When confronted with an absurd conspiracy theory, a rational personal often precedes through three stages: (1) dismissal (“No one can believe anything that ridiculous.”), incredulity (“I can’t believe people are buying this nonsense.”), and despair (“Will someone please debunk this rubbish already!”)

Most of us stopped at stage one when we heard Andrew Sullivan’s Trig Truther tripe and went no farther than stage two on the 9/11 Truther trash and the Birther bilge. I thought stage two would be the ending point for the Gitmo Truther meme too,  but it seems that it is spreading.

For instance, I discovered that the St. Louis Dispatch ‘s editorial board decided to trash their reputation by calling for a fourth investigation into the Gitmo suicides. Naturally, they based their call for an “unrelenting career prosecutor” on Scott Horton’s Harper’s Magazine story :

Now comes Harper’s Magazine, with advance online publication of an article that reports evidence from military guards that the victims may have been transported to another location prior to their “discovery,” and that the events leading to their deaths may have occurred at a “black site” — a secret facility used to conduct “enhanced” interrogation.

Although I’ve written about this story before ( here and here) it has primarily been in a stage two way. Now it has become apparent that otherwise reasonable people will—because they have not reviewed the actual evidence—consider this story to be potentially credible. So let us put that notion to rest.

The core of the Harper’s article is the following claim:


Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper’s Magazine that strongly suggests the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards’ accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.

If the deaths “most likely” occurred at this location, then there should be strong evidence that the black site actually exists and that the prisoners were at the location at the time of their deaths. As we shall see, however, the evidence for the former is a baseless, wholly unsubstantiated, pulled-out-of-thin-air rumor and the evidence for the latter is not only non-existent, but also completely refuted by the sworn eyewitness testimony of over fifty observers, including military personnel, civilians, and prison detainees.

In the article, three National Guardsmen proffer three key claims:

1. Scott Hickman claims that prior to 8 p.m., all three prisoners were taken from their cells, driven to the black site, and were never returned to their cells in Alpha Block. Instead, the van allegedly carrying the prisoners was driven directly “to the entrance of the medical clinic, as if to unload something.”

2. Christopher Penvose claims that he went to the medical clinic around 12:15 a.m. and was told “three dead prisoners had been delivered to the clinic.”

3. Penvose and David Caroll say that, though they had an unobstructed view of the path between Alpha Block and the medical clinic, they “had seen no prisoners transferred to the clinic that night, dead or alive.”


The allegations of these soldiers would be soundly refuted if it were established beyond a reasonable doubt that:
1. The three prisoners were seen in their cells after 8 p.m.
2. The three prisoners were observed dead within their cells.
3. The three dead prisoners arrived at the medical clinic after 12:15 a.m.
4. Witnesses observed the prisoners being taken directly from Alpha Barracks to the medical facility.

Any one of these four would be sufficient. However, evidence for all four exists in such detail and abundance in the NCIS report that it completely destroys the credibility of Hickman, Penvose, and Caroll. At least fifty eyewitnesses—including detainees—have provided sworn testimony that refutes at least one of these claims:

