WASHINGTON — As the lights flickered off above them, more than two dozen detainees began to raise their voices in prayer and other songs, a din the guards dismissed as harmless.
Three of the detainees stuffed water bottles and toilet paper under their bedsheets to create the illusion of sleeping bodies, and they each strung up walls of blue blankets in their metal mesh cells, seeking cover from their captors' glances.
Then, with strips of white sheets, T-shirts and towels wound into nooses, the three detainees in Guantanamo Bay's Camp 1, Block Alpha, hid behind the blankets and hanged themselves. For hours, the guards failed to notice the first deaths to occur at the controversial U.S. military detention facility.
The simultaneous suicides on June 10, 2006, raised claims from top U.S. military commanders that the detainees were engaging in "asymmetric warfare" against the United States. More than two years later, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry and other documents reveal that the men took advantage of lapses in guard protocol and of lenient policies toward compliant detainees to commit what suicide notes described as an attack on the U.S.
"I am informing you that I gave away the precious thing that I have in which it became very cheap, which is my own self, to lift up the oppression that is upon us,'' wrote Ali Abdullah Ahmed Naser al-Sullami of Yemen, 25, who had been on one of the longest hunger strikes at Guantanamo. In a note folded into his shirt pocket, Sullami wrote: "I did not like the tube in my mouth, now go ahead and accept the rope in my neck."
Contained in more than 3,000 pages of U.S. military investigative documents, medical records, autopsies and statements from guards and detainees is a rare view inside the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and one of the worst episodes of its six-year history. The documents from the NCIS investigation, which will be released under the Freedom of Information Act, were obtained Friday by the Washington Post.
They make clear that Sullami and Saudis Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mana Shaman Allabard al-Tabi, 32, carefully planned their suicides so that they would be able to prepare and carry them out without their guards taking notice.
Investigators and U.S. military officials believe, according to the documents, that other detainees were aware the suicides were about to happen and at one point chanted a song called "kill them all" — used by al-Qaida and the Taliban after killing Americans — possibly to mask the sounds of death on the cellblock.
Investigators found that guards had become lax on certain rules because commanders wanted to reward the more compliant detainees, giving them extra T-shirts, blankets and towels. An internal investigation found six violations of Guantanamo's procedures.