Not Murder, Just Suicide

This is interesting:

Harper’s Magazine and Scott Horton were not supposed to win the National Magazine Award for Reporting this year. Of the five finalists in the category, there were three real contenders, and most people working in the ever-shrinking category of serious magazine journalism were sure the award would go to Rolling Stone for the article by Michael Hastings that led to the downfall of Gen. Stanley McChrystal or The New Yorker for Jane Mayer’s profile of the billionaire Koch brothers.

But Harper’s beat out the two big names, scoring a major upset with Horton’s piece about three detainees at Guantánamo Bay who died in 2006. The government said the men had hung themselves in

In fact, Horton’s story, which the judges for the award—administered by the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and regarded as the Pulitzer for magazines—found so compelling, was actually a well-shopped one, familiar to some of the most experienced investigative journalists in the business. These included The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh as well as teams from CBS News’ 60 Minutes and ABC News’ Brian Ross Investigative Unit that had looked into the alleged killings and the accounts provided by the men who became Horton’s key sources, and found more flight of fancy than fact. (Horton acknowledges in his story that his source had been in contact with ABC News.)

I’ve quoted Horton a lot, but I didn’t remember quoting this piece or getting all het up about it, which is a good thing, as it appears to be falling apart. A quick search of the archives turns up this:

Just finally finished reading this depressing piece by Scott Horton detailing how we tortured people to death at Gitmo and then lied for years, insisting they were suicides.

Last year, I understood why, politically, the Obama administration chose to behave the way they did with the former administration, choosing to look forward rather than backwards. I didn’t like it at all, but I understood it.

I don’t know how that is a tenable position anymore (and it was always a bad moral compromise). This must be investigated, publicly and thoroughly, and people need to be brought to justice.

I suppose my wish was granted, and this was investigated thoroughly and has fallen apart. I suppose that is good news, although it depresses me that Horton will forever be haunted with this and one of the good guys in all these debates will be automatically ignored by many.

More depressing, though, is that the fact these men just committed suicide and were not murdered will be heralded as some sort of moral victory for America. “Neener neener- we didn’t kill them!” Lost will be the fact that we’ve locked up a bunch of people permanently, some of them guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, given them no chance to face their accusers, allowed no charges to come forward in many cases, and left many of them to rot or take their own lives in protest or in desperation. Another just killed himself recently. Ain’t we just saints!

Just click your heels, say “worst of the worst” a few times, and go get ready to watch American Idol. That will make the stink pass.

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48 replies
  1. 1
    Roger Moore says:

    Hmm, I wonder what might possibly have driven people locked up without charges or hope of release to suicide?

  2. 2
    celticdragonchick says:

    I would not be so quick to assume that it was just suicide. Horton poked some huge fucking holes in the government story and none of those have been addressed at all.

  3. 3
    Steve says:

    Horton is one of the good guys, but if he got snookered on this one, he deserves the loss of credibility that goes along with that fact. Of course, there are a lot of people these days who deserve a loss of credibility and rarely do they seem to get it.

  4. 4
    trollhattan says:

    Gitmo and Abu Ghraib will be millstones on the nation’s neck for a generation, at least. My only question is whether we can ever free ourselves of the mentality that lead us to sinking that low. My magic 8-ball says “unlikely.”

    Also, too, the first of undoubtedly many Sarah(tm) tell-alls. Because comedy ain’t free.

  5. 5

    I don’t know what we’re going to do about it, John. I just don’t. Congress is dead set hard ass against anyone in Guantanamo ever being tried ever. Criminy, I’m not sure I’ve ever HEARD of a 90-8 vote otherwise. I don’t know why, but that stick is so far up their asses it shot out of their mouths.

  6. 6
    Apsaras says:

    Why, oh why, do they hate us?

    I think it’s because they’re jealous of our blue jeans and Arby’s and serialized television programs.

  7. 7
    Fred says:

    Maybe Greewald will offer some solutions how you should think about it. Like electing a Libertarian?

  8. 8
    Mike in NC says:

    That will make the stink pass.

