- On December 7, 2009, under the direction of Professor
Mark Denbeaux, Seton Hall University School of Law's Center for Policy
& Research (CP&R) published its 15th GITMO report titled, "Death
in Camp Delta," covering three simultaneous deaths on June 9, 2006
in the maximum security Alpha Block. The detainees were found hanged in
separate cells shortly after midnight on June 10, unobserved for at least
two hours, rags stuffed down their throats, despite constant surveillance
by five guards responsible for 28 inmates in a lit cell block monitored
by video cameras. One of them was scheduled for release in 19 days, so
why would he commit suicide?
- The report found "dramatic flaws in the government's
investigation (and) raise(s) serious questions about the security of the
Camp (and) derelictions of duty by officials of multiple defense and intelligence
agencies," who either let them die or killed them, then whitewashed
the investigation to suppress it.
- DOD responded, adding to the coverup, CP&R saying:
- "The Center has found DOD's defense contradictory
to, and inconsistent with, DOD's prior statement in its Naval Criminal
Investigative Services (NCIS) report."
- According to Professor Mark Denbeaux:
- "Amazingly, some of DOD's statements purporting
to defend the NCIS investigation actually impeach it; others are irrelevant
or misdirected. The inflated number of statements supposedly supporting
the NCIS Report are not as important as the statements omitted from the
- CP&R's 16th GITMO Report responded to DOD's thinly
veiled defense titled, "DOD Contradicts DOD: An Analysis of the Response
to Death in Camp Delta."
- While confirming some of CP&R's criticisms, DOD also
"contradict(ed) factual claims in its own investigation, raising new
questions as to whether the DOD can be trusted to investigate its own conduct."
The Center found:
- -- DOD now says one detainee had a rag in his throat;
the NCIS investigation showed all three had them;
- -- DOD claims over 100 interviews were conducted during
the first three days of investigation; in fact, 24 were conducted on June
10 and none the next three days; at most, investigators interviewed 45
individuals in total; in addition, NCIS investigators concluded that testimonies
from all on-duty guards on the night of the incident were false, yet their
statements are missing; further, most of them either refute or don't corroborate
- -- NCIS had a videotape record of events; DOD said nothing
on it contained substantive evidence, an implausible claim as everything
is recorded on it; and
- -- DOD now says the lights were dimmed when detainees
hanged themselves; Admiral Harry Harris said they were on.
- In its December report, CP&R asked key unanswered
- -- the time and exact means of death;
- -- how the dead men braided a noose using torn up sheets
and/or clothing unobserved and made mannequins of themselves to look like
asleep bodies in bed;
- -- hung sheets to obstruct viewing into their cells;
- -- stuffed rags down their throats to choke;
- -- tied their hands and feet together;
- -- hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall
- -- climbed on a sink, placed the noose around their necks,
released their weight, and were strangled; and
- -- did all this unobserved for two or more hours.
- Yassar Talal Al Zahrani, Mani Shaman Turki Al Habardi
Al Tabi, and Ali Abdullah Ahmed were the victims, called suicides by the
military within hours as investigations were beginning. Over two years
later they were released under court order. Heavily redacted, they were
called a coordinated suicide, acts of "asymmetrical warfare"
- CP&R findings disagreed, said the investigation was
"severely flawed" and the conclusions not supported by the evidence.
Seven weeks after the Center's report, a DOD statement referred to "factual
errors" in it. Yet their "assertions are as flawed as the infirm
investigation they seek to defend."
- Troublesome are contradictory statements, the number
of interviews conducted, conflicting timelines, factual contradictions,
"and a general sense of disarray," suggesting coverup. Sworn
statements are required from everyone involved. Only partial ones were
gotten, excluded from the NCIS report. Many are third-person summaries.
Some suggest witnesses were manipulated to corroborate others. In sum,
their statements leave many questions unanswered and contradict DOD's conclusions.
- "The initial investigation into the deaths of three
detainees on June 9, 2006, was flawed, the DOD's response is flawed, and
a new investigation is necessary to find out what really happened that
- Contradictory DOD and NCIS Statements
- DOD Statement: "NCIS special agents who investigated
this case found no evidence to suggest that the three detainees died by
means other than suicide."
