I was once on the receiving end of Colleen Graffy’s attempts to spin conditions at Guantánamo. At the time, Graffy was the US’s Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy at the time – and she was on a PR offensive for the controversial prison camp. It was, she told a meeting I attended, a much nicer place to be than many British prisons.
It was a strangely undiplomatic line – strikingly cavalier about conditions at the base, while oddly rude about her British hosts. You can get a good idea of her position from this Guardian piece she wrote around the same time.
Graffy lives in London these days and landed at one of the capital’s airports five hours ago, after a long flight from California. Some journalist should call her up and get a comment on this story by Scott Horton, which alleges that three men who were said to have committed suicide at the base on June 9, 2006, were actually tortured to death.
I have no way of judging how robust Horton’s reporting is, but he certainly seems to have done his homework, with eye witness accounts from guards who were on duty that day and backing from this powerful analysis of the military’s cover story by Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy & Research.
Here’s an extract from Horton’s story – but please take the time to read the whole thing if you haven’t seen it already:
Military pathologists connected with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arranged immediate autopsies of the three dead prisoners, without securing the permission of the men’s families. The identities and findings of the pathologists remain shrouded in extraordinary secrecy, but the timing of the autopsies suggests that medical personnel stationed at Guantánamo may have undertaken the procedure without waiting for the arrival of an experienced medical examiner from the United States. Each of the heavily redacted autopsy reports states unequivocally that “the manner of death is suicide” and, more specifically, that the prisoner died of “hanging.” Each of the reports describes ligatures that were found wrapped around the prisoner’s neck, as well as circumferential dried abrasion furrows imprinted with the very fine weave pattern of the ligature fabric and forming an inverted “V” on the back of the head. This condition, the anonymous pathologists state, is consistent with that of a hanging victim.
The pathologists place the time of death “at least a couple of hours” before the bodies were discovered, which would be sometime before 10:30 p.m. on June 9. Additionally, the autopsy of Al-Salami states that his hyoid bone was broken, a phenomenon usually associated with manual strangulation, not hanging.
The report asserts that the hyoid was broken “during the removal of the neck organs.” An odd admission, given that these are the very body parts—the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage—that would have been essential to determining whether death occurred from hanging, from strangulation, or from choking. These parts remained missing when the men’s families finally received their bodies.
At the time, Graffy was heavily involved in the public affairs response to the alleged suicides. In an interview with the BBC, she acused the men of hanging themselves as “a tactic to further the jihadi cause.” Their suicide was “a good PR move to draw attention” by men who did not value their lives nor the lives of those around them.
Not so, says Horton. Two of the men (one just a boy really, Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani was just 17 years old when captured) were slated for release. The other could not be returned to Yemen, but analysts had apparently concluded that “there is no credible information to suggest [he] received terrorist related training or is a member of the Al Qaeda network.”
So, journos – now would be a good time to call Graffy for a quote. Has she read Horton’s story? Does she still believe the men committed suicide? And does she still maintain they killed themselves to get a juicy headline?
These are not simply gotcha questions. Maybe, she’s had a change of mind as the evidence about torture has continued to mount. It would be interesting to know…