    Not sure the stink left behind by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Yoo, et al will ever go away.

  9. 9
    bkny says:

    ‘asymmetrical warfare’ … not suicide.

  10. 10
    Paris says:

    When the official account contains claims such as :

    And that’s also why, at around 8:30 p.m., just a couple hours before the three men hung themselves, a group of prisoners joined together from their cells to sing a Taliban death song.

    I get suspicious. Any reporter who just regurgitates such crap without question really isn’t to be trusted. Navy personnel are trained to identify Taliban death songs? I think the reporter from AdWeek has his panties in a bunch because as he states, Harper’s isn’t supposed to win stuff.

  11. 11
    alwhite says:

    Come on you sour pusses sing along with me
    Remember “They hate us for our freedom”

  12. 12
    burnspbesq says:

    I’ve been a big Horton fan for several years, so this makes me sad.

    Even if he got taken on this one (which I’m still not prepared to accept based solely on the AdWeek article), the larger reality remains. Gitmo is, was, and always will be an indelible stain on our national character. Unspeakable things were done there, for no acceptable reason.

  13. 13
    Karen in GA says:

    @Paris: A “Taliban death song”? Didn’t the Taliban ban music?

    Reciting a chant for martyrs, maybe. But singing a song sounds unlikely, if they were real Taliban true believers.

    (Nitpick much? Yes, I do.)

  14. 14

    Speaking of medial FAILS: Good Morning America got pwned by a huckster selling the bogus “Botox Mom” story, and now it wants its $10,000 back.

    In other news, the media pays $10,000 for stories like Botox Mom? Do not feel sorry for you assholes, AT ALL. This is why you should never pay for news stories. So you got had? HA HA HA HA HA serves you right.

  15. 15

    In other news, I do remember when the Scott Horton piece fell apart. I’m really sorry this happened because as far as I’m concerned, Harper’s is the only decent magazine worth reading.

  16. 16
    geg6 says:


    Completely agree.

    And since that is a rare event, I thought I should let you know. A kumbaya moment, brought to you by BJ.

  17. 17
    geg6 says:

    @Southern Beale:

    I saw something about that on CBS, I think, last night or Saturday evening. Fucking hilarious. No better than The Star or National Enquirer. I hope George Snufflupagus is real proud of himself and his morning “news” perch.

  18. 18

    Well, I haven’t read the entire article, but it sounds like it’s saying that the flaws (from my quick glance) are:
    1) the story was shopped around – presented to numerous reporters, and
    2) ZOMG, how could that many people participate in a coverup?

    If – note that word, it does not mean “because” – that’s the source of questions about veracity, I don’t see a problem.

    If I knew about something like that, I’d shop it around… I’d want it to get out.

    And, by the time the deaths occurred, everyone at Gitmo who was going to crack had cracked. And everyone at Gitmo would be dirty, having witnessed abuse in their sight or hearing, and failed to stop it.

    A lot of people can keep a secret if they’re guilty of a crime for keeping it.

    Please note that I’m not saying “they were *murders*!”

    I don’t have any facts to substantiate that. I’m just saying that, if shopping the story, and “too many people to keep it a secret” is all they’ve got, they’ve got nothing.

    However… if an ordinary person put another person into a situation in which that person could quite reasonably think the only answer to their suffering was suicide, I’d consider the first to be guilty of murder in a moral sense, even if the law wouldn’t support it.

    And… well.

    I’m not a violent person, okay? But if I was sitting across from the person who came up with the “it was asymmetric warfare! They killed themselves to make us look bad!” I’d smack them upside the head get my ass handed to me when I tried to smack them upside the head for peddling such incredibly hateful bullshit.

  19. 19
    John PM says:

    I don’t think the Adweek piece does anything to lessen Horton’s credibility. I have read the article numerous times and have it here on my desk at work. I think Horton does a very good job detailing the flaws in the investigation into the three deaths and plausibly raises the possibility that the deaths were homicides and not suicides. As others have pointed out, I cannot get past the Taliban death song reference. Does anyone have a You Tube of this? I will take the reputable international lawyer and human rights supporter over a writer at Adweek.

