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The Guantanamo "suicides" expose

He joined the Marines as a 19-year-old, in 1983, inspired by the leadership of Ronald Reagan. He excelled as a soldier and served in the Presidential Guard detail. After the September 11 attacks he reenlisted, this time in the National Guard. He was assigned to Camp Delta at Guantanamo, and for his service there he received the Army Commendation Medal. In short, Sgt. Joseph Hickman is the kind of American who ought to be considered a hero by those who regard the military with reverent gratitude and prioritize the defense of the United States above all else. But now that Sgt. Hickman is making headlines, the right hasn't rallied to his side -- and the commanding officer who recommended him for the medal is claiming not to know who he is.That's because Hickman is one of the witnesses Scott Horton interviewed for his devastating Harper's article "The Guantanamo 'Suicides': A Camp Delta Sergeant Blows the Whistle." Here's the setup:

Late in the evening on June 9 [2006], three prisoners at Guantnamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantnamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantnamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantnamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths suicides. ...Now four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 910, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS reporta report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harpers Magazine that strongly suggests that the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantnamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.

You've heard lots about this already if you read certain blogs: Andrew Sullivan's commentary is by now half again as long (here, here, and here) as the article itself, and Glenn Greenwald is on the case too. But you should read the story for yourself -- it's clearly written and as gripping as it is horrifying. Then read Horton's follow-up post about the response so far -- which includes the transparently false "I don't know who Sgt. Hickman is" claim. (And watch his blog for more.)Will the discussion of torture and Guantanamo finally get past the lies about "the worst of the worst" and the fantasy that the only serious issue is whether terrorists have "rights"? After this article, it should; there are no excuses left for looking away. But on the other hand, a new season of 24 just started...

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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This little incident is totgeschwiegen in the US media and when it becomes better known will be treated as yesterday's news. What is needed is an outcry, investigations, tribunals etc., but the people of the US have no stomach for that.

But now that Sgt. Hickman is making headlines, the right hasnt rallied to his side . . . Thats because Hickman is one of the witnesses Scott Horton interviewed for his devastating Harpers article Assuming that some might brand me as being "on the right," thanks for explaining why I and others of my ilk haven't rallied to a guy we've never heard of.

Congratulations for missing the ugly story so far. Now that you've heard of it, maybe send the link around and get the rally started?

It seems that Camp No may have been a special place under control of the top-secret CIA -- no one even heard of it until a few days ago. The CIA are the sacred monster of America, above the law. American Presidents cower before it, as Obama is cowering now (somewhat like Schiller's picture of Philip II cowering before the Grand Inquisitor).

The CIA, soldiers, policemen and the like have always commanded deference because they are essentially the protectors of those in power. Further, no one wants anarchy. J.Edgar Hoover is a perfect example. No one could touch him. Caesar knew he had to keep his army happy or he was finished. This is why the pope defended the government over the slain Archbishop Romero. Even today the reason Romero is not beatified is fear of displeasing the powers in South America. We have to keep the spotlight on these injustices. Unfortunately, popes and bishops are not with us. Their tax exempt and favored status are more important.

Mollie:I'm weeping for these poor terrorists. If only we could have Mirandized them, got them O'Melvany & Meyers lawyers (taxpayer paid, of course), maybe some aroma therapy, some ..., well you get the picture. If only...But we'll get these bastards (our guys) in prison yet, see how they like being mistreated, given free bibles, chimes for Matins, etc. We could subject them to true torture, like being forced to listen to Bruce Springsteen, forced to watch the film Redacted, forced to listen to Mollie drone on about the terrible injustices perpetrated on the TTB's (tender terrorist babes). Oh well, we can dream can't we?

Read the article, Bob. We were going to release two of them.

Your point is? My point is, that I want them to be mistreated. I hate these SOB's so much I am willing to mistreat them myself, if only I could arrange it. If they die in the process, hey, it doesn't get any better!

So, just to be clear: even though the Bush administration planned to set these men free, you still think they deserved to die?

Yes. Any other questions Grant?

Yes. Read the article yet?

I find it hard to believe, given President Obama's strong stand against torture, that there isn't more to this story.

"If they die in the process, hey, it doesnt get any better!"Then you should approve of the current President's policy of assassinating these civilians abroad without trial instead of the more objectionable policy of detaining them.