- NCIS considered no other way. Contrary indications were
ignored, including not interviewing Tower Guards able to look directly
into cells to monitor all movement throughout the facility. Several now
contradict the official NCIS account. At least four witnesses have different
views of what happened. Why weren't they interviewed? Why were statements
given of questionable value? How can they be considered trustworthy? The
"suspect statements are nowhere to be found in the investigative file."
Leaving them out suggests whitewash.
- Colonel Bumgarner's (Camp Delta Joint Detention Group
commander) is much like others - a supposed 11-page sworn statement, but
he said it's "this page and two other pages." It has corrections,
changes, and redactions "after nearly every paragraph."
- Physical evidence suggesting murder isn't considered.
Ahmed had a broken hyoid bone, "a distinct sign of manual strangulation."
In suicidal hangings, neck injuries are rare. "This suggests that
Ahmed at the least may have died by means other than suicide." Seven
days after the incident, Colonel Bumgarner said in an official statement:
"I was still not sure now it had happened."
- DOD Statement: "On the contrary, it was clear from
interviews and forensic evidence that these detainees wanted to end their
lives and methodically took steps to accomplish that goal."
- No evidence suggests it, including their state of mind.
Colonel Bumgarner's official statement says: "Two of the three had
been cleared by Behavioral Health Services just the week prior (to their
deaths) and were noted to be in good spirits."
- According to NCIS, the supposed evidence of intent was
an unnamed detainee saying on the night of the incident - "tonight's
the night." Yet nothing confirms it, and if it was known, why wasn't
security tightened? The alleged detainee wasn't interviewed, and 21 others
had no knowledge of planned suicides. Many, in fact, said they would have
alerted camp personnel had they known.
- In addition, no evidence corroborates a coordinated event
or the ability of detainees to communicate. They're prohibited from conversing,
being together in the same place at the same time, passing notes or anything
- Alleged suicide notes on detainee bodies and in their
cells had similar, ambiguous wording expressing no explicit intent to commit
suicide. None, in fact, indicate a collaborative effort.
- DOD Statement: "To hang themselves, they did not
need to jump off the sinks as suggested by the author, but only had to
apply the necessary pressure to the neck to cut off blood flow."
- This contradicts the NCIS's report including sworn eyewitness
statements saying, "It appeared to me that (they) climbed onto the
sink and tied (themselves) off and then jumped from the sink." Each
was found fully suspended close to their sinks, their feet not touching
- CP&R "consistently maintain(s that) the three
detainees did not necessarily die in the manner concluded by the DOD's
investigators, and that the evidence in the NCIS file does not support
the government's conclusions."
- DOD Statement: "The knots, which bound their hands
(and in one case, the decedent's feet), were not elaborate, but were indeed
possible to make by each of the detainees who died."
- The knots are irrelevant, the materials another matter.
Specifically, the noose was braided from "bed sheets and tee shirts,"
then tied to the upper wall's mesh and wrapped multiple times around each
detainee's neck. In addition, autopsy reports indicated their necks had
deep furrows and abrasions, described as "intricate weave-type patterns."
Masks also covered their faces, and they were gagged, no doubt to silence
them. Further, they have no implements to cut fabrics, and limited amounts,
yet Al Zahrani allegedly used a blanket, three sheets, and the braided
noose. Inside his cell were a wash cloth, a white color cloth, clothes,
a blanket, a rug, and multiple non-fabric items.
- It's suspicious "how so many impermissible items
were kept in their cells" or how guards could have been so derelict
to allow it.
- Neither the original NCIS report or DOD response explains
how three detainees, under constant surveillance, managed to:
- "1. Procure enough material to cover significant
areas of their cells
- 2. Intricately weave fabric bindings
- 3. Repeatedly knot the bindings
- 4. Tie the binding material at a point in the cell high
enough so that each detainee would be able to suspend fully without their
feet touching the ground
- 5. Wrap the binding around their necks several times
- 6. Create knots to bind their limbs and torso
- 7. Gag themselves
- 8. And somehow hang to death while fully suspended (in
plain sight under constant surveillance) without discovery by the guard
force" for at least two hours.
