In the whole sordid ten-year history of Guantánamo, one of the most distressing events, which has never been adequately investigated, involves the deaths of three prisoners on the night of June 9, 2006. According to the authorities, the deaths were the result of a coordinated suicide pact, but this never sounded credible to anyone who investigated the official story, and found that they were obliged to believe that the men had somehow tied themselves up, stuffed rags down their throats and managed to hang themselves, in a prison where the guards checked on them every few minutes.
These doubts were thoroughly exposed in a report (“Death in Camp Delta“) published by the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey in December 2009, which involved a detailed examination of thousands of pages of records and reports from an inadequate investigation conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (which concluded in 2008, and which I discussed here), and it was followed, in January 2010, by an explosive article in Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton (“The Guantánamo ‘Suicides': A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle“), drawing on the testimony of US military personnel who were in Guantanamo at the time of the deaths, and who cast further doubts on the official story, mentioning a secret camp known as “Camp No,” and the movement of vehicles — very possibly to and from this facility — on the night that the men died. See here and here for my commentary.
In an attempt to keep the deaths of these three men in the public eye, the Norwegian filmmaker Erling Borgen spent three years making a documentary film, “Death in Camp Delta,” which I recently reviewed for Russell Michaels’ show “Cinepolitics” on Press TV, along with the film reviewer Neil Smith. The video of the show is below, via Daily Motion, and for further information about the film, please see the “Death in Camp Delta” website and the Facebook page.
I was delighted to be able to review the film, as I had missed its launch in Oslo in October, and also its British premiere last month, when I was in the US, and also because I have an interest in Erling’s work, having met him at a human rights film festival in Norway in 2010, when the film I co-directed, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” was screened.
The film provides a powerful portrait of one of the three men, Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi citizen who was only 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan, and whose story I reported most recently here, based on the classified military documents released last year by WikiLeaks. The other two men, whose stories are not discussed, are Salah Ahmed al-Salami, a Yemeni and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, another Saudi. In telling his story, Borgen interviewed the former prisoners Sami al-Hajj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman released from Guantánamo in 2008; Walid al-Hajj, also released in 2008, who was seized with Yasser and was present with him during a massacre after their capture, at Qala-i-Janghi, a fort in Afghanistan, in November 2001; and the British ex-prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg. He also interviewed Yasser’s father, Talal al-Zahrani, a colonel in the Saudi military, and a number of lawyers, including Scott Horton, Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall, and Clive Stafford Smith and Cori Crider of Reprieve.
At one point, Yasser’s father, speaking of his son, says, “They tortured him. Then they killed him and returned him to me in a box, cut up.” He and the family members of the other men who died in June 2006 have sought accountability in the US courts, where they filed a lawsuit against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but this was turned down in September 2010, and is currently being appealed.
Clearly, however, what happened that night in June 2006 has not been adequately explained, and it is deeply insulting to the families of the three men who died for the US government to behave as though the pitiful official report by the NCIS is sufficient to override calls for a new investigation to be opened that would address all the doubts and investigate all the new information that has emerged over the last few years.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
You’re welcome, Toia. Good to hear from you.
The UNited Snakes (US/Israel/UN) will continue to ‘reap what they sow.’ The Taliban has already made the US/NATO ‘baby killers – sue for peace. The Paki’s have shut down the US’ ‘genocidal’ Predator base, and the Hezbollah ‘freedom fighters’ have itchy fingers for AmeriKKKa’s Jewish hemmorhoid with some 150,000 rockets, missiles and a handfull of Scud-C IRBM’s filled with anthrax, Serin, white phosphorus and ‘cockroach’ eliminator.
Well done mate!
Thanks, Kearnsey. Good to hear from you.
Willy Bach wrote:
Good interview, Andy, all agreed, shared, thanks.
Thank you, Willy. I’m glad you got to see it. You know your support — and your abiding interest in promoting peace and justice — means a lot to me.
Terry Holdbrooks wrote:
No such thing as a suicide in GTMO, not possible!
Thanks, Terry. Good to hear from you — and for those who don’t know, Terry’s background for making this comment is that he was a guard at Guantanamo who converted to Islam.
Ginny McCabe wrote:
I enjoyed this piece, if you can use such a word as enjoyed when reading such heartbreaking information…I think your treatment of this issue is really excellent. I am going to go out tomorrow and get your books. I really want to know what happened and understand the history of this awful period in US Military prisons. Thanks Andy! You did an amazing job.
Thank you, Ginny. That’s very kind, and very much appreciated.
I am going to comment on how remarkable it is that the first deaths the DoD reported occurred less than a month after the DoD made public its first full official list of captives. The deaths occurred on June 10th 2006. The first full official list was published on May 15 2006.
Given the brutal conditions I always thought it was remarkable that no-one died during the first four and a half years the camp was open. The camp held more captives there, more brutal interrogation techniques were routine.
Until that first official list was published camp authorities would have been able to hide deaths. We may find one day that they did hide earlier deaths.
We know now that the first official list was incomplete. It didn’t include Abu Zubaydah — although the CIA transferred him and a handful of other captives to military custody in the chillingly named “Camp Strawberry Fields”.
Since camp authorities deceived the public over the presence of Abu Zubaydah at the camp in late 2003 and early 2004, can we trust that they didn’t deceive the public and fail to report earlier deaths?
You may be right, arcticredriver, although “Strawberry Fields” (what would John Lennon have said?) was a CIA site and not run by the military, who had to hide whatever they didn’t want known from the International Committee of the Red Cross. There may have been other deaths, but it seems to me that the biggest problem is still everywhere else — how many died in prisons and forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, how many died in CIA “black sites,” and how many died in the torture dungeons of Bush’s allies in Syria and Egypt, for example? Sadly, we never hear anything about calls for a proper accounting of who was held in the rendition and torture facilities.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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