Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

(Note: This is part four in a series on the suicides of three detainees at Guantanamo Bay in 2006. The other posts are here, here , and here .)

Rather than address the rebuttal in my last post, Andrew Sullivan has decided to take a different path in our debate over the Guantanamo Bay suicides :

Joe Carter remains sure that nothing wrong could have happened at Gitmo when three prisoners somehow committed a triple suicide, with their bodies hanging for two hours until guards (whose SOP was to check on each prisoner every ten minutes) discovered them.

Is Sullivan now admitting that the bodies were found in the prison cells? If so, is he finally ready to admit that the testimony of the four Guardsmen in the Harper’s story is bogus? Their narrative (which, as I pointed out, was refuted by 50 witnesses ) is that the prisoners could not have been in the cells after 8:30 p.m. and could not have been found in their cells in Alpha Block. Sullivan needs to choose which story he wants to go with.

Nevertheless, he does raise an interesting question: How is it possible that the guards didn’t notice the bodies for almost two hours? The short answer, as I will show, is that the restrictions on the guards instituted by the Red Cross made it almost impossible to prevent such an occurrence.

Let’s start by examining the cells of the detainees. Here is a photo—taken from the Seton Hall report—of the main walkway of a cellblock in the camp:


(Click to enlarge)


Here is an individual door of a cell:


(Click to enlarge)


And here is the cell:

(Click to enlarge)


Note that in this picture the bottom of the bunk is blocked off. In the ones in Alpha Block, that area was open. As one guard noted in his testimony, “Detainees normally sleep under the bunks rather than on the bunks because it is darker there.” (NCIS, p.224)

As you can tell, the view is obstructed in broad daylight; at night, it is even worse. Half the overhead lights are turned off in the walkway so only one side of the tier is lit and the other is not (the cells themselves have no lights). The side with the suicides was turned off the night of their deaths. (p. 238) The lighting was done this way to appease the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). (p. 283).

The prisoners are also allowed to hang materials in their cells (towels, blankets) as long as it didn’t completely block the guards’ ability to look inside.

Now imagine that you are a guard walking through here at night and you are supposed to check on the prisoners in a dark cell with blankets obscuring your view—and you are not allowed to shine a flashlight in the cells or wake the prisoners.

That’s right. In this hellhole where prisoner’s can be tortured to death, you are not allowed to shine a flashlight into their cells or do anything else that might disturb their sleep . This was included in the Standard Operating Procedures because, as the commander of the camp guard testified, “[The International Committee of the Red Cross] considered it very important for the detainees to have uninterrupted sleep.]” (p. 284) In the NCIS report several of the guards pointed out in their testimony, they had previously been reprimanded for disturbing the prisoners during their sleep time.

While it doesn’t excuse their lack of diligence, it is not difficult to see how a guard could be fooled (one of the prisoner’s used a water bottle to simulate a “calf” so that it would “show skin” under the blanket). How confident would Sullivan be in his ability to see a prisoner sleeping under a bunk in a dark cell partially obscured by a blanket? Would he be able to make up to 1200 checks a night (24 prisoners x 6 checks per hour x 8 hour shift) without missing anything? (I hope that Sullivan will actually answer. So far, he has merely avoided addressing my rebuttals to his points.)

Sullivan then goes on to add a comment from “a reader”:

Anyone who believes that the three detainees committed a triple suicide needs to explain, among other things, how the military “lost” the heart, kidneys and “throat organs” before sending al Zahrani’s body back to his father. Without an explanation of these extraordinary and salacious details, which otherwise seem consistent with a cover-up of an administered-drug-induced heart attack, traces of which would have been in the heart and kidneys; rather than a hanging, which would have left evidence at the throat, we’re left with an utterly implausible official story.

This is a frequent rhetorical tactic adopted by Sullivan: hide by the comments of “a reader” so as not to have to take responsiblity for their accuracy. In this case, it is rather smart because the comment itself is certainly flawed.

First, no organs were “lost.” I’m not sure where Sullivan’s reader got that from but it is not even hinted in the Harper’s article that any body parts were “lost.” Second, while Scott Horton suggests, when he is interviewing someone else, that the heart and kidney were not returned to the families along with the bodies, he makes no such claim in the actual article he wrote for Harper’s . Since this would be a key detail, it would be extremely odd for him to leave it out (after all, the rest of the article was thoroughly researched, right?). Horton also notes that two pathologists commissioned by the prisoners’ families examined the bodies and yet he says, ” Both pathologists noted the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat.” Notice that they make no mention of missing hearts or kidneys. The most generous view is that Horton initially misspoke and was more careful not to stretch the claims when he wrote his article.

The speculation about “cover-up of an administered-drug-induced heart attack” falls apart since the pathologists hired by the families had access to the heart organs.

Which leaves us with the question of why the throat organs—which were not lost but are in the custody of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology—were not returned? The most obvious answer is because they are physical evidence pertinent to the investigation. It is odd how the people that are calling for another investigation are peeved that the U.S. military did not turn over a key piece of evidence to the families. Shouldn’t they be thrilled that the evidence is available for any future inquires?

Sullivan adds:

Remember how the bruised bodies - even with throats and organs removed - also did not fit the suicide explanation.

The “evidence” for this is based solely on the claims of the prisoner’s families. It speaks volumes that Sullivan puts more trust in the word of the father of a suspected terrorist than he does in his Beloved Leader’s Justice Department officials. Even though the family’s pathologist—who has his own reasons for being less than objective—made no mentioned of this evidence of “torture,” we are supposed to accept this as a given despite their being no evidence that these prisoners were even being interrogated, much less tortured.

Sullivan continues:

I think we know why the Obama administration is ignoring this.

Contrary to Sullivan’s false claim, Obama’s Justice Department looked into the allegations made in the Harper’s article. As they told Horton, they “conducted a thorough inquiry into this matter, carefully examined the allegations, found no evidence of wrongdoing and subsequently closed the matter.”

What Sullivan means by “ignoring this” is “they don’t come to the conclusions that I want them to.”

And someone somewhere in the military or CIA has told the Justice Department to stay away, just as they persuaded the president to withhold photographs proving that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were worldwide policy on Cheney’s and Bush’s orders.

Sullivan doesn’t really believe this ; if he did there is no way he could continue to be Obama’s biggest cheerleader. What Sullivan is claiming is a scandal greater than Watergate. Rather than covering up a third-rate burglary, he is saying that the Obama administration is covering up three murders. Either the President has direct knowledge of the cover-up, and is complicit in the murders, or he doesn’t know what is going on, making him a stooge for a shadow government that is able to murder people with impunity.

So which is, Sullivan: Is Obama a puppet leader or an accessory to murder? The blogosphere is waiting to hear your answer.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles