Sunday, January 31, 2010
Op Ed Re: Gitmo "suicides"/Homicides
Fayetteville NC Observer – Published, Sun Jan 31, 2010
Latest Gitmo shocker makes waves
By Chuck Fager
Who would have guessed it?
The case of the three Guantanamo prisoners found dead in June 2006, who were originally called suicides but maybe weren't, has many angles.
And one unexpected twist is that it might bring long-parted schoolmates together again.
In the early 1970s, "Billy" McRaven and Scott Horton were students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in San Antonio.
I talked with Horton in New York City last week. He explained that he and Billy were both from military families. McRaven wound up in the Navy while Horton went to law school. Each advanced in his profession.
Today, McRaven is an admiral. And he's commander of the Joint Special Operations Command.
JSOC, as it's called, may be the most secretive of the many secret groups based at Fort Bragg.
JSOC reputedly brings together such units as the Army's Delta Force, the Air Force's combat controllers and other clandestine units for missions the rest of us are never supposed to hear about.
While details are few, indications are that, in recent years, JSOC has been particularly busy.
And how are they doing? Well, when the Washington Post's Bob Woodward asked the former president in his book, "The War Within," the reply was simply, "JSOC is awesome."
Whatever that means operationally, JSOC has also been extremely adroit in avoiding media or congressional scrutiny.
But could that start to change? This is where Adm. McRaven's old schoolmate enters the story.
Since high school in Texas, Scott Horton has successfully practiced international law, including human rights cases in many countries.
But he is no radical. When the "war on terror" began after 9/11, he told me, he was not an antiwar skeptic or a pacifist.
In fact, he had friends in both the military and intelligence agencies.
It was the off-the-record, uneasy reports from these contacts that got his attention - alarmed talk of disappearances, torture, secret prison sites, a disregard for all the laws and rules of war. A cascade of deeds to make any honorable American soldier ashamed.
"This wasn't a question of occasional abuse," Horton told me. "In any prison system, you'll have some abuses. But this was a matter of torture as policy. Policy coming down from above."
And torture, as has been noted in this paper before, is a federal felony. It's also a war crime under international law.
These informal reports were followed by one public shock after another. There was Abu Ghraib, torture flights (most taking off from North Carolina), "black site" prisons, coverups (Pat Tillman, anyone?).
Following up these and other cases turned Scott Horton into one of the most determined and tenacious human rights attorneys and investigators working the ongoing "torture beat."
Dropping a bombshell
You ask me, we need more like him. The official probes of torture, such as they may be, are proceeding at a languid crawl behind tightly closed doors. Either that or they have yielded reports most notable for coverups, blackouts and whitewash.
Then earlier this month, Horton dropped a triple-barreled investigative bombshell into this set of polite croquet matches.
It came in a detailed report for Harper's Magazine, charging that the 2006 deaths at Guantanamo were not suicides at all.
Instead (Bombshell No. 1), the three prisoners had been murdered, probably during torture.
Furthermore (Bombshell No. 2), the killings likely occurred at a previously undisclosed "black site," on the edge of Gitmo itself. It's been dubbed "Camp No," as in, "No, it does not exist." But it does.
And not least, as for where the culpability lies, Horton says all fingers of available information point at (Bombshell No. 3) JSOC.
Which brings us around to Adm. McRaven, Horton's old classmate.
Horton's report has been featured in hundreds of papers around the world (including this one). But so far it has been met with shifty "non-denial-denials" in Washington, and the SOP of stony silence from JSOC itself.
Horton's charges were backed up by the testimony of conscience-stricken soldiers, former Gitmo guards. They knew about Camp No, and they also knew that the original suicide story was false.
Horton told me he's since talked to more potential witnesses.
But despite this persistence, will Horton's new report get any real traction?
So far, the U.S. torture impunity express has been chugging along without a bump, scarcely noting the change of conductors a year ago this month.
Horton says he's hoping for public hearings in Congress. If his witnesses had the chance to tell their version of what happened, it might break through the coverup. And JSOC might even be obliged to answer some uncomfortable questions in public.
If it did, though, and abuses were uncovered, Horton told me he would want them fixed. He's not out to get JSOC abolished. "There's a proper place for it in limited, very dangerous wartime situations," he insisted.
"But it looks as if JSOC's been shielded from scrutiny and accountability, so when mistakes have been made, they haven't been corrected."
Congress seems a weak reed to lean on these days, but Horton is not giving up.
I wish him luck. But maybe a more direct approach would also be worth a try. Here's my scenario:
"Adm. McRaven, your old homey Scott Horton is on the line. Yes, that Scott Horton.
"Sure, he's got some issues. But like your former commander in chief, he too says that JSOC is awesome.
"It's just that the truth, especially about Camp No - that, sir, would be awesomer."
Chuck Fager, the director of Quaker House in Fayetteville, is the author of the books "Selma 1965: The March That Changed The South" and "Eating Dr. King's Dinner: A Memoir."