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A Murder Mystery at Guantanamo Bay

By       Message Ray McGovern       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   17 comments

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

There's more of a mystery to how three Guantanamo detainees died on June 10, 2006, than I realized when I described their deaths as suicides in a recent article about force-feeding methods at the notorious U.S. prison. Some very experienced investigators who have examined the evidence suspect the three were victims of homicides amid the torture regime employed by President George W. Bush's underlings.

Scott Horton, whose upcoming book Lords of Secrecy contains new insights into the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Tenet go-ahead on torture and other abuses, has supplied me with additional detail highly suggestive of foul play by CIA interrogators.

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Horton noted that the three prisoners were scheduled to be released and repatriated, and that key details about the U.S. government's suicide claims have been disproved. For instance, the first reports said the inmates had hanged themselves with linens in their jail cells, but medical records, which the government sought to suppress, indicate otherwise.

The records "reveal that the three died not from strangulation (as would be the case in a hanging) but from asphyxiation resulting from having cloth stuffed down their throats -- precisely the same kind of cloth, it turns out, that was used by a similar interrogation team around the same time at the Charleston Brig, and which has been labeled by a University of California study as 'dryboarding,'" Horton wrote in an email.

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Horton also cited testimony from camp guards on duty that night, saying...

"...the three had been removed from their cells and transported to a secret facility known to the camp guards as 'Camp No,' which was later revealed by the Associated Press to have been a facility used by the CIA for prisoner interrogation and treatment known as 'Penny Lane.' They were removed from that facility to the camp clinic and an alarm issued shortly thereafter.

"Penny Lane was being used by an interrogation unit of the CIA up until approximately the time of the deaths, and it was, strictly speaking, a CIA facility. Under the terms of a Special-Access Program (SAP), neither the camp commander nor the commander of Joint Task Force, Guantanamo were to have any knowledge of this program and what went on in connection with it. The program reported to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally, as well as to an official at the White House's National Security Council. ...

"Moreover, one of the three, Al-Zahrani, did not, as claimed, die in his cell -- several hours later he was in the base hospital, still alive. An eyewitness statement of this, by an attending guard, was published by Harper's in its June 2014 issue. The most amazing fact to emerge from this account was the description of a guard wrapping his hands with cloth to support the suicide claim, while no CPR revival measures were taken -- although Al-Zahrani was alive and struggling to live."

Horton added:

"It is still not 100-percent clear exactly how the three died and who was present at the time. However, it is abundantly clear that the Government's claims concerning their deaths are false, fabricated to cover up what actually transpired, and that the deaths relate directly to an intelligence operation at Guantanamo likely using a technique that is tantamount to torture.

"The Government's decisions to shut down this program in the fall of 2006 and pull the CIA from Gitmo followed closely on the heels of this tragic episode. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006. The Government continues its feverish attempt to cover up what actually happened."

The Long-Delayed Torture Report

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Yet, whatever happened -- whether the three choked themselves in a desperate protest of their mistreatment and indefinite detention (the vast majority of inmates cleared for release have remained incarcerated for years afterwards) or whether they were silenced by having cloth shoved down their throats -- the mystery adds to the necessity of releasing the long-delayed Senate report on torture.

When we last checked in on the status of that secret report, its declassification was snagged in a dispute between CIA Director John Brennan, who was part of Director George Tenet's inner circle during Bush's "war on terror" and thus has a lot to lose by the report's release, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has objected to the number of redactions and deletions demanded by Brennan.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has declared that he wants as much released as possible but is unwilling to overrule Brennan. The behavior of this dysfunctional menage a trois has, in effect, sabotaged the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report for well over a year.

The interminable delays can be more readily understood, once you realize that the Senate report, if it is halfway honest, must include evidence on CIA-sponsored homicide as well as torture, which might put Obama back on the spot regarding his pious assertions that "no one is above the law." He has shown no appetite to discharge his duty if it risks getting crosswise with his spies.

Obama, Brennan and Feinstein appear to be waiting until after the November elections, so as not to stir up any political ire from the voters before they go to the polls. After the election, Congress is expected to return for a lame-duck session with the question of how much of the torture report, if any, gets released depending on whether the Republicans carry the House and Senate, as many prognosticators predict.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)

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