Stunning Reporting by Harper’s Horton: Eyewitness Accounts Expose the Cover-up of an Apparent Triple Murder of Prisoners by CIA?/Navy MPs?/JSOC? at Guantanamo

As originally posted in the reader-diary section of; the post’s 2010 comment thread is available at that link. On May 9, 2011, Reporter Scott Horton, Editor Roger D. Hodge, and Harper’s Magazine received the 2011 American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Award in the Reporting category, for the referenced “The Guantanamo ‘Suicides'” article – an award that “honors reporting excellence as exemplified by one article or a series of articles.” An interview with Scott Horton about the National Magazine Award is available here, and some subsequent attempts to discredit Horton’s reporting about the suspicious prisoner deaths are comprehensively rebutted here. In October, 2011, a documentary – “Death in Camp Delta” – that Norwegian filmmaker Erling Borgen spent three years making about one of the prisoners who died in Guantanamo on the night of June 9, 2006 – young Saudi Yasser Al-Zahrani – launched in Oslo. In November, 2011, this important follow-up related to Horton’s reporting was posted by Almerindo E. Ojeda, the principal investigator for the Guantánamo Testimonials Project, of the University of California at Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas. And on March 1, 2012, Jeffrey Kaye posted a lengthy article at Truthout, pulling together many scattered strands of evidence, including details from newly-released DOD reports, that raises new and  disturbing questions about two other prisoner “suicide” deaths at Guantanamo – of a 34-year-old Saudi man in May, 2007, and a 31-year-old Yemeni man in June, 2009. (Among many other details, Jeff notes in that article that former Guantanamo guard and Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman – the key on-the-record source for Horton’s original work – is due to publish a book this fall about what he witnessed at Guantanamo in 2006.)

An apparent triple murder that – thanks to Scott Horton’s absolutely devastating, searing, and comprehensive account in the upcoming March Harper’s Magazine, available in an on-line advance feature, as quickly highlighted at FDL by Spencer Ackerman – is at least no longer “covered up.”

Harper’s vivid account was made possible by the conscience of one soldier – Sergeant Joe Hickman – who came forward upon Barack Obama’s inauguration a year ago, and tried to go through proper ‘channels’ to reawaken allegiance to the rule of law, and humanity, in the United States Executive and Legislative Branches of government, apparently to no avail.

Drawing from on-the-record interviews with four Army guards on duty at Camp Delta in Camp America the night of June 9 through the morning of June 10, 2006, the night the three prisoners died, and making good use of satellite photos to turn the government’s prying eyes back on itself for a change, Scott Horton shreds multiple ‘state secrets’ shielding our unchecked Executive Branch, that have successfully hidden for more than three years the inexcusable abuse and apparent murder of three uncharged foreign prisoners – from Saudi Arabia and Yemen – long held in our military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station:

One day, while on foot patrol, [camp guards] Hickman and Davila came across the compound. It looked like other camps within Camp America, Davila said, only it had no guard towers and it was surrounded with concertina wire. They saw no activity, but Hickman guessed the place could house as many as eighty prisoners. One part of the compound, he said, had the same appearance as the interrogation centers at other prison camps.

The compound was not visible from the main road, and the access road was chained off. The Guardsman who told Davila about the compound had said, “This place does not exist,” and Hickman, who was frequently put in charge of security for all of Camp America, was not briefed about the site. Nevertheless, Davila said, other soldiers—many of whom were required to patrol the outside perimeter of Camp America—had seen the compound, and many speculated about its purpose. 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.

A friend of Hickman’s had nicknamed the compound “Camp No,” the idea being that anyone who asked if it existed would be told, “No, it doesn’t.” He and Davila made a point of stopping by whenever they had the chance; once, Hickman said, he heard a “series of screams” from within the compound.

Hickman and his men also discovered that there were odd exceptions to their duties. Army guards were charged with searching and logging every vehicle that passed into and out of Camp Delta. “When John McCain came to the camp, he had to be logged in.” However, Hickman was instructed to make no record whatsoever of the movements of one vehicle in particular—a white van, dubbed the “paddy wagon,” that Navy guards used to transport heavily manacled prisoners, one at a time, into and out of Camp Delta. The van had no rear windows and contained a dog cage large enough to hold a single prisoner. Navy drivers, Hickman came to understand, would let the guards know they had a prisoner in the van by saying they were “delivering a pizza.”