- Yet camp commander Admiral Harris said guards couldn't
have prevented the "suicides." In polite terms, his explanation
and DOD's are implausible. More to the point, they're ball-faced lies.
- DOD Statement: "In addition, a short written statement
declaring their intent to be martyrs was found in the pockets of the detainees.
Lengthier written death declarations were also found."
- Only two of the longer ones were apparently written by
the detainees. In Arabic, they were accompanied by English translations,
indicating the translator's interpretation. Key though is most comments
suggest no intent to commit suicide. They may have reflected Islamic religious
writing, expressions of oppression, or other emotions.
- In addition, no collaborative conspiracy is hinted -
no meetings, plans or any coordination. "Whether or not the written
notes in question are suicide notes, their translations provide no evidence
of a conspiracy between the three dead men."
- DOD Statement: "The rulings of the Armed Forces
Institute of Pathology (AFIP), which determined the cause and manner of
death, were wholly consistent with the NCIS investigative findings."
- Inconsistencies, in fact, abound between DOD and NCIS
accounts. "Most importantly, the autopsy reports conclude that each
detainee was dead for hours before being found....NCIS does not mention
this fact in its investigative findings."
- It said all three had rags or cloths in their throats.
Only Ahmed's autopsy report mentions them. Also, only Al Tabi's autopsy
reveals no internal neck hemorrhaging. NCIS claimed all three men died
the same way.
- When found, they were in rigor mortis, beyond resuscitation.
Yet, the autopsy says they were given invasive treatment, using oral-gastric
tubes, orally placed endotracheal tubes, intravenous catheters with attached
urinary bladder bags, electrocardiogram pads, and defibrillator pads. They
also had puncture marks on their arms and hands, and the pathology rulings
and NCIS investigation are in sync with the predetermined conclusion.
- In addition, NCIS agents witnessed the autopsies, suggesting
a collaborative effort for consistency, "two arms of the same investigation....start(ing)
with the predetermined conclusion of suicide."
- DOD Statement: "Regarding rags found in the mouth,
there was only one rag lodged down the throat of one of the detainees."
- The NCIS investigation contradicts this. Sworn statements
said the three men had rags in their throats or mouths and throats. The
unredacted evidence "demonstrates beyond a doubt that all three of
the detainees had some form of cloth in their mouth, throat, or" both.
"DOD's contention is in direct contradiction with its own investigation."
- DOD Statement: "Rather than being 'proof' of homicide,
this was due to the detainee himself positioning the rag in his mouth in
order not to make any noise so as to alert the guards. The rag was inhaled
as a natural reaction to death by asphyxiation."
- CP&R didn't say rags proved homicide. It criticized
NCIS because the investigation never addressed why they were there, that
immediately should have raised suspicions. No evidence suggested they were
to prevent noise, and investigators didn't address whether inhaling them
is a natural reaction to death by asphyxiation, especially when it occurs
by hanging. It's also unclear how inhaling a rag or cloth is possible with
a noose cutting off all air.
- DOD Statement: "Blankets and sheets had been used
to obstruct the guards' views and to create the appearance that the detainees
were asleep in the cells. During its investigation, NCIS discovered that
detainees were allowed to hang sheets for privacy;...."
- Obstructing cell views with blankets and/or sheets would
have required detainees to violate standard procedures (SOPs), stating:
- "Blankets or sheets may be temporarily hung up,
no higher than half way up the cell walls, to provide privacy while using
the toilet (or to dry). Once the detainee has completed using the toilet,
the blankets and sheets must be taken down." In other words, they
may only stay up for minutes, not hours, and not extend from ceiling to
floor. Doing so constitutes "a grievous breach of SOPs...."
- DOD Statement: "....(T)hey were allowed to have
extra linens and/or blankets;...."
- True for good behavior, but two of the deceased ended
hunger strikes days before their deaths. It's unlikely they were rewarded,
so "raises serious questions." Further, after the May 18 riots,
Camp 1 was on lockdown, the guards and officers on high alert and not about
to hand out favors.
