out of torn sheets or clothing, tied their feet and hands together, pushed rags down their throats, hung the nooses from the cell wall or ceiling and then climbed up on a sink, put the nooses around their necks and used their weight to suffocate themselves by strangulation.

The three supposedly were in non-adjoining cells. They would have had to coordinate activities to simultaneously evade the detection of guards for two hours. In this high-security facility in Cuba, the guards were required to make physical checks of prisoners every 10 minutes.

Autopsies were performed within an hour of the discovery of their bodies, which were returned to their families with parts of their throats missing. The removal of neck organs prevented independent forensic examination of the claimed cause of death.

Now comes Harper's Magazine, with advance online publication of an article that reports evidence from military guards that the victims may have been transported to another location prior to their "discovery," and that the events leading to their deaths may have occurred at a "black site" - a secret facility used to conduct "enhanced" interrogation.

That's just part of the litany of irregularities surrounding the supposed suicides and Navy investigation itemized by the Seton Hall investigators and published in the Harper's report.

Evasions of this kind hardly are unprecedented. In 2004, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba revealed abuses and deception up the chain of command in connection with criminal misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Ranking officers were found complicit in the sadistic mistreatment of prisoners. It was not the work of only a few bad apples.

Enough is enough. Prisoner abuse and botched investigations undermine national security, handing America's enemies a devastating recruiting tool.

Mr. Obama should appoint an unrelenting career prosecutor to the case, someone of the caliber of Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to dig deeper. He must follow where the evidence leads.

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