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What Kind Of Investigation Leaves Questions Unanswered?

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December 18, 2009

It’s easy to forget that the detainees who died at the Guantánamo Bay detention center on June 10, 2006 were human beings: brothers, husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, friends. It may be easier to jump to the conclusion that these men must have been terrorists who wanted to sabotage America and its freedom.

Maybe they were, and maybe they were not – but not one of the three detainees that died that day were ever charged with a crime during the five years they were imprisoned at Guantánamo. In fact, one of men who died was approved and scheduled for release 19 days after his life ended.

What we do know is that on June 10, 2006 three men died in the U.S. military’s maximum-security facility at Guantánamo Bay under questionable circumstances. Three and a half years later, even the simplest of questions surrounding their deaths—who, what, when, where, why and how—remain unclear from the military’s investigation.

Here at the Center for Policy & Research at Seton Hall University School of Law, we plowed through more than 1,700 pages of investigative material dozens of times over. Each time we’d come back to the drawing table, more unclear than before, with more questions than answers, and unable to understand any of the supposed facts the investigation revealed.

The questions we sought to answer: How was it possible for three detainees to kill themselves and then hang dead in their individual cells for more than two hours without any guards or other detainees noticing? How did the military conclude this was a conspiracy when it did not find or present any substantial evidence of a conspiracy? Why were the detainees given life-saving treatment measures when their bodies were discovered in rigor mortis, an indication of sure death? What is the physical explanation for how the detainees were able to shove rags so far down their throats without inducing a gag reflex? Why were routine records kept at Guantánamo – including the “Detainee Information Management System” (DIMS), pass-on book, video surveillance and other logs – unavailable to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation?

The findings presented by NCIS are often inconsistent and contradictory when considered alongside Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place at Guantánamo. According to the government’s own autopsies, each detainee had been hanging unobserved for a minimum of two hours. Three simultaneous deaths under these circumstances at one of the most maximum-security facilities on the planet raises serious questions about the security of the camp. The resulting investigation into the deaths indicated the negligence of NCIS to reach a factually based conclusion.

The Center for Policy & Research recently published a report, “Death in Camp Delta,” that deconstructs and then synthesizes the military’s investigation into the June 10 deaths. The investigation was incompetent at best, and the story as presented by NCIS is an insult to any analytical mind. While we are completely unsure of what actually happened that night, it is deeply concerning that three men died in the U.S. military’s custody. The bottom line is this: the truth remains unknown to the American public and the families of these three men.

Like the ACLU, we hope that the Justice Department and Congress will launch a thorough investigation to seek the truth behind the three deaths that occurred at Guantánamo on June 10, 2006, as well as other instances of detainee abuse and torture that have occurred in U.S. custody.

- Meghan Chrisner & Kelli Stout on behalf of the Center for Policy & Research at Seton Hall University School of Law

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