Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 18, 2010

Those Gitmo ‘suicides’

Scott Horton writes in Harper’s Magazine a damning report about the treatment of suspects held at Guantanamo — including three simultaneous ‘suicides’ on June 9, 2006:

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. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

Horton reports that it’s likely that all three of the ‘suicides’ were taken earlier in the evening to a part of Gitmo called Camp No. What happened to them there?

The fate of a fourth prisoner, a forty-two-year-old Saudi Arabian named Shaker Aamer, may be related to that of the three prisoners who died on June 9. …

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 an alarming fact. This is the same technique that appears to have been used on the three deceased prisoners.

The ends do not justify the means. No matter how scared we are, angry we are, or righteously indignant we are, no matter what Jack Bauer does on 24, there is no justification for torture. There is no justification for disregarding the very things that make us American: the rights and responsibilities outlined in our Constitution, the promises we’ve made in the treaties we’ve signed, the rule of law.

The more we learn about what was done in our names under George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their neo-conservative cronies, the harder their “we do not torture” lies are to stomach, and the more misguided Barack Obama’s apparent no-prosecution-for-torturers decision becomes. We must hold people accountable for their decisions and actions that have shamed this country and caused it grievous harm, possibly for generations. The longer we dither and excuse, the more damage is done to this nation we say we love. If we are patriots, we will hold ourselves to the very standards that make us American, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s not politically expedient.

As with any bad behavior, silence equals assent. We must speak out so that this will never again be done by Americans to anyone, for any reason.



  1. […] fell swoop. In this case, Sullivan is responding to Joe Carter in particular in the context of the three simultaneous detainee “suicides” at Gitmo: Carter does what fundamentalists often […]

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