- DOD Statement: "....(S)ome of the lights in the
detention facility were dimmed at night to permit better sleep. This explains
how the detainees were able to obscure their actions and why the guards
did not discover the deceased detainees right away."
- Whether or not true, it contradicted Admiral Harris saying:
- Based on the pathologist's estimated time of death, (I)f
a couple of hours was more than two and a half hours, then the detainees
hanged themselves while the tier was fully illuminated."
- Procedures up to June 9, 2006 were to shut overhead lights
on one side of the tier (half of them) at 10:00PM. Camp 1 has none inside
cells. They're on the ceiling and shine into cells. Unredacted materials
don't say which side stayed on. No matter, as guards had to maintain a
continuous presence on the block, check detainees every 10 minutes, and
their skin or movement at least every three hours. Following procedures
made it impossible to miss seeing three men hanging for hours.
- DOD Statement: "All available video footage was
reviewed by NCIS, and nothing of evidentiary value was discovered."
- "Available" leaves much unexplained, including
whether key evidence was recorded, despite numerous on-site cameras showing
guards removing detainees from cells; taking them through prison hallways;
carrying them to the clinic; seeking help, coordinating medical support,
and having other cells checked; besides taping three successful suicides.
- It's implausible that cameras failed to notice. NCIS
got videotapes on or about June 13, 2006, but no evidence shows they were
reviewed. However, Rear Admiral Mark Buzby stated that Guantanamo hallway
and common area video monitoring is standard practice.
- The NCIC report includes a guard saying clinic videotaping
began but was ordered stopped even though it's generally required - always
during self-harm attempts, completions of serious incident reports, and
whenever IRF (Immediate Reaction Force) teams are used.
- DOD Statement: "NCIS conducted over 100 interviews
during the first three days of the investigation, including interviews
with all the guards who worked in the cellblock that day and all the detainees
who were housed there. None of those interviewed told of any detainees
being taken away or alleged homicide."
- At most, 45 total interviews (excluding detainees) were
conducted, and most had no first-hand knowledge of the events. During the
crucial first three days, only 24 people were interviewed, but none gave
first-person statements. On June 14, NCIS began collecting them, days after
- Statements from the six on-duty guards were most relevant,
yet NCIS suspected their reliability and excluded them from their investigation.
A select group of others were also, including from one Sally port guard,
responsible for controlling access to all persons entering and exiting
- Inexplicably, no tower guards were interviewed, even
though they could look directly into cells and monitor all movement in
the facility. In addition, only one day-shift guard was interviewed, although
four were on duty that day and might have seen suspicious behavior.
- DOD Statement: "AFIP sent a senior medical examiner
to Guantanamo to perform the autopsies. In addition, an independent, state-level,
senior medical examiner flew to Guantanamo to observe the autopsies, standard
operating procedure for AFIP in high profile cases."
- Five people witnessed them, likely the same ones in each
case. However, medical examiner names were redacted. The AFIP one "conclude(d)
that detainees Al Tabi and Ahmed were deceased for 'at least a couple of
hours prior to the discovery.' " NCIS excludes this from its report.
- DOD Statement: "All the materials released to date
have been highly redacted. While Seton Hall students may have done the
best they could with what they had, the fact is they only had available
to them a small fraction of the reports."
- Redacted material contained many contradictions and unusual
events "that cannot be redressed through additional information."
- DOD Statement: "The bodies were thoroughly examined
for signs of torture. None was found."
- Autopsy reports and the NCIS statement of findings said
nothing about torture. "None of the statements in the investigation
file mentions torture." The investigation only tried to determine
if all deaths were suicides and began with that "predetermined conclusion."
- DOD Statement: " A thorough, years-long investigation
by NCIS concluded unequivocally that the detainees' deaths were the result
of suicide. In addition, the Justice Department took this matter very seriously
and a number of experienced department attorneys and agents extensively
and thoroughly reviewed the allegations and found no evidence of wrongdoing."