  20. 20
    Daddy-O says:

    I don’t think Scott Horton has lost a single reader or advocate as a result of this mistake. He is not a goddamned fucking liar. He is earnest and honest.

    But sheeeee-it…

    When we make mistakes, we should wear them like medals on our chests. Learn from them. Period. It just doesn’t compare with the Fred Hiatt Clown Show, or the fact that those guys would never have suicided themselves unless they’d been locked up with absolutely no hope whatsoever. The United States government is PARTLY to blame for their deaths either way, make no mistake about THAT.


  21. 21

    @Paris: That reporter is Alex Koppelman, who used to write at Salon.

  22. 22
    Daddy-O says:

    @alwhite: [wishing to Koresh there was a “Like” button here in comments…]

    ha ha

  23. 23
    ChrisNYC says:

    Taliban apparently do sing.

    This is from an Aussie journalist who contributes to Frontline as well. The video is pulled for copyright but the transcript shows singing. To me, the singing in this transcript seems to be devotional.

    This Guardian article says that the ban on music is grounded in its being “entertainment.” Maybe songs to God are ok — same as prayer.

  24. 24
    Mojotron says:

    so the prisoners broke out in a group “death song”, blocked the cells with mattresses to block visibility, we had no videocameras pointed at the cells, and the guards were supposedly “hamstrung” by commanders wanting to “keep the peace” so they couldn’t check on them at regular intervals. “[They] hung up blankets and propped up mattresses in their cells to make looking in more difficult, but not so difficult as to violate the ad hoc rules of the cell block and attract guards’ attention.” Really? hanging blankets to block the view wouldn’t attract attention? That kinda behavior will get you a beatdown at the county lockup, but we’ve supposedly got some commanders with tender fee-fees keeping our american exceptionalism in check.

    Crock. of. Shit. Koppelman’s piece isn’t intended to enlighten, it’s trying to muddy things up more.

  25. 25
    Chet says:

    Many of you are surprisingly quick to believe these “myth debunked” articles that turn out not to debunk anything at all.

    Just because somebody in the media says they just debunked something, doesn’t mean that they did. Anybody who thinks that there’s “too many people in on the conspiracy” should look up how many people were involved, for instance, in the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment, and that remained a complete secret for almost 80 years.

  26. 26
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:


    This Guardian article says that the ban on music is grounded in its being “entertainment.”

    Right. Secular music. Divinely inspired music is fine. If all music was banned, the call to prayers would be illegal.

  27. 27
    ChrisNYC says:


  28. 28
    burnspbesq says:

    FWIW, I don’t always agree with Horton.

    I’m not sold on his take on the applicability of the War Powers Act to Libya. There’s a respectable legal argument that Congress “approved” US involvement in the current action in Libya in 1945, when it ratified the UN Charter. It’s not a slam dunk either way; issues about the relative priority of treaties and statutes under the Supremacy Clause, and when and how and under what circumstances Congress can override a treaty that it previously ratified, are a big ol’ gray area.

    But the fact remains that Horton is one of the good guys.

  29. 29
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    There was a big hoorah at TAS Potemkin Village which resulted in me getting banned as usual.
    my hypoth from the comments:

    Gee…since Conor isn’t going to print MY email, here is your plausible scenario KVS.
    No interrogator PLANS to kill his subject… one deliberately tortures their sources to death….the Bush admin policies were all designed to keep detainees alive while being tortured.
    The plausible scenario is that the CIA/mil were going for a last waterboarding on a detainee sceduled for release. They were torturing all three together either for added terror value, or in hopes that they would impeach each others testimony…..or it was just scheduled for the other 2 to be at Camp No. They accidentally killed one detainee and had to whack the other two as witnesses, and staged a panicked coverup.
    Everyone in the building had clearances except the detainees…they CANT talk without breaking their oath to protect classified data……so all they had to do was snuff the other two detainees and stage the suicides in the cell block for the uncleared to witness.
    Which outcome would you prefer Conor?
    That America has a mil/CIA branch that went rogue and staged a coverup on their own?
    Or that the trail leads right to the Bushcheney torture administration?
    I like the part where the hall monitor videos from the cell block have conveniently disappeared….or did they perhaps magically become classified?
    Would they have shown the Camp No crew hanging bodies up and stuffing notes written in bad arabic into the pockets of corpses?
    Did the panicked Camp No clean-up crewe forget to take the rags out of the detainees throats, thus allowing the autopsy attendents to notice them?
    I like this better and better.