1. Nurse (p. 94) – saw the prisoners being brought to the clinic between 12:45 – 1:00 a.m.
2. Guard (p. 95) – saw guards transporting prisoner to clinic; discovered other dead prisoner in cell
3. Ilyas Beloued (civilian linguist) (p. 128) – claims to have seen the prisoners in their cells at 8:30 p.m.
4. Detainee (p. 137) – overheard the three prisoners talking about “martyrdom operation”; told another detainee that suicide occurred around 11 p.m.
5. Nurse (p. 142) – discovered suicide note on body; witnessed NCIS special agent find suicide note on another prisoner
6. Chief Master Sergeant (p. 180) – responded to emergency at Alpha Block after midnight; saw dead prisoners in cells; saw four guards carry prisoner to medical facility
7. Sergeant of the Guard (p. 183) – responded to emergency at Alpha Block after midnight; saw prisoners being carried to medical facility
8. Block NCO (p. 184) – saw prisoners in cells at 8:30 p.m.; saw prisoners being taken to medical facility; saw other dead prisoners in cells
9. Guard (p. 188) – saw dead prisoner in cell; took prisoner to medical facility
10. Block NOC (p. 190) – discovered dead prisoners in cells; took prisoners to medical facility
11. Block Guard (p. 197) – saw prisoners in cells at 8:30 p.m.; discovered dead prisoner in cell; took prisoner to medical facility; discovered other dead prisoners
12. Guard (p. 203) – saw prisoners in cells at 8:30 p.m.; saw dead prisoner in cell
13. Guard (p. 209) – saw prisoners in cells at 8:30 p.m.; saw dead prisoner in cell; took prisoner to medical facility
14. Guard (p. 217) – saw prisoners in cells at 8:30 p.m.; saw dead prisoner in cell; took prisoner to medical facility
15. Guard (p. 221) – observed dead prisoner being taken out of Alpha Block to medical facility
16. Guard (p. 224) – discovered dead prisoner in cell
17. LPO for Escort Department (p. 230) – helped carry dead prisoner to medical facility
18. Escort Control member #1 (p. 232) – discovered dead prisoner in cell; helped take prisoner to medical facility clinic
19. Escort Control member #2 (p. 234) – discovered dead prisoner in cell; helped take prisoner to medical facility clinic
20. Escort Control member #3 (p. 236) – discovered dead prisoner in cell; helped take prisoner to medical facility clinic
21. Escort Control member #4 (p. 237) – discovered dead prisoner in cell; helped take prisoner to medical facility clinic
22. Gloria Jemison (p. 240) – saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
23. Master at Arms (p. 241) – saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
24. Guard (p. 245) – saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
25. Escort Control (p. 247) – heard radio call about prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility; rode with prisoner from medical facility to hospital
26. Escort Control (p. 248) – saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
27. Escort Control (p. 252) – saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
28. Escort Control (p. 254) – saw dead prisoner in cell; saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
29. Escort Control (p. 256) – saw dead prisoner in cell; saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
30. Unidentified (p. 261) – saw dead prisoner in cell
31. Guard (p. 263) – saw dead prisoner in cell
32. Guard (p. 266) – saw dead prisoner in cell
33. Incident Response Force member (p. 269) – saw dead prisoner in cell; saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
34. Guard (p. 272) – saw dead prisoner in cell
35. Guard (p. 273) – saw dead prisoner in cell; helped take prisoner to medical facility
36. Escort Control (p. 275) – saw prisoners being taken from Alpha Block to medical facility
37. Medical facility assistant (p. 293) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
38. Nurse (p. 295) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
39. Nurse (p. 298) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
40. Corpsman (p. 300) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at around 12:30
41. Nurse (p. 302) – was called from the chowhall to assist at 12:40 a.m.
42. Nurse (p. 306) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
43. Corpsman (p. 310) – saw prisoners being taken to medical facility by guards
44. Medical facility Assistant (p. 313) – was called from the chowhall to assist at 12:40 a.m.
45. Nurse (p. 315) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
46. Medical facility Assistant (p. 318) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
47. Unidentified Medical facility (p. 322) – saw prisoners being brought in by guards at 12:40 a.m.
48. Escort (p. 324) – saw dead prisoner in cell; saw prisoners being taken to medical facility
49. Detainee (p. 344) – saw dead prisoner in cell
50. Detainee (p. 347) – saw dead prisoner in cell

Unless we believe that all fifty of these guards, nurses, civilians, and prisoners are lying, we can completely dismiss the fabrications provided by the soldiers in the Harper’s story.

Although this is a sufficient reproof, let’s examine the other claim about the location where the deaths of these men, as Horton claims, “most likely occurred.”

The evidence for the “previously unreported black site” is similarly non-existent. Hickman and his cohorts discovered an area of the base and could not determine its use or purpose. Because they do not know what it is, they automatically assume it must be used as a place of torture. As the article states, “One theory was that it was being used by some of the non-uniformed government personnel who frequently showed up in the camps and were widely thought to be CIA agents.” For Horton, this mere rumor is convincing evidence. His leap of logic extends from “one theory was . . . ” to conclusively stating the “existence of a previously unreported black site.”

Horton is either astoundingly gullible or willfully ignorant. Despite there being over 10,000 military personnel on the base, he questions no one other than these four about the site. He also appears to accept, without question or reservation, claims that strain credulity. For example,

[Hickman] and Davila made a point of stopping by [the black site] whenever they had the chance; once, Hickman said, he heard a “series of screams” from within the compound.

If you look at the map provided in the article, you’ll notice that the building is set off from the main road by at least a quarter of a mile and is well outside of the area that Hickman and Davila guard. If this is indeed a “black site,” why would the CIA be so careless as to let soldiers randomly drive up and get close enough to hear a “series of screams?” What kind of black site operation are they running?

But let’s assume it is true and anyone can get close to the site whenever they choose. Surely there must be other soldiers, sailors, and Marines who have heard the screams from “Camp No.” Why does Horton not interview them and get their statements on the record? Could it be because he himself knows that the stories are complete fabrications?

No reasonable unbiased truth seeker can honestly read the NCIS report and come away believing the claims of Hickman and his cronies are in any way believable. Still, the Gitmo Truthers will not be swayed simply because the Harper’s story has been eviscerated. They will say that the 1,500 page report that has redactions on 83 percent of its pages does not provide all of the answers to every question they have about what occurred (the fact that they can read that last sentence without recognizing their fallacious argument from incredulity speaks volumes).

I have stopped trying to convince these people. Some conspiracy minded folk are so convinced that a cover-up must have occurred that they will interpret all rumors and speculation as justification for their certainty that the prisoners must have been murdered—possibly by Dick Cheney himself with a dirty sock.

I cannot persuade everyone to honestly evaluate the evidence and I’ll likely have to return to the other questions about the investigation later to quell later eruptions of absurdity. But for now I think it will be enough if thoughtful people are convinced enough to read the Harper’s article and to be skeptical of their own skepticism.

Articles by Joe Carter

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