Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guantánamo detention camp: deaths by dryboarding

By Ernesto Carmona, Chilean journalist and writer

IN June of 2006, three prisoners were found dead in the U.S. detention camp on the Guantánamo Naval Base, hanging in their cells from what looked like improvised nooses. Although the Defense Department (DoD) declared "death by suicide," the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) found evidence to the contrary, including the fact that the prisoners’ hands were tied behind their backs. The NCIS evidence suggests that they could have died during fatal interrogation sessions involving the controlled asphyxia technique or dryboarding, a variant of the submarine torture used in countries like Chile during the military dictatorship, which consisted of asphyxiating prisoners by placing a plastic bag over their heads or prolonged immersion with the mouth and nose under water.

The censored NCIS report, validated on November 21, 2011 by the MediaFreedomInternational.org webpage, notes that the Guantánamo Base prison camp has given rise to controversy since it was established as a detention and interrogation center in 2002, described as such by the Bush administration. Guantánamo is Cuban territory illegally occupied by the United States since 1903.

The 2006 NCIS investigation was updated thanks to investigative journalist Almerindo Ojeda, of Truthout, whose extensive work on the NCIS reports poses many questions as to the veracity of the official account presented to the media by U.S. authorities in the Bush era. Much of the NCIS material prompts the following questions:

• Why did the prisoners have their hands tied when they were found hanging in their cells?

• Why were the prisoners gagged with cloth?

• Why did all three prisoners have masks?

• Why was there a bloody T-shirt around the neck of one of the prisoners found hanging in his cell?

• Why is there a page missing from a log book begun on the day the deaths were discovered?

Why were the neck organs (the larynx, the hyoid bone and the thyroid cartilage) removed from one of the corpses?

Ojeda’s analysis also includes statements by a number of guards working in Guantánamo, who stated that had seen the three prisoners transferred to secret detention centers inside the naval base. Later, the prisoners, already dead, were taken to the medical clinic with their throats stuffed with cloth and visible bruises on their bodies.

Qatari national Ali Saleh al-Marri, lawfully resident in the United States, was subjected to dryboarding after being declared an enemy combatant by George W. Bush in 2003, narrowly escaping death at the hands of government interrogators. Connecting the dots between Ali Al-Marri’s interrogation and dry boarding with the NCIS reports on the three Guantánamo prisoners led Ojeda to the conclusion that death by controlled asphyxiation is the most plausible explanation to date and, doubtless, a much stronger one than the official account of suicide by hanging.

The Ojeda report concluded, "In light of the unanswered questions, one thing remains clear: there is a need for a thorough, independent and transparent investigation into the June 10, 2006, deaths at Guantánamo and, more broadly, for a thorough, independent and transparent inquiry into all the practices and policies of detention enacted since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001."

In March 2012, Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, acknowledged that he was investigating evidence of autopsies which cast doubt on official explanations of the deaths of Guantánamo prisoners Abdul Rahman al Amri and Mohammad Saleh al Hanashi, both of whom died of suicide, according to the Defense Department, in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

The new details surrounding their deaths, as reported by Truthout, challenges the government account of what took place. The new information was assembled on the basis of autopsy reports on the prisoners and other findings related to their detention conditions in Guantánamo, included in detainee statements and those of their lawyers.

The autopsy reports confirmed that Saudi national Abdul al Amri had been found hanging with his hands tied behind his back, and had been tested after his death for the presence of the controversial drug mefloquine (Lariam). Mefloquine can cause neurotoxic and serious psychiatric side.

In the case of Mohammad al Hanashi, the autopsy examiners stated that they had never seen the actual device (or ligature) by which he was said to have strangled himself to death. The ligature was reportedly made from an elastic underwear band from a pair of white briefs. But news reports indicate that this was not the type of underwear in use at Guantánamo at this time. There was also some question as to whether Al Hanashi had been on suicide watch at the time of his death, as he was not found wearing the requisite "suicide smock" typically used on actively suicidal prisoners, despite the fact he had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death. (Mapocho Press)
January 10, 2013