Last week, a federal judge ruled that the families of two men who died in detention at Guantanamo couldn't sue the government because their imprisonment as enemy combatants had been approved by a Combat Review Status Tribunal -- a CRST.
The same CRSTs the Supreme Court found "inadequate."
Following a two-year investigation, the military concluded that the men - the two whose families were the plaintiffs in last week's court case, plus another -- had committed suicide. But recent first-hand accounts by four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths have raised serious questions about the cause and circumstances of the deaths, including the possibility that the men died as the result of torture.
The deaths of the three men at Guantanamo were the subject of a jaw-dropping article in Harper's Magazine by Scott Horton, an attorney who has written extensively on US detention policy and practice. Horton wrote, "The official story of the prisoners' deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report -- a reconstruction of the events -- was simply unbelievable." None of these men had any links to terrorism and two of them had already been cleared for release.
Horton went on to explain that, "According to Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell's eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously."
To which Dahlia Lithwick responded in Slate: "The NCIS report failed to question why it took two hours for these suicides to be discovered despite the fact that guards checked on prisoners at 10-minute intervals. Horton, reporting on interviews with four members of the military intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, suggests that the men died at "Camp No" (as in, "No, it doesn't exist"), an alleged black site at Gitmo, and were then moved to the clinic. A massive cover-up followed. Official stories hastily changed from claims that the three men had stuffed rags down their own throats to the elaborate hanging plot."
"Rear Adm. Harry Harris, then the commander at Guantanamo, not only declared the deaths "suicides," but blamed the victims for "an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." And every piece of paper belonging to every last prisoner in Camp America was then seized, amounting to some 1,065 pounds of material, much of it privileged attorney-client correspondence."
"The bodies of the three alleged suicide victims were returned home to their families, who requested independent autopsies, which then revealed "the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat."
If all that sounds believable, I have a lovely bridge to sell you.
But when Scott Horton's article appeared, in January, there was virtually no coverage by the media. Nor was there much press or TV coverage of the court's decision last week.
And the media silence was equaled by the White House and the Defense
Department, leaving the public largely in the dark.
Being charitable, maybe that accounts for the deafening public silence that greeted these two events. We should have been outraged when the Defense Department issued its bizarre and totally non-credible report of the three "suicides." But we weren't. We were silent.
We should have been outraged when Scott Horton produced four eyewitness whistle-blowers who debunked the DOD's report. But we weren't. We were silent.
And we should have been outraged at the federal judge who threw out the survivors' court case against the government. But we weren't. We were silent.
Should we blame the media?
Well, yes, in part. These stories should have been page-one or primetime news. But the media was busy with other things. For example, while they weren't reporting on the military's Kafkaesque report, or Scott Horton's expose, or the judge who threw out the case against the government, they were devoting maximum space and time to the Tea Party phenomenon.