Adweek reports that several major media outlets deemed the Guantanamo suicide revisionism “more flight of fancy than fact”
The lead story on Adweek‘s website is this piece by Alex Koppleman examining Scott Horton’s guano-crazy Guantanamo suicide article and the American Society of Magazine Editors’ suprising decision to honor it with a major journalism award. Adweek reports that before lawyer/writer Scott Horton picked up the story, which Harper’s published, his sources unsuccessfully attempted to shop their tale to several prominent reporters and media outlets, including The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, the New York Times, 60 Minutes, ABC News. amd NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. The article quotes Miklaszewski as saying that after he reviewed thousands of pages of documents and interviewed at least a dozen people, he concluded that the story wasn’t credible: “It stretched all credulity, I thought.” How credulous, then, must the American Society of Magazine Editors be to bestow the prestigious National Magazine Award for Reporting on the piece?
The Adweek article also notes that while Horton’s article discussed Swiss pathologist Patrice Mangin’s autopsy report on one of the dead detainees, Horton omitted Mangin’s conclusion that the “cause of death is most likely the consequence of mechanical asphyxia by violence exercised against the neck as part of a hanging, without being able to formally exclude a different mechanism.” In other words, Mangin concluded that the cause of death probably was hanging — just like the various military investigations into the deaths concluded.
Horton’s article also drew sinister inferences based on a van traveling from Camp Delta down a particular road: “In that direction, past the perimeter checkpoint known as ACP Roosevelt, there were only two destinations. One was a beach where soldiers went to swim. The other was Camp No.” Anyone who has ever been to the detention camps at Guantanamo knows that’s false. I’ve driven through ACP (Access Control Point) Roosevelt dozens of times and not once was I coming from or going to the beach or what Horton calls “Camp No.” Rather, I was driving from the military commissions building to the detention camps or from the detention camps to the Navy chow hall, the BOQ, the commissary, or any one of a number of destinations on the Naval Station side of the base. Because ACP Roosevelt was on the main road between the GTMO Naval Station facilities (including the military commissions complex) and the detention camps, anyone who needed or wanted to travel between the two went through ACP Roosevelt.
Adweek confronted Horton with this geographic reality. Here’s his response: “It’s true, of course, that when you drive out and you get on roads, you could take roads almost anywhere, there were connections that went on, but everyone I spoke with said ‘No, you would not have driven to that part of the base using that road, there were other roads that would have taken you there much more directly.’”
First, note that Horton’s response contradicts what he wrote in his article. According to the article, “past the perimeter checkpoint known as ACP Roosevelt, there were only two destinations.” Yet Horton now concedes that “you could take roads almost anywhere.” Those who have been onboard Naval Station Guantanamo will be amused by Horton’s observation that “you could take roads almost anywhere,” since you can’t go very far before hitting the fence line, the bay, or the Caribbean. His quotation reinforces the impression that Horton has never been to Guantanamo Bay and made little effort to understand it. But those places you could go to from the detention camps beckoned from beyond ACP Roosevelt.
Next, on to his point that according to everyone he spoke with “you would not have driven to that part of the base using that road.” That makes me wonder who he spoke with. I drove between the Naval Station side of the base and the detention camps many times from 2005 to 2007 — both before and after the June 2006 suicides. Every time I did so, I went through ACP Roosevelt. I’ve been a passenger in other people’s vehicles when they drove between the detention camps and the Naval Station. Every time, they went through ACP Roosevelt. Vans transporting detainees from the detention camps to the military commissions building drove through ACP Roosevelt. One of my colleagues is an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was part of JTF GTMO in 2007. I asked him today how he traveled from the JTF area — which includes the detention camps — to the Naval Station side of the base. His answer? Through ACP Roosevelt.
There are a couple of videos of ACP Roosevelt on the web. Consider, for example, this one. Note all of the cars going through the checkpoint. Gee that would be a lot of traffic for a beach and a secret interrogation facility. Which do you suppose Horton would think is generating more of the traffic, the beach or the black site? Of course, probably none of those cars are coming from either a beach or a secret interrogation facility. Instead, they’re coming from the housing areas, offices, recreation facilities, restaurants, bars, and other locations on the Naval Station side of the base.
If everyone Horton spoke with told him that a vehicle traveling between the detention camps and the Naval Station side wouldn’t go through ACP Roosevelt, then good cause exists to question the number and veracity of his sources. I’ll bet that if Horton were to speak with anyone else who has been to the detention camps, they would tell him that they themselves have passed through ACP Roosevelt for purposes other than going to the beach or a secret interrogation facility.
In recent days, Horton’s article and the American Society of Magazine Editors’ award have been criticized by my CAAFlog colleague Cully Stimson, First Thing’s Joe Carter (here and here), and the Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes. And in the wake of the award, I noted here that Horton’s article is inconsistent with statements by a released Guantanamo detainee in Afghanistan — an unlikely member of a conspiracy to hush up deaths caused by Americans subjecting Guantanamo detainees to brutal interrogation methods.
Could the inexplicable decision to bestow a National Magazine Award on Horton’s jeremiad actually produce a salutary effect? It has inspired reporting, such as Adweek‘s article, that further undermines Horton’s piece. In 1981, Janet Cooke’s selection as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing helped to reveal that she had made up her story about Jimmy, an 8-year-old heroin addict. While it’s unlikely that Horton’s piece will be quite so thoroughly discredited, Alex Koppleman’s Adweek article could provoke second thoughts by some who had previously mistaken Horton’s wild speculation for fact.