Category Archive: Voices of Merit

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:

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US Navy military commission defense counsel in USA v. KSM, et al, petition federal appeals court to end Congress's segregated, sham Military Commissions

As originally posted in the reader-diary section of; the post’s 2009 comment thread is available at that link.

As reported Friday by Lyle Denniston of, principled military defense counsel, in the Military Commissions proceeding United States of America v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al., have courageously and commendably appealed to an independent federal court – over the heads of the unaccountable commission’s unresponsive military judges – in an overdue effort to provide genuine, competent defense services to their imprisoned clients.

These non-UCMJ military tribunal proceedings were first unilaterally instituted by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration, then formalized with Congressional blessing in 2006 (with the help of both Parties) after the Supreme Court finally stopped that particular Bush/Cheney grab for unchecked power. These irregular and unjust commission proceedings have attempted to railroad to their death, as admitted 9/11 conspirators, the long-held-and-abused clients of these military JAG lawyers.

The Appeals Court has ordered the government to reply by next Tuesday.

Filed on Wednesday, September 9, 2009, in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, on behalf of Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, by U.S. Navy JAGs Suzanne Lachelier and Richard Federico, of the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Military Commissions, Department of Defense, in the form of a Petition for Writ of Mandamus And Writ of Prohibition:


Petitioner requests that the Court hold that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is unconstitutional, declare all proceedings before the military commission to be a nullity, and enjoin further proceedings therein.


(1) Does the Military Commission Act of 2006, on its face or, in the alternative, as applied in the military commission proceedings below, exceed Congress’s constitutional powers to convene law-of-war military commissions under the Define and Punish Clause (Const., Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 10)?

(2) Does the Military Commissions Act of 2006, on its face, violate the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We demonstrate in this Petition that the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Pub. L. 109-366, 17 (October 2006) (“MCA”), on its face and as applied in this case, exceeds the constitutional limits on Congress’s power to authorize military commissions. In the terms of Geneva Convention Common Article 3, the commission in this case is not a “regularly constituted court.” Because Petitioner has the right not to be tried by a tribunal that has been ultra vires from its inception, the petition should be granted and the case should be dismissed.

Mandamus and prohibition are remedies to be applied only in extraordinary circumstances. The situation facing Petitioner is indeed extraordinary, however. Not only is the MCA unconstitutional on its face, but the proceedings themselves have been “irregular” in every sense. In fact they have been a travesty of justice, a “system” — in the military judge’s own words — “in which uncertainty is the norm and where the rules appear random and indiscriminate.” Military Judge Ruling D-126, at 3.

The reason for this state of affairs, moreover, is clear: These cases were never intended to do justice. Instead, what the government has sought, and to date received, is not a legitimate judicial proceeding but a political show trial.

The process has been corrupted by illegitimate political considerations at every step. Political distortions of the judicial process begin with the MCA itself. The provision limiting its jurisdiction to aliens (the basis of the facial challenge infra) was designed to avoid the political consequences of imposing the MCA’s facially unconstitutional procedures like this on American citizens. Sections 948c, 948d(a). No other American criminal court system is so obviously founded on such politicized and illegitimate premises.


Most recently, the FBI began an investigation of military defense counsel that has calculatedly employed heavy-handed investigative techniques that have destroyed attorney-client relationships and the ability of some counsel to perform their defense responsibilities. The investigation was almost certainly instigated by the CIA, since it is being overseen by the agency of the Department of Justice to which the CIA reports. Peter Finn, Detainees Shown CIA Officers’ Photos: Justice Dept. Looking Into Whether Attorneys Broke Law at Guantanamo, Washington Post (August 21, 2009).


The absence of rules has suited the prosecution’s overarching strategy, which has been to avoid all regular trial process and proceed directly to execution. The government has been explicit about this goal.
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Rep. Nadler listened; Will Ike Skelton heed the expert witness who Carl Levin ignored?

As originally posted in the reader-diary section of; the post’s 2009 comment thread is available at that link.

The military defense counsel expert on Military Commissions, that is, who won the release today of his client in the Jawad habeas corpus case in Judge Huvelle’s courtroom – which should, at long last, send Jawad home to Afghanistan within a month.

Below are very important and enlightening excerpts from testimony at a hearing today about Military Commissions in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution – chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York (also in attendance were Bill Delahunt, and, intermittently, Sheila Jackson-Lee and Steve King) – by that expert, Major David Frakt:

Many of the [Guantanamo] detainees were completely innocent of any wrongdoing, and had simply been turned in for bounty, or were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The worst that could be said about many of them was that they had fought against the U.S. and Coalition forces that had invaded Afghanistan, conduct that, under the laws of war, would not be considered a war crime. A small group of those captured were likely guilty of terrorism crimes, but not crimes of war.


Second, the drafters [of the original Military Commission rules] classified as “war crimes” conduct, such as conspiracy and terrorism crimes that are violations of regular criminal law but had never previously been recognized as covered by the laws of war, largely because the laws of war rightly apply to the narrow context of armed conflict.  They also created a number of “new” war crimes based on the alleged status of a person, rather than on conduct that actually violates the laws of war.9 The most egregious examples of these were the invented crimes “Murder by an Unprivileged Belligerent,” and “Destruction of Property by an Unprivileged Belligerent” which appeared in the original commission’s list of offenses. These provisions made killing U.S. soldiers, destroying military property, or attempting to do so, a war crime. In other words, the U.S. declared that it was a war crime to fight [against the U.S.], regardless of whether the fighters comply with the laws of war.
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