Seton Hall Law Report Details Distortions and Failures in Government Investigations of the Deaths of Three Guantanamo Detainees
Department of Justice rejected two separate Congressional requests for further probes into the June 2006 deaths, despite numerous reasons to doubt the procedures and conclusions of the official Navy Criminal Investigation Service report
Newark, New Jersey - The Seton Hall Law Center for Policy & Research released its latest report, “Uncovering the Cover-Ups: Death in Camp Delta,” which details the failure of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to address the dramatic deficiencies in the findings issued by the Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) in the wake of the deaths on June 9, 2006 of three detainees held at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The NCIS report essentially rubber-stamped statements made by camp officials about the manner and cause of the deaths of the three detainees before any investigation was conducted, and before any such conclusions could be known. It did so by concealing repeated evidence of tampering with the crime scene, the fact that two of the men had been dead for hours before they were “discovered,” and the fact that the third lived for several hours afterwards, dying while ostensibly under medical care.
Whatever the deficiencies of the NCIS report, even more disturbing is the failure of the DOJ to re-investigate the circumstances of the deaths in light of new discoveries and Congressional requests.
On October 28, 2009 Congressman William Delahunt, (D-Mass.) informed DOJ that he was considering opening hearings on the deaths. Fourteen high ranking DOJ officials exchanged 10 emails in little more than a day addressing the three deaths and revealed that DOJ had already investigated the deaths. The email thread subject line was, “Heads-up from Rep Delahunt re: GTMO suicide allegations.” There is no available record of the DOJ’s response to Congressman Delahunt, much less of any Justice Department investigation in response to his request.
Scott Horton’s article, “The Guantanamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta Sergeant Blows the Whistle,” appeared in Harper’s on January 18, 2010, casting serious doubt on the NCIS findings that the deaths of the three detainees were suicides. In the wake of the article, Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-Ca.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, formally requested, of Attorney General Eric G. Holder, that the DOJ investigate Harper’s claims. This request was formally denied in a letter signed by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, one of the 14 DOJ officials on the earlier e-mail, but that letter shows no serious engagement with any of the criticisms of the NCIS report.
“The investigation of these deaths, and the findings issued, are distressing. The clues we are finding speak to a crime being committed – three crimes, actually, and at least as many cover-ups,” commented Professor Mark P. Denbeaux, Director of the Center for Policy & Research. “The cover-ups begin with the NCIS findings: they are predicated on an investigation in which evidence was tampered with and witness’ statements were concealed or destroyed whenever the accounts contradicted the notion that the three deaths were suicides.”
He continued, “It’s bad enough that the NCIS report was engineered to hide the true cause of the deaths of the detainees. Worse is that on two separate occasions, two Congresspersons contacted the DOJ to cast doubt on the NCIS findings and twice the DOJ affirmed the NCIS findings without showing any familiarity with the NCIS report, much less criticisms of it.”
The NCIS report relies on evidence disputed by documents that the Center for Policy & Research Fellows easily obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. They include official statements by guards who were on duty the night of the deaths, camp transportation records and findings from the autopsies of the three detainees.
Among the Center report’s findings:
- The NCIS secretly ratified the GTMO Commander’s conclusion that the cause of the detainees’ deaths was suicide on June 20, 2006, 11 days after the bodies were discovered. Yet, for inexplicable reasons, the NCIS did not publicly issue its report until 26 months after the deaths, on August 22, 2008.
The senior medical officer who declared two of the three detainees dead was never interviewed by the NCIS. In a narrative he prepared on his own, he asserted that the detainees died by means other than suicide by hanging.
- A guard on the cell block in which the detainees reportedly hung themselves gave a statement to NCIS noting that there were no materials available in the detainees’ cells with which to hang themselves in the manner as rumored prior to the NCIS report’s adoption of that “fact.” That statement is not addressed in the report.
- Contrary to the NCIS report, a medical escort described how one of the three detainees was actually found alive and, on the ride to the Naval Hospital, was discovered to have a cord still tied tightly around his neck – it had not been removed or loosened when he was ostensibly cut down. In addition, the detainee still showed vital signs though he had allegedly been hanging for two hours before he was discovered.
- No steps were taken to revive the detainee. When the Base Commander called for a status update on the detainee, the escort described the response as follows: “One of the medical staff looked at me and held his thumb and index finger about an inch apart and said, “He’s that close to death.”
- The escort also observed a Corpsman tie onto the detainee’s wrists the fabric that the detainees had allegedly tied onto their own wrists as they prepared to hang themselves.
- With regard to the DOJ’s response, the letter to Congresswoman Eshoo, written four months after her request for an investigation, was signed by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich. He has since claimed he simply signed the letter with no knowledge of the investigation although he was one of those in the copied in the lengthy e-mail thread regarding Representative Delahunt’s earlier inquiry.
“In the case of murder, the cover-up can never be worse than the crime itself,” Professor Denbeaux concluded, “But it is distressing that two government agencies – the NCIS and the DOJ – actively participated in concealing the facts of this tragic event, the DOJ doing so in the face of two separate Congressional inquiries That undermines our trust in the integrity of our government, and raises the inevitable question, What are they working so hard to hide?”
Seton Hall University School of Law, New Jersey's only private law school, and a leading law school in the New York metropolitan area, is dedicated to preparing students for the practice of law through excellence in scholarship and teaching, with a strong focus on clinical education. "Uncovering the Cover-ups: Death in Camp Delta” is the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy & Research's 23rd Guantánamo Report. Since 2006, Center reports have been introduced into the Congressional Record by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and as part of a Resolution by the European Parliament. The Guantánamo reports have also been cited by media throughout the world. The report may be found at law.shu.edu/gtmocoverups.