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Is the Obama Administration Covering Up Three Murders at Guantanamo?

An explosive new article reveals that three Gitmo prisoners whose deaths were labeled suicides were murdered. Obama's Department of Justice has refused to investigate.

NEW YORK, Jan 22  (IPS) -- Is the administration of President Barack Obama concealing evidence suggesting that three suicides at Guantanamo Bay were not suicides at all?

That is a question human rights groups, legal experts and national security specialists are pondering on the heels of an article in Harper's Magazine by Scott Horton presenting whistleblower testimony suggesting that the three prisoners likely suffered particularly abusive interrogations prior to their deaths, which were then passed off as suicides by the George W. Bush administration.

Horton presents new evidence from then-Sergeant Joe Hickman, a whistleblower formerly stationed in Guantánamo, that the three dead prisoners were taken to a remote corner of the base in the hours before they died.

There they were tortured, Guantanamo officials came up with the suicide cover, and the Bush administration capitalized on the panic by ordering further abuse of prisoners, and by spreading self-serving and poisonous lies about the dead men, adding to their families’ distress, Horton says.

He says that President Obama’s Justice Department has refused to fully investigate the incident.

Clara Gutteridge, who is a secret prisons investigator for the London-based legal advocacy group Reprieve, said, "Scott Horton's investigation indicates that, as usual, Guantánamo's traumatised prisoners are telling the truth about their treatment."

"According to our clients, in addition to the secret CIA facility -- and another house on the base where some prisoners were taken to be held in solitary confinement -- there was also a black site run by U.S. Marines on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base," he said.

"It was located outside the main prison, and was known amongst the prisoners as a place where people were taken to be 'broken.' When will these prisoner's testimonies finally be taken seriously? And when will the perpetrators of these terrible crimes finally face justice?" Gutteridge asked.

George Brent Mickum IV, an attorney who is currently handling a number of Guantanamo cases, told IPS, "There have been 100 deaths of detainees since 2006. Thirty-six of these have been declared homicides. Only one case has ever been prosecuted. The probable reason: The CIA is responsible for these deaths."

According to the U.S. Navy, Gitmo detainees Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani were found hanged in their cells on Jun. 9, 2006. The U.S. military initially described their deaths as ”asymmetrical warfare” against the United States, before finally declaring that the deaths were suicides that the inmates coordinated among themselves.

But a report from Seton Hall University Law School, released last fall, cast doubt on almost every element of the US military’s story. It questioned, for example, how it would have been possible for the three detainees to have stuffed rags down their throats and then, while choking, managed to raise themselves up to a noose and hang themselves.

The report stated: "There is no explanation of how each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell -- a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation, hanged until dead and hung for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards."