No Comment — February 5, 2010, 12:51 pm

DOD Contradicts DOD: Seton Hall responds

Last year, when the law faculty and students at Seton Hall University published their groundbreaking report, Death in Camp Delta, the Department of Defense had little to say. But after Harper’s Magazine published my article “The Guantanamo ‘Suicides’”—in which that research figured heavily—the DOD at last stirred itself to answer at least some of the many questions surrounding the events of June 9-10, 2006. The response itself was unusual, however, in that many of the new DOD claims actually contradict prior claims made by . . . the DOD.

Now Seton Hall has itself issued a new report, in which it has “taken the DOD statement to Harper’s Magazine as an official response to Death in Camp Delta as well and has analyzed it as such.” The entire report, called DOD Contradicts DOD, is fascinating. The authors find that:

• DOD now asserts only one detainee had a rag in his throat at the time of death, but the NCIS investigation shows all three had rags in their throats.

• DOD asserts that more than 100 interviews were conducted during the first three days of the investigation; however, only 24 personnel were interviewed on June 10 and none on June 11, 12, and 13. No more than 45 individuals were interviewed during the entire investigation.

• DOD now asserts that NCIS reviewed all available video footage, and found nothing of evidentiary value. The record shows NCIS had a videotape of the events. Since either activity in the camp or lack of activity would be relevant to the conflicting claims, it is implausible that there is nothing of evidentiary value on the tape.

• DOD now asserts that the detainees hanged themselves while lights were dimmed. The Admiral concluded the detainees hanged themselves with the lights on. The DOD does not explain this discrepancy.

Of special interest is the way Seton Hall meticulously unpacks the DOD claim about the “100 interviews” that supposedly refute the testimony in Harper’s Magazine. First, the timing is wrong:

NCIS did not interview 100 people within the first three days of the investigation. During the first three days of the investigation only 24 people were interviewed, but none of them gave first-person statements. NCIS began collecting first-person statements on June 14, more than three days after the detainees died and after the official announcement that they hanged themselves.

And even under a longer time horizon, the numbers remain exaggerated:

While NCIS and CITF may have conducted 100 interviews, they interviewed no more than 45 people, and most of those interviewed did not have first-hand knowledge of the core events. The record reflects multiple interviews of the same person. For example, the SJA report logs six interviewees from Block Duty Personnel on June 9-10, 2006, each of whom provided three statements, for a total of 18 statements from only six interviewees. Further, one member of Naval Hospital Medical Personnel provided two statements, another guard provided a total of four statements, and a second guard provided three.

And finally, the remaining interviews are themselves seriously problematic:

At most, 45 individuals, excluding detainees, were interviewed: 26 guards, escorts, and officers, 16 medics, and 3 civilians. Of those interviewed, only 36 gave written first-person statements; the rest are summaries of interviews written by the investigators. Of the 36, six were the guards on duty on Alpha Block that night. These six were the key witnesses to the events of June 9-10 as told by the NCIS investigation. All six were suspected by NCIS of making false statements, calling the credibility of their resulting statements into question. The [alleged] false statements are not included in the NCIS investigation and remain missing.

That is, the six guards who would know best what took place in Alpha Block on June 9 gave testimony the next day, but were told several days later they were suspected of making false statements and asked to submit new testimony. Why is the original testimony missing from the NCIS report? And why would investigators choose to rely so heavily on the later testimony in order to refute the claims of the four new witnesses who are speaking for the record?

The more the DOD speaks, the less sense its story makes. There is a great deal more in the Seton Hall report, and I urge readers—and reporters—to download the whole thing.

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