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  Dark as a Dungeon: A Brutal System Stripped Bare

COMMENTARY:

Dark as a Dungeon: A Brutal System Stripped Bare

by Chris Floyd
First published in Empire Burlesque earlier today, 19 January 2010

I urge you to read Scott Horton's story in full. Hold it in your mind the next time some sanctimonious official begins extolling the exceptional virtues of our shining city on the hill.

If you really want to know the truth about the sickening wretches who run our country, if you want to know exactly what they will commit, what they will command, what they will countenance and conceal, all the way to the very top of the blood-greased pole of the Oval Office, then read every word of this astounding piece by Scott Horton in the new edition of Harper's: "The Guantanomo 'Suicides.'"

This is a full-length article which the magazine is making available for free on its website. In it, Horton unfolds the story of three men, almost certainly innocent, who were almost certainly murdered by American "interrogators" at a secret site in the American concentration camp in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba, on the night of June 9, 2006 -- an atrocity that set off a long, complex chain of deceit that continues to this day.

These killings were not only declared "suicides" by Washington; it was even claimed that the deaths were deliberate acts of "asymmetrical warfare" carried out by hardened terrorists -- "fanatics like the Nazis, Hitlerites, or the Ku Klux Klan, the people they tried at Nuremberg," as a Pentagon mouthpiece told the press. Yet as Horton notes, all three men had been put on "a list of prisoners to be sent home." One of them was only a few weeks away from his formal release. There was no credible evidence of terrorist connections against any of the men, two of whom had been sold into captivity by bounty hunters.

Yet these prisoners did have one black mark against them. They had been taking part in hunger strikes to protest conditions in the concentration camp. They were troublemakers, loudmouths. They wouldn't break. They had lawyers.

And so, according to a mass of credible evidence -- from heavily redacted official reports pieced together by the students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University, and from the courageous testimony of soldiers who had been on duty that night -- these three men, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, were taken to a "black site" at Gitmo known as "Camp No." All regular military personnel were forbidden to enter the site, or even acknowledge its existence -- although some soldiers later testified to hearing screams from behind Camp No's concertina wire. Eyewitnesses say that three prisoners were taken, one by one, in a white van to Camp No on the night of June 9; and later, just before the alarm went up about the "suicides," the van returned and unloaded a mysterious cargo.

As Horton notes, the official accounts of the "suicides" are risible:

According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated.

[Yes, that's the same NCIS that has its noble adventures in the pursuit of truth and justice celebrated each week in a top-rated TV show.]

What really happened to the men? One clue comes from yet another hunger striker, Shaker Aamer, who was "interrogated" that same night, but managed to survive:

He described the events in detail to his lawyer, Zachary Katznelson, who was permitted to speak to him several weeks later. Katznelson recorded every detail of Aamer’s account and filed an affidavit with the federal district court in Washington, setting it out:

On June 9th, 2006, [Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.

The treatment Aamer describes is noteworthy because it produces excruciating pain without leaving lasting marks. Still, the fact that Aamer had his airway cut off and a mask put over his face “so he could not cry out” is alarming. This is the same technique that appears to have been used on the three deceased prisoners.

Aamer, whose wife is British, continues to be held in the concentration camp, despite the UK government's request for his release, and despite the fact that there is "no suggestion that the Americans intend to charge him before a military commission, or in a federal criminal court, [or] indeed, [that] they have [any] meaningful evidence linking him to any crime." The only dangerous thing about Aamer is what he knows, and what he can tell.

Horton examines the official cover-up of these deaths in great detail. The deliberate and systematic deceptions began in the first hours after the killings -- and are still going on, carried forward with great guile by the Obama Administration. All along the way, evidence was destroyed, records were falsified, eyewitnesses were ignored -- or threatened. When the whistleblowers took the case to the new Administration in early 2009, hoping for a fairer hearing from the progressive young president, they were fobbed off with earnest promises of a thorough investigation by a team which included a close crony and former law partner of new Attorney General Eric Holder. But after months of inaction, the probe was suddenly closed, with government officials refusing to explain the decision.

Perhaps the most gruesome act in this bipartisan cover-up was the mutilation of the dead men's bodies. All three of them had their neck organs removed by military pathologists in the earliest stages of the investigation. As Horton notes:

An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.

This mutilation -- "the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy" -- prevented the families from carrying out proper forensic examinations of their own. Their request for the return of their children's body parts went unanswered.

All they are left with -- all we are left with -- are mutilated corpses and lies.

There is much more in Horton's piece, and again, I urge you to read it in full. Hold it in your mind the next time some sanctimonious official begins extolling the exceptional virtues of our shining city on the hill. And remember -- always remember -- that this militarist system of lawless violence and brutal domination is what our greasy pole-climbers, of whatever political stripe, want to have; it is what they want to wield. It is precisely this kind of power -- of life and death, of sway and command -- that they yearn for, fight for, cheat for and lie for in the bizarre and hollow rituals that our empire stages every four years.


Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at cfloyd72@gmail.com.

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.



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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on January 19, 2010.

 



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