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Journalists Question Veracity of Harper‘s Award-Winning Guantánamo Story

Was Scott Horton‘s “The Guantanamo ‘Suicides’” article, surprise winner of the National Magazine Award for Best Reporting, just another empty conspiracy theory?

The premise of the article was that three detainees who reportedly hanged themselves in Guantanamo had actually been killed during a torture session, and President Obama’s administration at minimum failed to fully investigate this because of what a public relations nightmare it would have been. But Alex Koppelman at Adweek argues that the theory doesn’t hold up.

Koppelman says that the story was shopped around to many investigative journalists, including The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh and NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. Several devoted months to investigating the story, but ultimately set it aside after deeming it not credible.  “Only after the big guys passed was the story shopped to Horton,” writes Koppelman. “He won for reporting, but in fact the story fell right into his lap, factual flaws and all.”

What made other journalists pass on the story? For one, Horton’s main sources “were perimeter guards, distant from the prisoners.” When they compared their accounts with “official reports of the suicide… it didn’t match up.”  Moreover, Horton’s story left out a few key details, including the fact that one of the independent autopsies of the prisoners “ended with the conclusion that hanging was, in fact, the most likely cause of death.” And another questionable point is the fact that the story’s source, who reportedly saw the detainees carted off in a white van, had “no way of knowing whether the men he saw were the ones who died later that night.”

The Harper‘s story has met with controversy from the beginning, though the National Magazine Awards stands by its choice.

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