On June 9th, 2006, it is said that three prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp committed suicide in a coordinated effort. They all died using the exact same methods, in their cells, on that evening.
However, when NCOs (non-commissioned officers) contradicted this account, cracks began to show in the official NCIS investigation. The NCOs revealed that these three prisoners were actually not in their cellblocks the night they died. Rather, they were taken to a secret CIA black spot nearby, dubbed ‘Penny Lane’ or ‘Camp No’. While they were returned to their cell at the time of death, more than 12 papers that contradicted the official report of that night were suppressed during an internal investigation.
Questions were first raised over these suicides in 2006 when the al-Zahrani family contested that their son might have committed suicide. His father, who is actually a Saudi General, described his last letter from his son as being happy and hopeful. He had been looking forward to release, which had recently been arranged, so the details of him committing suicide didn’t make sense.
With the help of the families and lawyers, there was a push for an independent investigation, and the formal accounts from the US government were brought to light. It was here that the inconsistencies in the case really began to shine, and this prompted award winning journalist Scott Horton to write the original article “The Gitmo ‘Suicides.’’
However, a revisit to this article became necessary when a new document released showed proof of a CIA cover-up within the ranks. It falls under the term ‘Exhibit 25’ and it’s a statement from the Master of Arms who was there during the deaths. His account was left out of the official NCIS version of events, but was published by Horton at Harpers.
The reports that were released to the public, which are full of redactions and logical missteps, have been eviscerated by the medical community. In the official report, the prisoners apparently used linens to form a loop and hang themselves, but also managed to tie their hands with cloth and stuff cloth down their throat before jumping. Some doctors have even gone so far as to say, “No one has ever committed suicide that way and it’s pretty much impossible to do.” Other logistical holes involve said linens not being accounted for in their cells just moments before their suicide.
The account of Exhibit 25 is brutal, but an important read to see how its lack of inclusion directly incriminates the NCIS investigation. As recounted by Scott Horton during an interview with Democracy Now, the author explains the Master of Arms testimony during the last moments of Mr. Zahrani life:
“Summoned urgently to the detainee clinic to transport a prisoner. He discovers al-Zahrani there. He reaches down and feels his pulse and discovers that he’s alive. And although he’s surrounded by medical professionals all about, there’s no effort being made to administer CPR or bring him back to life. To the contrary, he sees another guardsman fastening his hands with cloth that’s the same as the cloth that was used for the noose. And this directly, of course, contradicts the government’s claim, which is that these prisoners tied themselves up with this cloth and with the noose.
He then begins to administer CPR. He transports the prisoner to the hospital, the naval hospital at Guantánamo. And more bizarre things happen, including al-Zahrani coughing up orange foamy blood on the way. And when he reaches the hospital, he hears just strange inquiries. So, the camp command is calling and asking, “Is he dead yet?” So, all the circumstances suggest that the military personnel in attendance at that time don’t seem to understand whether they’re supposed to be staging a suicide, a mock suicide, or whether they’re supposed to be reviving the individual. There’s complete confusion.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has been following this story for a period of time, and represents the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Mani Al-Utaybi of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen. They are asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate their deaths, although it remains murky on if this will ever come to fruition, or whether the US Government will ever acknowledge the real circumstances regarding the deaths of these three men, all of whom were held for years in detention without any formal charges.