“The mass-hanging incident”

According to Los Angeles Times reporter Carol Williams, there was another attempt at mass suicide at Guantanamo in 2003 involving 23 detainees.

IN THE BEST of times, covering Guantanamo means wrangling with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, with logistics so nonsensical that they turn two hours of reporting into an 18-hour day, with hostile escorts who seem to think you’re in league with Al Qaeda, and with the dispiriting reality that you’re sure to encounter more iguanas than war-on-terror suspects.

In the worst of times — this past week, for example — those quotidian discomforts can be compounded by an invasion of mating crabs skittering into your dormitory, a Pentagon power play that muzzles already reluctant sources and an unceremonious expulsion to Miami on a military plane, safety-belted onto whatever seat is available. In this case, that seat was the toilet.

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I’ve been to Guantanamo six times. It was during my first visit in January 2005 that I learned how expressions of polite interest in minute details can elicit some of the most startling revelations. As Naval Hospital commander Capt. John Edmundson showed off the 48-bed prison annex, for instance, I asked, apropos of nothing, if the facility had ever been at or near capacity.

“Only during the mass-hanging incident,” the Navy doctor replied, provoking audible gasps and horrified expressions among the public affairs minders and op-sec — operational security — watchdogs in the entourage, none of whom were particularly pleased with the disclosure that 23 prisoners had attempted simultaneously to hang themselves with torn bed sheets in late 2003.

I’ve only heard about it secondhand, but apparently Bill O’Reilly is saying that he made a trip to Gitmo and saw no evidence of abuse, and therefore there isn’t any. The rest of Williams’ piece is well-worth reading, if only to put such nonsense in context. It’s not exactly as if journalists get free run of the place, even if they work for the official news network of the Bush administration.