WASHINGTON — Three Guantanamo Bay detainees whose deaths were ruled a suicide in 2006 apparently had been transported from their cells hours before their deaths to a secret site on the island, an article in Harper's magazine asserts.
The account released Monday raises serious questions about whether the three detainees died by hanging themselves in their cells and suggests the U.S. government is covering up details of what happened in the hours before the deaths on June 9, 2006.
In response to the magazine article, the Justice Department said Monday that it had thoroughly reviewed the allegations and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Harper's reported that the deaths of the three detainees, or the events that led directly to their deaths, most likely occurred at a previously undisclosed facility a mile or so from the main Guantanamo Bay prison complex.
Harper's based much of its account on interviews with several prison guards who said they knew of the existence of the "black" site. They said they saw three detainees removed from Camp Delta several hours before the deaths were reported and said the prisoners were transported in a white van toward the secret site.
The article will be published in the magazine's March issue.
The three Guantanamo detainees were Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, 37, of Yemen; and Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, 30, and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, 22, both of Saudi Arabia.
The article says that at a 7 a.m. meeting on June 10, 2006, with 50 or so soldiers and sailors, Army Col. Michael Bumgarner said that the three men had died by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. Bumgarner was a commander at Guantanamo Bay.
According to the magazine, Bumgarner went on to say that the news media would be guided to report something different — that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells.
The servicemen were to make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report, Bumgarner reminded them, according to the Harper's piece, written by Scott Horton, an attorney who has worked for years on Guantanamo Bay detainee issues.