- The investigation was a whitewash. Admiral Harris signed
off on his assessment on September, 6, 2006, less than 90 days after the
deaths. NCIS looked no further. "This investigation was far from 'years-long;'
indeed, it can barely be described as 'months-long.' " Its brevity
weakens DOD's claim of thoroughness, and questions the overall investigatory
- Disturbingly, suicides were announced before autopsies
occurred, and Admiral Harris claimed "(t)hey hung themselves with
fabricated nooses made out of clothes and bed sheets," contradicting
the same day press releases saying the manner of death was under investigation.
- While not a formal DOD response, Colonel Bumgarner told
- "This blatant misrepresentation of the truth infuriates
me. I don't know who Sgt. Hickman is, but he is only trying to be a spotlight
ranger. He knows nothing about what transpired in Camp 1, or our medical
facility. I do, I was there."
- Apparently, he never got a clearance, as he said nothing
further. Yet this statement alone questions NCIS's credibility. CP&R's
report said he knew what went on because he was there. Yet his sworn statement
to NCIS investigators said he spent the evening with Admiral Harris. At
00:48 June 10, the DOC called him after he returned home, and he immediately
drove to the DET Clinic, following the ambulance into the Camp. Before
leaving, however, he called Admiral Harris, telling him a suicide attempt
occurred. The other deaths were then confirmed. He didn't know how, but
noticed indentations on two detainees' necks. At 1:17AM, he reported the
deaths, over 30 minutes before it was official at 1:50AM.
- Final Comments
- For years, Republican and Democrat administrations eroded
constitutional freedoms and the rule of law, using the courts for hardline
enforcement, especially since the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effect Death Penalty
Act. It eased surveillance restrictions, included draconian death penalty
and habeas-stripping provisions, and smoothed passage of the 2001 Patriot
Act and other repressive measures, including authorizing torture as official
- The Bush administration issued a blizzard of Executive
Orders, National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives, memos,
memoranda, findings, and other official documents authorizing secret detentions,
extraordinary renditions, assassinations, military commissions, and torture,
even though these practices are prohibited under US and international laws.
- A smoking-gun February 7, 2002 Order titled "Humane
Treatment of al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees" stated "none of
the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaeda (or Taliban)
detainees in Afghanistan 'or elsewhere throughout the world....' "
It meant "terrorist" detainees have no rights. They can be imprisoned,
held indefinitely, tried in military commissions (with no right of appeal),
tortured and executed.
- Other documents authorized anything in the "war
on terror," including supreme presidential power.
- A March 14, 2003 memo titled "Military Interrogation
of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States" became
known as "the Torture Memo" because it swept away all legal restraints
and authorized military interrogators to use extreme measures amounting
to torture. It also let the president as commander-in-chief use "the
fullest range of power....to protect the nation." (He) "enjoys
complete discretion in the exercise of his authority in conducting operations
against hostile forces." It gave him life or death power over anyone
called an unlawful combatant, including US citizens.
- International law expert Francis Boyle denounced the
designation, calling it a:
- "quasi-category (of) legal nihilism where human
beings (including US citizens) can be disappeared, detained incommunicado,
denied access to attorneys and regular courts, tried by kangaroo courts,
executed, tortured, assassinated and subjected to numerous other manifestations
of State Terrorism" on the pretext of protecting national security.
- What George Bush began, Obama continues, including at
Guantanamo, despite issuing January Executive Orders banning torture, ordering
the facility closed, and directing the CIA to shut its secret prison network.
- That was then. This is now. Political persecutions, extraordinary
renditions, secret detentions, kangaroo court justice, and torture remain
official US policy as part of the administration's permanent war agenda
and continued "war on terror," renamed the "Overseas Contingency
- Defiled is Abraham Lincoln's Lieber Code on humane and
responsible behavior toward combatants and civilians in times of war. Also
the Hague and Geneva Conventions, Geneva's Common Article 3, Nuremberg
Principles, UN Charter, UN Convention Against Torture, International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, US Army Field Manual 27-10, US War Crimes
Act and Torture Statute, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and other laws pertaining
to crimes of war, against humanity, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment.
- As a result, anyone, anywhere may be abducted, secretly
imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in cold blood, the apparent fate of
the three Guantanamo detainees CP&R addressed in its 15th and 16th
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
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