    Conservative pundits piled shit wide and deep on the story, the repubs kept stonewalling O’s appointments, the same mil-team re-investigated themselves and found nuthin, of course, I got banned at TAS again and everone kept on walking.

  30. 30
    Uncle Clarence Thomas says:


    Of course, there are a lot of people these days who deserve a loss of credibility and rarely do they seem to get it.

    The balloonbaggers are not going to like that comment, Steve. Oh, not one bit.

  31. 31
    burnspbesq says:


    We agree far more often than we disagree. One of our biggest areas of disagreement is a very hot-button issue for you. I understand and accept that.

  32. 32
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Hard to tell if someone was trying to murder Horton’s reputation or if he committed career suicide.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:

    Yeah, I have to join the crowd that’s not really seeing the moral victory in the US merely driving people to suicide rather than killing them outright. When you keep people prisoner, you are responsible for their welfare, period. Ignoring people that you know are preparing to kill themselves (like, say, when they and their friends start singing “death songs”) is nothing to be proud of.

  34. 34
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:


    Well, there’s “Oh, gawwwd, I can’t go on anymore” suicide and there’s “How do you like my exploding vest, infidels?” suicide. If these were indeed suicides, it reads as if they be much more like the latter than the former.

  35. 35
    El Cid says:


    Lost will be the fact that we’ve locked up a bunch of people permanently, some of them guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, given them no chance to face their accusers, allowed no charges to come forward in many cases, and left many of them to rot or take their own lives in protest or in desperation. Another just killed himself recently. Ain’t we just saints!

    Yes, yes, that’s all terrible, but Congress won’t do anything so there’s not much use paying attention or talking about it. Somebody needs to explain to those people down there how our political process works.

  36. 36
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    Well, there’s “Oh, gawwwd, I can’t go on anymore” suicide and there’s “How do you like my exploding vest, infidels?” suicide. If these were indeed suicides, it reads as if they be much more like the latter than the former.

    No, it really doesn’t. I’ve seen absolutely no indication that the prisoners tried to injure or kill the guards when they committed suicide. You’re falling into the “they only did it to EMBARRASS us!” trap where someone killing themselves (and only themselves) is somehow a method of asymmetric warfare because shut up, that’s why.

  37. 37

    @El Cid:
    Our political process requires having someone else to vote for. They ALL are dead set against this. I dunno. Some kind of ‘tell your congressman to stop being a dumbass and let these people be tried’ campaign? I’d say they do respond to pressure, but I’d also have said they’re not unanimous about anything.

  38. 38
    Tim, Interrupted says:

    Oh John, grow up!

    Don’t you know?: Those TERRORISTS were arrested, ergo THEY TOTES OBVIOUSLY ARE GUILTY, just like the alleged IMF rape suspect in NYC!

    See the thread below. Totally not necessary to require evidence or trials, you silly boy.

  39. 39
    Chet says:

    Again I don’t see how it’s suddenly been proven that these were suicides.

    Were the hearts, throats, and kidneys that were removed during the government autopsy suddenly located and released? No? Then it’s still impossible to perform a toxicological screen, identify ligature marks, or detect heart failure, all of which you would have to do to rule that these were suicides by hanging and not accidental homicides during “enhanced interrogation”.

    Has there been any explanation of how three men completely unable to communicate with each other were able to perfectly coordinate their suicides? Has there been any explanation as to why someone who was to be released within the week would suddenly kill themselves? Has there been any explanation as to how three men could stuff rags down into their own tracheas, don surgical masks to hold them in (where did those come from), bind their own hands, and then hang themselves?

