According to a joint investigation for Harper’s Magazine and NBC, the infamous Guantanamo suicides – or so we were told at the time- of three detainees in June 2006, were in actuality probably murders. The new investigation reveals that the deaths of 37 year old Yemeni, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30, most probably resulted from suffocation under conditions of harsh interrogation and torture. At the time of the event in question, the camp’s commander interpreted the deaths of these men as “an act of asymmetrical warfare”, rather than desperation.
Based on the six-month investigation, here are some of the findings that compelled Harper’s and NBC to claim that – contra to the widely accepted narrative of suicide – the evidence now points towards murder:
What we were told:
According to a heavily censored inquiry conducted by the U.S. Navy, each man was found in his cell, hanging from bedsheets, and with their hands bound and rags stuffed down their throats.
What we now know:
1) In Scott Horton’s recent article for Harper’s, the statements of four guards serving at Guantanamo at the time and place of the ‘alleged suicides’ now suggest that when the bodies were taken to the camp’s medical clinic, they had not come from their cell block. Instead, the aforementioned guards state that the men appeared to have been transfered from a “black site” known as Camp No within Guantánamo. According to Horton, who is also a Columbia law professor, Camp No. was operated by either the CIA or a Pentagon intelligence agency.
2) The same four officers have also stated that they were later instructed by a senior officer not to contradict the official media report: that the three men committed suicide by stuffing rags down their throats.
3) Pathologists who conducted postmortem examinations found that when they attempted to determine the cause of death, “each man’s larynx, hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage had been removed and retained by US authorities.”
4) Despite the missing internal organs, the bodies revealed other signs of mistreatment, including bruising and needle marks. In particular, the report noted that al-Salami’s jaw was broken and several of his teeth were missing. A previous US pathologist’s report attributed these injuries to ‘resuscitation’ attempts (please ask yourselves what kind of resuscitation attempt results in a broken jaw and the loss of teeth…)
Yet more Evidence:
Horton also suggests that the US government’s ongoing reluctance to allow the release of Shaker Aamer – the last British resident held at Guantánamo – ought to be read as an attempt to suppress damaging testimony given that Aamer claims that he was partially-suffocated while being tortured on the very same evening.
Aamer’s lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, has written in an affidavit that his client had been beaten for two and a half hours by seven naval military police after he refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. According to Katznelson, Aamer has stated that “he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs.” And that, “the MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr Aamer said he thought he was going to die.”
Katznelson further writes that the MPs are alleged to have “pressed on pressure points and held Aamer’s eyes open while shining a torch into them.” “When he screamed,” says Katznelson, “they cut off his airway, and then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.”
Aamer, who is now 41, is the father of four children living in London, and has been held at Guantánamo for almost eight years.
Tellingly, after the ‘alleged suicides’ took place in 2006, US navy investigators seized all of the paperwork possessed by other inmates. When the US Justice Department went to court to defend the seizure of correspondences between inmates and their lawyers, one of the judges presiding over the case took note of the fact that all of the citations “supporting the fact of the suicides” were based on media accounts.
Are we convinced? If not, “why not?”
You don’t need to be a detective to figure out what’s happened here. The evidence overwhelmingly compels us to trust our senses in concluding that these men were murdered. Will we rely on these senses and demand answers from a state that has been promising us a transparency yet to be seen? That is, a government that still insists on conducting military commissions instead of civil and criminal proceedings that would make plain instances of misconduct and torture? If we are not compelled to make such a demand, then we should – at least – question why we seem to prefer concealment.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt provides some clues in her gestalt work on ideology and ideological thinking. She tells us that ideology produces the conditions under which “ideological thinking becomes emancipated from the reality that we perceive with our five senses.” She further states that ideology “insists on a “truer” reality concealed behind all perceptible things, dominating them from this place of concealment and requiring a sixth sense that enables us to become aware of it.” She then adds “The sixth sense is provided by precisely the ideology…”
And, of the subject produced by ideology, indeed its idealized subject, Arendt notes, ” the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
If we refuse to take the evidence in this case – and in other cases concerning the unlawful imprisonment of detainees today – seriously, then the question we are left asking ourselves is this: who or what are we becoming? Given that Arendt writes retrospectively about the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, perhaps the question we ask requires a slight alteration: who or what are we becoming…again?