On June 9, 2006, “three prisoners at Guantánamo [Bay] died suddenly and violently.” The commander of Guantánamo at the time, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, immediately declared that the deaths were “suicides,” adding that he believed that the suicides were “not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”
The conclusion that the deaths were suicides was largely uncritically accepted by the press at the time, and the matter was considered closed. Then, late last year, an investigation by Seton Hall law school faculty and students found “serious and unresolved contradictions” in the military’s report on the incidents, and even declared that it was an “obvious cover-up.”
Now, following the Seton Hall investigation, Sergeant Joe Hickman and other soldiers stationed at Guantánamo have informed Harper’s Magazine’s Scott Horton that they suspect the three prisoners did not commit suicide but rather were killed by interrogators. Horton reports that Hickman — a stalwart solder who enlisted after being inspired by Ronald Reagan (whom he called “the greatest president we’ve ever had“) — was told by Navy guards and clinic staff that the men had been died because they had rags stuffed down their throats:
Hickman headed to the clinic, which appeared to be the center of activity, to learn the reason for the commotion. He asked a distraught medical corpsman what had happened. She said three dead prisoners had been delivered to the clinic. Hickman recalled her saying that they had died because they had rags stuffed down their throats, and that one of them was severely bruised. Davila told me he spoke to Navy guards who said the men had died as the result of having rags stuffed down their throats.
Following the election of Barack Obama, Hickman decided he needed to speak out. “I thought that with a new administration and new ideas I could actually come forward, ” he told Horton. “It was haunting me.” Hickman teamed up with Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux and met with officials in the Justice Department and Capitol Hill throughout 2009, relaying their knowledge. Then, on Nov. 2, 2009, a Justice Department official called Denbeaux and informed him that the investigation was closed. When Denbeaux inquired as to why, the official simply responded that Hickman’s conclusions “appeared” to be unsubstantiated, without offering further explanation.
Horton appeared on Countdown With Keith Olbermann last night and told the host that the Justice Department is “not behaving like a law enforcement agency, finding facts of criminal activity. The Department of Justice appears to be acting like a criminal defense law firm that realizes it’s closely connected to people who are involved with some serious heavy-lifting crimes and it wants to cover them up. That’s not what we expect of our Justice Department.” Watch it:
Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the former commander at Guantánamo’s Camp America, gave this response to the press in response to Horton’s reporting: “This blatant misrepresentation of the truth infuriates me. I don’t know who Sgt. Hickman is, but he is only trying to be a spotlight ranger. He knows nothing about what transpired in Camp 1, or our medical facility. I do, I was there.”