Gitmo Suicides Starting to Look Like Murder

In 2006, three detainees at Guantanamo Bay committed suicide, or so the official story goes. They were held in the most secret part of the base, Camp No, where they interrogated and often tortured detainees. Newsweek has an investigation that presents strong evidence that the suicide story was a cover for the fact that the three detainees were murdered. Much of that evidence is based on testimony from Sergeant Joseph L. Hickman, a highly decorated Marine who led one of the guard units at the base.

He revisited, in detail, the last hours and minutes of June 9, 2006. Hickman does not, as far as I can tell, harbor much sympathy for the detainees. It is a feeling of betrayal that drives him, a disbelief that the military in which he spent three decades of his life could allow men in its care to die. Worse yet, that it might have killed them.

Hickman remains certain of what he saw. On the night of June 9, he claims that he had a clear view of the only path between Alpha block and the detainee medical clinic, where the dead or dying detainees would have been brought by Navy escorts. But as he writes of himself and his fellow guards, “We saw no detainees carried, dragged, walked, or hauled…into the clinic” that night. “Unless there was a secret tunnel, or Star Trek-type transporter unit hidden somewhere on the base, the only way those detainees could have arrived at the medical clinic was inside the white van,” which he had clearly seen travel outside Camp America and in the apparent direction of Camp No.

Hickman writes that there were fewer than 30 detainees in Alpha block (the exact number is hard to verify) housed in “six-by-eight-foot cells with walls made entirely of mesh” that were easy to see through. The five guards had to check the cells every three minutes, giving the detainees no time to coordinate and carry out a complicated plot to kill themselves simultaneously. Hickman also notes that all three detainees had recently concluded a lengthy hunger strike. “No one engaging in a hunger strike was ever given extra blankets or towels,” he writes. (Indeed, when investigators interviewed an Alpha block detainee on the day after the suicides, he complained that “all the incentives were taken away from them.”)

Hickman describes how around midnight, “the whole camp lit up like a football field under stadium lights.” A guard was dispatched to convey a message of “code red” to a sailor, though neither he nor Hickman knew what “code red” meant. Perplexed, Hickman headed for the medical clinic. On his way, he ran into a Navy medic with whom he’d gone on several dates. She “looked really upset,” Hickman writes, having just attended to the three dead men. “They had rags stuffed down their throats,” he remembers her saying. “And one of them was badly bruised.”

Military records give a sense of the harrowing scene that must have taken place in that clinic. They also confirm parts of Hickman’s narrative. Ahmed’s medical file says he died “by likely asphyxiation from obstructing his airway.” He had, according to those present, “what appeared to be either gauze or white fabric lodged in the back of [his] mouth.”

The morning after, Bumgarner called a 7 a.m. meeting for the 75 or so soldiers and sailors who’d been on duty in Camp 1 and elsewhere the previous night. According to Hickman, Bumgarner said the detainees “committed suicide by cutting up their bedsheets and stuffing them down their throats.” He warned those gathered that they were “going to hear something different in the media,” a discrepancy about which he allegedly ordered them to remain silent. (Bumgarner denies that, though seven people present that morning corroborated Hickman’s account to researchers.)

Hickman writes in his book that as Bumgarner finished speaking, he “felt sick with shame…I knew the truth. My men knew the truth.”

There’s a lot more to this very long article and it’s worth reading all the way through.

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  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    “There’s a lot more to this very long article and it’s worth reading all the way through.”

    No thanks. That would be looking backward, not forward.

  • caseloweraz

    I’ve read enough about Guantánamo that this doesn’t surprise me. One thing jumps out at me immediately:

    Bumgarner said the detainees “committed suicide by cutting up their bedsheets and stuffing them down their throats.”

    Cut up their sheets with what? The idea that these men were allowed knives or scissors is ludicrous.

    Of course, they might have torn the sheets. But this would take a while, especially if they’d recently ended a hunger strike, and almost certainly would have been noticed.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    “Cut up their sheets with what?”

    They had table saws in their cells. They also had looms to make extra sheets, which they then cut up.

  • Akira MacKenzie

    Hmmmm… sounds familiar:

    Captain Renault: “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    Sergeant Joseph L. Hickman, a highly decorated Marine who led one of the guard units at the base

    Who will now be mercilessly attacked by the right and accused of being a traitor and secret Muslim.

  • marcus

    d.c.wilson @5 …and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act.

  • konrad_arflane

    A guard was dispatched to convey a message of “code red” to a sailor, though neither he nor Hickman knew what “code red” meant.

    Oh come on. He expects us to believe he hasn’t seen A Few Good Men?

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    he “felt sick with shame…

    What, he didn’t feel sick with shame all along, caging human beings like animals while they were being tortured? Didn’t feel sick with shame when it was more than adequately documented that the majority of the people in Gitmo were not terrorists at all? Didn’t feel sick with shame each morning when he put on the uniform of global oppression? Well, I guess the bar is high with some people; it’s OK to beat people nearly to death, and you only feel bad about it when they finally stop breathing. Read the fucking article at Newsweek and it describes how Hickman was the guy who ordered his soldiers to fire 40mm grenade rounds at point-blank range at detainess who were throwing fecal matter at the guards. So Hickman finished his tour at Gitmo, got awards, and finally, when he was home safe with his family, started to feel bad about what he had done.

    It’s nice that Hickman has had his little moment of “OMG I’M A GUARD AT AUSCHWITZ” moment, now that it’s safely too late.

    I fucking hate when I read about this kind of shit. It’s like Warren Buffet (now that he’s ancient and fabulously wealthy and it’s safely too late) saying “oh, gosh, looks like I got away with murder on my taxes all along, oops dearie me!” or Bill Cosby’s flunky deciding to talk about Cosby’s rape habit 20 years after it’s too late to do anything about it. OMG I kicked a puppy to death 30 years ago and someone else got blamed and now – now that I got away with it and led a comfortable and happy life – I feel really bad. Not bad enough. Not soon enough.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Besides – if you take an Afghani taxi driver who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and isolate him, torture him mentally, and drive him to suicide: it’s murder just as much as if you kill him by choking him to death.

    Everyone who has worked at Gitmo is complicit in war crimes; they are following unlawful orders. The Nuremberg tribunal established that “I was just following orders” is no excuse.

  • llewelly

    Marcus Ranum:

    It’s nice that Hickman has had his little moment of “OMG I’M A GUARD AT AUSCHWITZ” moment, now that it’s safely too late.

    It’s terrible that it’s too late for many, but it’s been estimated that there are about 122 detainees still at there, so it’s not too late for everyone.

    Warrn Buffet and Cosby’s flunky waited far longer than Hickman did.

  • abb3w

    Hell, this sounds like some asshole decided that “A Few Good Men” was the same sort of HOWTO manual as Orwell’s “1984”.