A Murder Mystery at Guantanamo Bay

Exclusive: America’s plunge into the “dark side” last decade created a hidden history of shocking brutality, including torture and homicides, that the U.S. government would prefer to keep secret, even though many of the perpetrators are out of office, writes ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

There’s more of a mystery to how three Guantanamo detainees died on June 10, 2006, than I realized when I described their deaths as suicides in a recent article about force-feeding methods at the notorious U.S. prison. Some very experienced investigators who have examined the evidence suspect the three were victims of homicides amid the torture regime employed by President George W. Bush’s underlings.

Scott Horton, whose upcoming book Lords of Secrecy contains new insights into the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Tenet go-ahead on torture and other abuses, has supplied me with additional detail highly suggestive of foul play by CIA interrogators.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right).

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right).

Horton noted that the three prisoners were scheduled to be released and repatriated and that key details about the U.S. government’s suicide claims have been disproved. For instance, the first reports said the inmates had hanged themselves with linens in their jail cells, but medical records, which the government sought to suppress, indicate otherwise.

The records “reveal that the three died not from strangulation (as would be the case in a hanging) but from asphyxiation resulting from having cloth stuffed down their throats, precisely the same kind of cloth, it turns out, that was used by a similar interrogation team around the same time at the Charleston Brig, and which has been labeled by a University of California study as ‘dryboarding,’” Horton wrote in an email.

Horton also cited testimony from camp guards on duty that night, saying “the three had been removed from their cells and transported to a secret facility known to the camp guards as ‘Camp No,’ which was later revealed by the Associated Press to have been a facility used by the CIA for prisoner interrogation and treatment  known as ‘Penny Lane.’ They were removed from that facility to the camp clinic and an alarm issued shortly thereafter.

“Penny Lane was being used by an interrogation unit of the CIA up until approximately the time of the deaths, and it was, strictly speaking, a CIA facility. Under the terms of a Special-Access Program (SAP), neither the camp commander nor the commander of Joint Task Force, Guantanamo were to have any knowledge of this program and what went on in connection with it. The program reported to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally, as well as to an official at the White House’s National Security Council.

“Moreover, one of the three, Al-Zahrani, did not, as claimed, die in his cell, several hours later he was in the base hospital, still alive. An eyewitness statement of this, by an attending guard, was published by Harper’s in its June 2014 issue. The most amazing fact to emerge from this account was the description of a guard wrapping his hands with cloth to support the suicide claim, while no CPR revival measures were taken, although Al-Zahrani was alive and struggling to live.”

Horton added: “It is still not 100-percent clear exactly how the three died and who was present at the time. However, it is abundantly clear that the Government’s claims concerning their deaths are false, fabricated to cover up what actually transpired, and that the deaths relate directly to an intelligence operation at Guantanamo likely using a technique that is tantamount to torture.

“The Government’s decisions to shut down this program in the fall of 2006 and pull the CIA from Gitmo followed closely on the heels of this tragic episode. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006. The Government continues its feverish attempt to cover up what actually happened.”

The Long-Delayed Torture Report

Yet, whatever happened whether the three choked themselves in a desperate protest of their mistreatment and indefinite detention (the vast majority of inmates cleared for release have remained incarcerated for years afterwards) or whether they were silenced by having cloth shoved down their throats the mystery adds to the necessity of releasing the long-delayed Senate report on torture.

When we last checked in on the status of that secret report, its declassification was snagged in a dispute between CIA Director John Brennan, who was part of Director George Tenet’s inner circle during Bush’s “war on terror” and thus has a lot to lose by the report’s release, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has objected to the number of redactions and deletions demanded by Brennan.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has declared that he wants as much released as possible but is unwilling to overrule Brennan. The behavior of this dysfunctional ménage a trois has, in effect, sabotaged the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report for well over a year.

The interminable delays can be more readily understood, once you realize that the Senate report, if it is halfway honest, must include evidence on CIA-sponsored homicide as well as torture, which might put Obama back on the spot regarding his pious assertions that “no one is above the law.” He has shown no appetite to discharge his duty if it risks getting crosswise with his spies.

Obama, Brennan and Feinstein appear to be waiting until after the November elections, so as not to stir up any political ire from the voters before they go to the polls. After the election, Congress is expected to return for a lame-duck session with the question of how much of the torture report, if any, gets released depending on whether the Republicans carry the House and Senate, as many prognosticators predict.

A Republican victory likely would strengthen Brennan’s hand in keeping more of the torture report secret since it focuses on actions of the Bush-43 administration. Assuming that Obama won’t intervene and overrule Brennan which the President has been loath to do Feinstein’s chief option would be to seek a majority vote of the Senate, something that is easier said than done these days and likely to be harder if Republicans know, post-election, that they will control the Senate come January.