    Has there been any explanation as to why several of the guards who supposedly saw the prisoners hanging dead in their cells were notified that they were under suspicion of having lied to investigators?

    No? Then I don’t see how “suicide” has been proven.

  40. 40
    jbb says:

    For a piece that’s intended to destroy the credibility of an author and magazine, there’s surprisingly little “there” there, and a whole lot of handwaving away legitimate items.

    I have no idea what happened in those cells, but this piece doesn’t do a good job of refuting Horton’s piece and the various questions he raised. It’s literally just an overwritten appeal to authority that appears to have come from a rather petty place.

  41. 41
    Ghanima Atreides says:


    Cole: More depressing, though, is that the fact these men just committed suicide and were not murdered

    It has not been proven.
    The same investigation team reinvestigated itself. But this is the same as Baghram Theater Detention Center and the A-stan Kill Squad, and the same as not prosecuting Bush and Cheney for warcrimes. That fucking WEC retard Bush put our soldiers into an unwinnable, immoral, and unjustifiable meatgrinder.
    Obama is going to get them out, and he takes his CinC duties pretty damn seriously.
    The troops come first.
    And fuck all the civil libertarian whiners prisonstyle.

  42. 42
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:


    You’re falling into the “they only did it to EMBARRASS us!” trap where someone killing themselves (and only themselves) is somehow a method of asymmetric warfare because shut up, that’s why.

    Yeah, I am falling into that trap because Bobby Sands, that’s why.

  43. 43
    LT says:

    Hold on, John, now you’re going to fast in the other direction. I want to hear Horton’s reaction, for one, and I also noted that – and I’m no doctor, but have been around death – that there rigor mortis thing doesn’t make sense. 2-1/2 hours – actually less – and already showing signs? I suppose they could be talking minute signs, but I’d like to hear more about that.

  44. 44
    4jkb4ia says:

    I read that piece, and thought that it was “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” for our times. I am not sure that the end gives you any confidence that DOJ investigated this any more than Horton did, and that is probably why it won. The case of those three men stands in for all the investigations that weren’t done. The EW commentariat took the piece apart and found many more remaining questions than answers. Especially, we have none of the medical information to tell what happened and we don’t know if they all died at the same time or place.

  45. 45
    LT says:

    @Daddy-O: You … I just don’t get this.

    Is this already completely fucking debunked in your mind? Is that how your mind works?

  46. 46
    LT says:

    Harper’s responds a bit:

    We contacted Harper’s spokeswoman Kathy Park Price, who noted a couple of issues with Koppelman’s report.
    “Please link to Luke Mitchell’s response to Jack Shafer from over a year ago. AdWeek ignored this letter,” she wrote in an email.
    Additionally, “Scott Horton’s article in Harper’s Magazine does not say that the detainees were murdered as AdWeek states. Our article raises questions about the official account.”

  47. 47
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    @4jkb4ia: it was not a DoJ investigation, but a DoD investigation.
    Essentially it was an internal military investigation by the same investigators that had already cleared the investigation once.
    Let me repeat.
    The same thing happened here that happened to the rest of the 2000 Kill Squad videos and pics, and the Baghram Detention Theater pics and testimony. The material is extremely prejudicial against american troops serving in theater.
    It will be suppressed with bribes, cajolery, threats and classification as long as american troops are still harm’s way in A-stan and Iraq.
    Through no fault of their own, our troops were put into that fucking WEC retard Bush’s unwinnable, immoral, unjustifiable meatgrinder, and Obama as CinC is doing his best to extricate us and bring them home.

  48. 48

    One more thing.

    Does Asymmetric Warfare make any sense?

    Did the prisoners know that “three suicides on the same night” would be reported? Did they know that the real story would get out? Did they have any confidence that they wouldn’t be just throwing their lives away?

    The AW defense is based upon the idea that these people had a high degree of confidence that their action would be reported, honestly-enough, and that it might matter.

    Those are assumptions based upon a lot of information that I don’t think isolated people in a cell would have.

    (Note that this doesn’t make suicide an impossibility – but unless we have a lot of information, it makes the official story a despicable sophistry.)

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