Leading Law Professor: Guantánamo Was Used to Conduct Laboratory Experiments on People

The US government has used the Guantánamo Bay detention camp as “America’s battle lab,” in which to conduct “laboratory experiments” on living human beings, according to a leading law professor.

Mark Denbeaux, a law professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law and Director of the school’s Center for Policy and Research, has a history of working on very high-profile cases. In 1997, he was selected to be a forensic expert for the trial of Timothy McVeigh, a far-right, anti-government terrorist who bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building, killing 168 people and injuring over 600.

Mark Denbeaux CREDIT: His Seton Hall faculty page

Mark Denbeaux
CREDIT: His Seton Hall faculty page

Denbeaux is one of the world’s most prominent scholars on Guantánamo. He has published a great many reports on its practices, and co-edited the 2010 book The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law. He has even brought these reports to testify before Congress.

On 15 January 2015, Professor Denbeaux was interviewed on Democracy Now. The topic of discussion was the 9 June 2006 deaths of Gitmo detainees Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, who the Pentagon claims committed suicide. Human rights attorney Scott Horton, legal affairs and national security contributor to Harper’s magazine, lecturer at Columbia Law School, and former president of the International League for Human Rights, joins Denbeaux in contesting this claim, explaining:

SCOTT HORTON: We were able to see how they had concluded the suicides occurred. And they state that these three prisoners bound their feet, bound their hands with cloth, stuffed cloth down their throats, in some some cases at least, put masks over their faces to hold the cloth in place, fashioned manikins of themselves to put in their beds to deceive the guards, put up cloth to obstruct the view of cameras, fashioned a noose, which they attached at the top of an eight foot wire wall, stepped up, as their hands and feet are bound and their gagging on cloth, stepped up on top of a washbasin, put their head through the news, tightened it, and jumped off. And moreover, that these three prisoners in nonadjacent cells did all of these things absolutely simultaneously in a clockwork-like fashion. So the story is just simply incredible. Simply, not believable, I should stress.

Denbeaux exposes why the US government is so concerned about covering up these deaths—because it was not just torturing Guantánamo detainees; it was using them as human guinea pigs in deadly laboratory experiments.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Mark Denbeaux, you have worked on this issue of what happened that night of June 9, 2006 in Guantanamo for many years. You have also worked with Joseph Hickman on this. And your research center has just come out with a new report called, “Guantánamo: America’s Battle Lab.” Could you lay out what you find in this report?

MARK DENBEAUX: Yeah. Our investigation over this time first found that the NCIS report could not have been a credible the legitimate process. So, our next question was, and we published something on that called Death at Camp Delta. The next question was, how could it be so incompetent? It was one thing, as a student said, to imagine people who had killed people would want to cover it up, but why would investigative bodies cover-up deaths? And we did our second report was called Uncovering the Coverups which came out last summer.

But, the real question still was, what is the motive? And it turns out that the motive that we found, which was before the Senate report came out, was quite clear that the general in charge of the camp had been placed there by the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in February 2002, the general who thought he was in charge of the camp, a General Baccus, who was an MP who was applying the Geneva Convention — a general in charge of detention, an MP. And he, as a general in charge of detention, he was applying the Geneva Conventions. He was removed and General Dunleavy replaced him, followed by General Miller. General Dunleavy has, under oath, said that he got his marching orders directly from the president of the United States requiring him to meet in person once a week with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Dunleavy and his successor General Miller have both repeatedly characterized Guantánamo as America’s battle lab.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what does that mean?

MARK DENBEAUX: Well, the best thing that we have been able to figure out when we started looking — that phrase caught everyone’s attention. And so, the first thing that we looked into was, what were the experiments there? And we were able to find and discover some of the laboratory experiments were there, including giving them drugs that would cause psychotic breaks for up to 30 days as soon as they arrived, and a variety of other things that were given to them over a long period of time.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Which had never been used in any context before.

MARK DENBEAUX: The drug they used, they claim, was to used to help with malaria. However, there is no malaria in Guantánamo, there is no malaria in Cuba and every person who was brought there had already had a medical examination in Afghanistan and was proven to have no contagious diseases. So, it was a psychotic, really, inducing drug, which had been used for considerable period of time by other sources in order to break down the state of mind of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor, you’re saying that this camp was used to experiment on people.

MARK DENBEAUX: Yes. That is what General Dunleavy referred to when he referred to it as America’s battle lab. That is what General Miller was referring to when he described Guantánamo as America’s battle lab, and he was Dunleavy’s successor. The only question was, what were the experiments? And of course the question became fairly clear once we discovered this giving of these psychotic inducing drugs they gave them the minute people arrived.

AMY GOODMAN: So, go back to that night of June 9, 2006 into June 10. We have just heard staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman describe what he saw as the prisoners were taken away. What did you come to understand?

MARK DENBEAUX: Well, he contacted us three days after President Obama was inaugurated with a — describing something that seemed implausible. It was simply counterintuitive to imagine that these people had died as he reported them. And we spent two days interviewing him and we were still somewhat skeptical. And our students then took the NCIS report that had come out, which was 1700 pages of jumbled, redacted doctrines, and what through it. And it took them three months to go through it. And they would make little discoveries that was sort of support Joseph’s position. One was, they all had rigor mortis when they came in a clinic. Well, how could you have rigor mortis if you are hanging in a cell being watched by five guards, and there are 24 people being watched by five guards and they were supposed to see them every three minutes? Once they found that, the students sort of began to peel layers away.

They discovered the only guards who had ever reported that the detainees were dead hanging in their cells prior to making that statement had been formally advised, they had their Miranda rights, they had made false statements prior to that, and that if — they had a right to counsel a right to remain silent. Instead, they repeated the story that Admiral Harris had said four days earlier. One of my students said, why would you have every one of the witnesses to the event have to have a formal Miranda warning documented — they had to sign. And another student said, well, if they made false statements to NCIS before that, where are the false statements in the file? And when nobody could find those false statements, it just led to information piling up after piling up.

Nobody wanted to call it murder because we didn’t know, but nobody could believe it was suicide. So, their compromise, trying to be careful, was “Death in Camp Delta.” We brought that to Scott Horton with Joseph Hickman. And Scott then went further and took the entire investigation and did his — the first report.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Mark Denbeaux, from the investigations that you have done on what happened that night, and do you have any sense of — were these people, the three detainees who died, were they deliberately targeted or was it an experiment gone wrong?

MARK DENBEAUX: Well, I guess the answer is, I don’t know. I mean, three people died under circumstances that were different from the investigative report. I think probably the closest I can get to is trying to figure out what the motive would be for these coverups and these false statements. And I think my own view is, a legitimate investigation into what would have caused their deaths, and answered your question — was it deliberate, was it accidental — would apparently have revealed a great deal of other activities that were taking place in Guantánamo that would have been something that our administration at that time would never have wanted to be revealed. They certainly wouldn’t want to have showed that Guantánamo was an intelligence operation, not a detention facility.

I’ve always wondered why they would bring 779 of the most dangerous people in the world closer to the United States. And, of course, it turns out that the answer was, it was part of this program that began with marching orders directly from President Bush. So, I’ve concluded that we don’t know why or how they died by an experiment or otherwise, but, an investigation into that would have answered that question, but it also would have revealed things the general Dunleavy and General Miller inadvertently revealed later on.

In the aforementioned book The Guantánamo Lawyers, which was edited by Denbeaux, lawyer Joshua L. Dratel also calls Gitmo “a human laboratory,” one “designed and implemented to break human beings physically, emotionally, psychologically, and culturally.”