Feinstein also could go rogue, reject many of Brennan’s redactions and put out the report in a way that she considers appropriate. Such a move could have profound ramifications for future executive-congressional relations.

There is, of course, another possible explanation for the hold-up over releasing the report: That none of the trio really wants the truth about torture told. If that’s the case, the senior senator from California who vows that she wants as much of the report out as possible and the president who promised maximum “transparency” are giving hypocrisy a bad name.

It Was Still Worse at the CIA Gitmo Annex

Meanwhile, the human rights catastrophe at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, persists. As I reported Wednesday, a court proceeding presided over by Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington D.C.’s District Court heard evidence from the London-based human rights organization Reprieve seeking to obtain more humane treatment for a client, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, 43.

Dhiab has been detained in Guantanamo without charge or trial for over 12 years. Approved for release five years ago, he remains there, prompting him to protest with hunger strikes to which the prison authorities responded with some 1,300 “forcible cell extractions” as well as forced feedings through nasal-gastric tubes.

The grotesque court testimony brought to mind the period in spring 2006 when torture and forced feedings were rampant not only at the CIA annex at Guantanamo but also at CIA “black sites” in several countries abroad. The treatment of the various detainees not only shocked the world because of the U.S. waiver of legal rights for the inmates, but because of torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

In that context on Wednesday, I repeated a few paragraphs from an article that I wrote in January 2008 about three “suicides” that occurred on June 10, 2006, less than a month before President Bush (at a press conference on July 6, 2006) publicly admitted the existence of CIA black sites and advertised the merits of what he called “an alternative set of procedures” for interrogation.

I reminded readers that three “suicides” on June 10, 2006 had “incurred the wrath of then Guantanamo commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., who announced that the suicides were ‘not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare against us.’ In a similar spirit, Colleen Graffy, deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, told the BBC that the suicides ‘certainly (are) a good PR move to draw attention.’”

The reactions of Harris and Graffy, I thought, were indictment enough of the unconscionably coarse attitude of senior U.S. government representatives regarding human life. But now there is the possibility that they were only spouting a cover story for even a worse scenario, a triple homicide about which they may well have been kept in the dark.

More than six years ago, when I wrote that earlier article, I had scarcely gotten accustomed to the thought that my former colleagues had let themselves be suborned by Bush, Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet into torturing detainees. True, there already were rumors of CIA homicides circulating, and the Army abuses at Abu Ghraib had been exposed.

But I was having trouble wrapping my mind around the notion that the CIA had been given official sanction to murder. And inured as I am now to such indignities, I still shudder at the prospect that President Obama will, a year or two from now, explain it all with a nonchalant riff on his earlier “We tortured some folks” — substituting “killed” for “tortured.”

I am in debt for clarification regarding the possibility of a triple homicide on June 10, 2006 to two friends who, oddly, bear the same name (1) Scott Horton of antiwar.org, and (2) Scott Horton, an attorney, regular Harpers columnist, and author the excellent, soon to be published Lords of Secrecy” (Nation Books) which has a good deal to say about U.S.-sponsored torture and homicide. (I have seen it in draft.)

Lastly, since context is essential, let me add a couple of additional points. In his memoir At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director Tenet, who was in charge of the CIA torturers and “contractors” during the worst of it, admitted to having some concern over the possibility that he and his accomplices might eventually be held accountable.

In a Feb. 8, 2008 article, I referred to a section in Tenet’s book in which he stressed “the importance of being able to detain unilaterally al-Qaeda operatives around the world.” His worries shone through the following words:

“We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act.” (At the Center of the Storm, p 178)

Tenet need not have worried. So far he has been shielded from accountability by a timid Congress as well as by yet another White House able to arrogate unprecedented power to itself and to shield those it wishes to protect.

Unless some outside deus ex machina cuts into the ménage a trois keeping the torture report secret, they and their Establishment successors are likely to marathon-dance into the future, hoping that with a compliant media the matter can remain forever moot or, at least, mute.

Adding insult to injury Feinstein has invited Tenet, along with two other former torture-tainted CIA directors, to help Brennan “review” the Senate Committee’s CIA torture report. Besides Tenet, the courtesy has been extended to CIA Directors Michael Hayden and Porter Goss as well as former deputy directors Michael Morell and John McLaughlin.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer before serving for 27 years as a CIA analyst, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

9 comments for “A Murder Mystery at Guantanamo Bay

  1. Brian
    October 12, 2014 at 01:15

    I thought Scott Horton and Scott Horton were one and the same.