Bob, I take it that you're too angry to read the article. Here is what the article says about one of the men. (I changed the names of men and countries to make it sound less alien.) I understand that you want terrorists mistreated. But you do not want someone who was in Guantanamo by mistake to also be mistreated and killed. Unfortunately, that's what seems to have happened. Returned to Canada was the body of Mike. Orphaned in his youth, Mike grew up in his uncles home in the small town of Saint-Constant. I spoke to one of the many cousins who shared that home, Charlie. Mike, said Charlie, had gone to Baluchistana rural, tribal area that straddles Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistanto do humanitarian work, and someone there had sold him to the Americans for $5,000. He said that Mike was a peaceful man who would harm no one. Indeed, U.S. authorities had decided to release Mike and return him to Canada. When he died, he was just a few weeks shy of his transfer.

Bob,Two Points. First these men, by all acounts, are innocent. Second, there is not hating in Christianity. Otherwise Jesus would have taken over the Roman government. You have said that you agree with the lesson of the Good Samaritan story. This is a perfect example where it can be applied. Love your enemies is a command. Not an option.

I have good news for Bob: as a free man and not an inmate in one of his imaginary prisons-for-patriots, he is not forced to listen to me or anyone else's inconvenient "facts." Bob, I hereby discharge you of any further duty to comment on this matter. We get it.

"Then you should approve of the current Presidents policy of assassinating these civilians abroad without trial instead of the more objectionable policy of detaining them."Perhaps I spoke too soon. I was out of the country last week and didn't notice that even the ACLU is starting to realize that they should perhaps think about dropping the pretense that "targeted killings" are not war crimes.

More commentary worth reading, from Conor Friedersdorf:

The Obama administration is to be commended for ending the torture of detainees. But President Obama is derelict in his oath to protect and defend the Constitution if he refrains from aggressively investigating cases like the Gitmo Three, and prosecuting any significant illegal acts. Equally bound by the Constitution of the United States are members of the Republican opposition. I happen to agree with them that the Democratic domestic agenda imprudently seeks to concentrate too much power in the federal government. But the GOP doesnt deserve to control any branch of government so long as its members defend or ignore illegal, immoral acts that weakened our armed forces and disgraced our intelligence agencies the last time they held power (including years long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacksremember that the Gitmo Three did not die until 2006).

Mollie, I thought you'd probably want to know that the piece by Horton--"who happens to be human-rights attorney rather than a journalist"--should not be believed because it suggests a conspiracy that, wait for it, the government is too inept to pull off. Now that is small-government conservatism.

Thanks for the heads-up! Phew. And here I thought the government's motives to lie/conceal the truth, even across administrations, were utterly obvious. I'm especially glad to be alerted to the fact that Horton "happens to be a human-rights lawyer rather than a journalist." Here I was thinking that legal expertise made him more credible on the subject of the law. (And that the two were not mutually exclusive.)

I'd like to recommend Christianity to Bob Schwartz and anyone who agrees with his statements above about executing innocent people and hating our enemies. :) As Bill Mazzella mentions, Christians are taught by Jesus to love their enemies. It's a tough religion, not for the faint of heart. This teaching of Jesus on loving enemies is definitely hard. But the Spirit helps us in our weakness.To get you started, here is a wonderful essay by Chris Scharen about praying for our enemies. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share it with dotCommonweal readers.

" But the GOP doesnt deserve to control any branch of government so long as its members defend or ignore illegal, immoral acts that weakened our armed forces and disgraced our intelligence agencies the last time they held power (including years long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacksremember that the Gitmo Three did not die until 2006)."I couldn't agree more. I will wait with baited breath while the non-partisan Mr. Friedersdorf pushes to end this President's actions in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere, because surely he is not ignoring or defending the practice of intentional extrajudicial killings of alien civilians.

And also check out Dahlia Lithwick at Slate.

The fact that three Guantanamo prisonersnone of whom had any links to terrorism and two of whom had already been cleared for releasemay have been killed there and the deaths covered up, should be front-page news. That brand-new evidence of this possible atrocity from military guards was given only the most cursory investigation by the Obama administration should warrant some kind of blowback. But changing what we allow ourselves to believe about torture would change the way we have reconciled ourselves to torture. Nobody in this country is prepared to do that. So we have opted to ignore it.

What's the motive for the alleged killers to leave the prisoners' hands tied (just so as to make Horton's job easier?) And expound a bit more about why Obama would cover this up?

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