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Guantanamo Detainee Deaths

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Guantanamo Detainee Deaths
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Responding to the Defense Department's Whitewash

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 NCIS Report."

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 findings;

-- 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 questions, including:

-- 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 or ceiling;

-- 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" against America.

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 night."

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 between cells.

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 the floor.

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.

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