  2. bfearn
    October 11, 2014 at 15:13

    It is difficult for a non-American to understand why there is some serious hand-wringing over three deaths in Gitmo when torture and murder have been an intrinsic part of the way America does business from day one!

    From the torture and deaths of innumerable indigenous people, to various wars of choice that killed millions, to the torture and killings in the worlds largest prison system and to the deaths and suffering caused as American overthrew numerous democracies.

    If a few good Americans are trying to save America’s reputation then it is simply way too late for that!

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 11, 2014 at 19:29

      bfearn, I can appreciate why you are confused, but what should us Americans be talking about? Please, don’t take my response as an insult to your inquiry. I am seriously interested in your point of view. You know sometimes the guy watching the guy carrying the ladder sees the obstacles better than the ladder carrier…so tell us how you feel about how us Americans should react to our governments violent actions.
      Joe Tedesky

    • Dfnslblty
      October 12, 2014 at 17:39

      No “handwringing” nor “reputation saving” there; it is a clear call for actions to Stop The Immoral and Illegal Wars.
      Impeach potus and cohorts.

  3. Zachary Smith
    October 10, 2014 at 23:02

    “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.”


    When Obama said that, but still wouldn’t prosecute the torturers, he demonstrated that he’s totally unfit to be President of the United States.

    I’ve made quite a few mistakes at the ballot box over the years, but my vote for BHO in 2008 compares with the one I cast for Reagan in 1980.

    I continue to be ashamed of both those events.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 11, 2014 at 01:36

      Zachary don’t feel bad about who you voted for. They lie to us to get our vote. Having not much choice …then there we go again, another jerk replacing the other jerk!

      Your right about Obama on the torture thing. Wouldn’t you like to know who was the one who whispered in Obama’s ear, ‘Don’t go There’, was? That should be the person of interest, but will we ever know who this person is? Probably, about 50 to 100 years, maybe, but not that soon for sure.

      Joe Tedesky

  4. F. G. Sanford
    October 10, 2014 at 21:48

    There appears to be the assumption on the part of the U.S. Government that, given these detainees are not on U.S. soil, they can be denied the same legal rights and protections that would be afforded individuals detained inside United States territory.

    Many of these island-based overseas commands have civilian contractors and military family members living and working on them. While these civilian individuals are technically under supervision by military authorities and could be detained by them in the event of criminal activity, any legal proceedings against them are processed through a district court or a district attorney in The United States, not through a military court or through the “host nation” legal system.

    There is NO DOUBT that there is a U.S. Federal Circuit Court Judge or a State District Attorney assigned to address such matters at Guantanamo Bay. Given that one of the motivations for utilizing contract employees on military facilities overseas is the ability to shield the military organization from direct liability, I suspect that any interrogation “wet work” done there was performed by a contractor.

    The question is, can that competent legal authority, whoever it is, weasel out of a murder investigation that should appropriately be performed if a murder or three were committed by U.S. citizens under his/her jurisdiction?

    These people would have to tell some AWFULLY BIG LIES to claim that the civilian court system has no jurisdiction, when they have previously handled hundreds, perhaps thousands of crimes committed by U.S. citizens on foreign military installations.

    Judging by the impotence lately demonstrated by our DoJ, I’m sure they’ll do plenty of “tap-dancing” to deny this, But it would be worth it to hear Matt Lee make them squirm at a White House press conference. Somebody should look into this.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 11, 2014 at 01:25

      F.G. Could the way out of prosecution be some fine print inside the “Continuity Of Government” plan?

      Back in 1969 I drank beer in GTMO one day. Back then, I would have been arrested by the Navy Shore Patrol, if I had become drunken & disorderly. I would have faced the base commander at a Captains Mast. All that, but who’s say what’s inside of some form of a new REX84. Where’s Ollie North when you need him.

      I agree, some Constitutional form of civil American justice should apply. Although, the question is, “what plan is GTMO & these other Dark Prisons under”? Question; is it a mistake that we do know about GTMO? Where, in the hell are the other Black Sites? I don’t even want to know. What I would like to know is why do we have such confusing rules? Where are we within the USA Constitution? Are we cruising along under some form of COG?

  5. Future President Meyer
    October 10, 2014 at 17:03

    Alan Kenneth Stafford suggested that he has experiential knowledge
    regarding matters of US GOV. torture.
    AKS/Mackswhitegohst,”If I told Congress what I know I’d be dead within a few days.”
    Last known address Sierra Vista,Arizona.
    [underground base?]
    Interview this potential witness ,if possible.

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