Sound like the script for a Hollywood movie about a Third Reich detention camp? It should, because that’s exactly how it reads, including all-too-real chilling details like these:

At approximately 11:45 p.m. [June 9, 2006]—nearly an hour before the NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] claims the first body was discovered—Army Specialist Christopher Penvose, preparing for a midnight shift in Tower 1, was approached by a senior Navy NCO. Penvose told me that the NCO—who, following standard operating procedures, wore no name tag—appeared to be extremely agitated. He instructed Penvose to go immediately to the Camp Delta chow hall, identify a female senior petty officer who would be dining there, and relay to her a specific code word. Penvose did as he was instructed. The officer leapt up from her seat and immediately ran out of the chow hall.

Another thirty minutes passed. Then, as Hickman and Penvose both recall, Camp Delta suddenly “lit up”—stadium-style flood lights were turned on, and the camp became the scene of frenzied activity, filling with personnel in and out of uniform. 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.

Who did this? We still don’t know. Members of our Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), or possibly seven members of the naval military police, who another prisoner (Shaker Aamer), thankfully still alive, and fluent in English, swore beat him brutally for more than two hours the same night:

[Aamer] reported to [his lawyer] 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.

Every federal judge in America better read this article:

The NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] did, however, move swiftly to seize every piece of paper possessed by every single prisoner in Camp America, some 1,065 pounds of material, much of it privileged attorney-client correspondence. Several weeks later, authorities sought an after-the-fact justification. The Justice Department—bolstered by sworn statements from Admiral Harris and from Carol Kisthardt, the special agent in charge of the NCIS investigation—claimed in a U.S. district court that the seizure was appropriate because there had been a conspiracy among the prisoners to commit suicide. Justice further claimed that investigators had found suicide notes and argued that the attorney-client materials were being used to pass communications among the prisoners.

America…with a functioning “Legislative Branch” in nothing but name…you’re not a Republic, and you’re no representative democracy, and this is the result of such abdication of Constitutional limits on Executive power:

Also returned to Saudi Arabia was the body of Mani Al-Utaybi. Orphaned in youth, Mani grew up in his uncle’s home in the small town of Dawadmi. I spoke to one of the many cousins who shared that home, Faris Al-Utaybi. Mani, said Faris, had gone to Baluchistan—a rural, tribal area that straddles Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—to do humanitarian work, and someone there had sold him to the Americans for $5,000. He said that Mani was a peaceful man who would harm no one. Indeed, U.S. authorities had decided to release Al-Utaybi and return him to Saudi Arabia. When he died, he was just a few weeks shy of his transfer.


Both [family-hired] pathologists contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, requesting the missing body parts and more information about the previous autopsies. The institute did not respond to their requests or queries. (It also did not respond to a series of calls I placed requesting information and comment.)

When Al-Zahrani viewed his son’s corpse, he saw evidence of a homicide. “There was a major blow to the head on the right side,” he said. “There was evidence of torture on the upper torso, and on the palms of his hand. There were needle marks on his right arm and on his left arm.” None of these details are noted in the U.S. autopsy report. “I am a law enforcement professional,” Al-Zahrani said. “I know what to look for when examining a body.”

There’s much, much more, including the fact that the Holder Justice Department and Congress were both delivered the jaw-dropping details of the primary eyewitness on a silver platter in early February last year, only to have the Justice Department quietly “close the investigation” in early November, allegedly because “the gist” of Sergeant Hickman’s eyewitness account “could not be confirmed.”

According to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech, [Camp Commander Colonel Mike] Bumgarner told his audience [50 soldier and sailor guards assembled at Camp America’s open-air theater at 7 a.m. on June 10, 2006] that “you all know” three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one—even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the rags. But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored.


With command authority comes command responsibility, [retired Rear Admiral John Hutson] said. “If the heart of the military is obeying orders down the chain of command, then its soul is accountability up the chain. You can’t demand the former without the latter.”

You’d almost think that having an “Armed Services Committee” chaired by Carl Levin of Michigan in the Senate, and Ike Skelton of Missouri in the House, might be a good idea in situations like these… Maybe someone should activate such a committee, or even two such committees, one of these days. In the meantime, while we wait, be sure to read what your government is doing in your name.

THANK YOU, Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman.

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