The Gitmo Three, Cont'd

Over at First Things, Joe Carter has published a strongly worded rebuke to my most recent Daily Beast column. Due to the admirable writing he has published against torture and his experience as a Marine, I’m inclined to take his thoughts on this subject quite seriously, and I encourage everyone to read his criticism in full, but I am unpersuaded by his arguments.

Our disagreement concerns this Harper’s Magazine article on the deaths of three Gitmo detainees. It is worth noting that even if Mr. Carter is correct, and all three deaths were suicides, the United States did a bad thing — after all, our own government concluded that one of the detainees didn’t have any connection to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and posed no threat to the United States when he was scooped up at age 17, so in the best case, we arrested an innocent teenager and held him in Cuba absent any evidence of wrongdoing so long that he decided to kill himself. That alone is an injustice that ought to trouble anyone who believes that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the God given rights of all humans, and were an American teenager held by a foreign government with a similar dearth of evidence I am sure you can imagine how insistent everyone would be about the injustice, even if he didn’t wind up dead.

At the core of my disagreement with Mr. Carter, however, is whether it’s more likely that these detainees committed suicide or were killed by someone working for our government, whether Gitmo guards, CIA agents, military interrogators, or someone else. In arguing that the detainees committed suicide, and mocking the notion that they might have been killed, Mr. Carter disparages Harper’s Magazine, comparing it unfavorably to the National Inquirer, and notes that its writer, Scoot Horton, is a human writes lawyer, not a journalist. I’ve been critical about pieces that appear in Harper’s, but I’ve never known the magazine to publish fabrications, and I actually think that a human rights lawyer has a professional skill set that is particularly useful preparation for writing about misconduct at a military prison. So Mr. Carter’s arguments fail on their own terms.

Even more importantly, Mr. Carter apparently fails to realize is that a study released by Seton Hall Law School itself casts devastating doubts on the official narrative of the detainee deaths. All by itself, that study raises enough questions to warrant a new investigation. I’ll quote from the executive summary:

— The original military press releases did not report that the detainees had been dead for more than two hours when they were discovered, nor that rigor mortis had set in by the time of discovery.
— There is no explanation of how three bodies could have hung in cells for at least two hours while the cells were under constant supervision, both by video camera and by guards continually walking the corridors guarding only 28 detainees.
— There is no explanation of how each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell—a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation, hanged until dead and hung for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards.
— There is no indication that the medics observed anything unusual on the cell block at the time that the detainees were hanging dead in their cells.
— The initial military press releases did not report that, when the detainees‘ bodies arrived at the clinic, it was determined that each had a rag obstructing his throat.
— There is no explanation of how the supposed acts of ―asymmetrical warfare‖ could have been coordinated by the three detainees, who had been on the same cell block fewer than 72 hours with occupied and unoccupied cells between them and under constant supervision.
— There is no explanation of why the Alpha Block guards were advised that they were suspected of making false statements or failing to obey direct orders.
— There is no explanation of why the guards were ordered not to provide sworn statements about what happened that night.
— There is no explanation of why the government seemed to be unable to determine which guards were on duty that night in Alpha Block.
— There is no explanation of why the guards who brought the bodies to the medics did not tell the medics what had happened to cause the deaths and why the medics never asked how the deaths had occurred.
— There is no explanation of why no one was disciplined for acts or failures to act that night.
— There is no explanation of why the guards on duty in the cell block were not systematically interviewed about the events of the night; why the medics who visited the cell block before the hangings were not interviewed; or why the tower guards, who had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, were not interviewed.

Although the Harper’s Magazine story runs through the implausible official narrative, highlighting its most unbelievable absurdities, it is hardly alone in doing so. The main additional piece of reporting that Mr. Horton contributes is the testimony of four guards on duty at Gitmo on the night in question who allege some kind of cover-up, and felt strongly enough about the matter to seek out law enforcement officials in the Obama Administration. It is true that none of these guards can prove that the detainees were killed, but their testimony is at the very least persuasive evidence that the official narrative is partially fabricated. What motive do these men have to lie? I appreciate Mr. Carter’s service to our country, and concede that it gives him insights into this matter that I lack, but as he invokes his time in the service to assert that the Harper’s Magazine story is implausible, one can’t help but weigh more heavily the fact that at least four guys who served at the prison apparently do find it plausible!

Mr. Carter writes:

Now I’m a skeptical of the government as the next guy. But my skepticism includes the government’s ability to pull off such an elaborate and complex scheme.

I too am skeptical that the government could succeed at pulling off a cover-up like this, and lo, it seems as though they’re not succeeding — their official narrative is being rightly ridiculed as transparently implausible, and former Gitmo soldiers with no reason to lie are now challenging that narrative. It is my position that the government hasn’t succeeded in their cover-up at all: however those detainees died, one thing that seems clear is that it didn’t happen the way the official report says it did.

Mr. Carter also writes:

All of that, however, pales in comparison to my inability to believe that the Obama administration would risk their own credibility to cover up murder that happened on Bush’s watch. That strikes me as extremely implausible and no credible narrative for their motives has even been attempted. (Did the Kenya branch of the Illuminati—the one that forged the President’s birth certificate—pressure Obama into going along with the conspiracy?)

Insofar as I know, Mr. Carter, President Obama and I agree that torture is illegal, that water boarding is torture, and that the Bush Administration water boarded detainees. And of course there are also documented deaths of detainees under the last administration, apart from these three characters at Gitmo. What is President Obama’s motive for failing to investigate these crimes (“covering up” implies more than is necessary)? Perhaps the fact that it’s a battle he hasn’t any desire to wage, because he’d rather spend his political capital on other matters, and he knows that the American people as a whole would rather pretend that prisoner abuse under the Bush Administration never happened.

It’s perfectly reasonable for Mr. Carter to argue that we’ve insufficient evidence to prove the Gitmo three were murdered. My own view is that there is circumstantial evidence for that claim, though so far there isn’t evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. I’d merely like to persuade Mr. Carter and other skeptics that there is enough fishiness going on here to warrant further investigation, and good reason to believe that whatever happened that night, the official narrative isn’t it. Unless perhaps someone has plausible explanations for the bulleted items above?