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.