Claims of US cover-up over Guantanamo deaths

Three inmates at Guantanamo Bay who, according to a report by the US Navy died after all committing suicide on the same day, in fact died from suffocation inflicted during interrogation sessions, a US magazine has claimed.

In its March edition, Harper's magazine accuses the US government of perpetrating a cover-up to conceal the true cause of the deaths of the three men – Salah Ahmed al-Salami, 37, a Yemeni, and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30 – who died in June 2006.

The magazine, which has already posted the article by contributing editor Scott Horton on its web site, bases its conclusions on an examination of portions of the Navy report that were declassified and anonymous interviews with prison guards. "The cover-up is amazing in its audacity, and it is continuing into the Obama administration," Mr Horton contended.

At the time, the commander of the camp, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, said the men had committed suicide in concert with one another as "an act of asymmetrical warfare" aimed at the US. The official version of events says the three men stuffed rags down their own throats and then hanged themselves in their cells using bed sheets. However, the magazine cites guards saying the men's bodies had not been taken from the cells. They suggested the men had been in a separate building used for harsh interrogation sessions.

The guards also asserted that the day after the alleged suicides, they had been assembled by senior officers who told them that they were to stick with the official version of what had happened. "The official story... was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centrepiece of the report – a reconstruction of the events – was simply unbelievable," the Harper's article claims.

"Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "The Department took this matter very seriously. A number of attorneys and agents extensively and thoroughly reviewed the allegations and found no evidence of wrongdoing."

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