Whopper of the Week: Ari Fleischer.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
May 30 2003 1:28 PM

Whopper of the Week: Ari Fleischer

Suicide as a lifestyle choice.

"The prisoners in Guantanamo are … receiving far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously."

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"The Pentagon reported on Wednesday two new suicide attempts by prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, expressing fresh concern as the total number of suicide tries reached 27.

"Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in the past 10 days one detainee attempted to kill himself for the first time, while another made a repeat attempt. She said neither man was injured and both received medical and mental evaluation.

"Burfeind said 18 detainees have tried to kill themselves—most by hanging—and that there were 27 total attempts by these detainees since the Guantanamo facility was opened in January 2002. She said there were numerous repeat suicide attempts, and some may have tried more than twice.

"Roughly 680 prisoners are being held at Guantanamo."

Will Dunham, Reuters, May 28.

Discussion. The Taliban surely punished unauthorized suicide attempts more harshly than the U.S. military does. Whether execution would constitute kinder or more severe punishment is a question Chatterbox leaves to philosophers. Better to focus on the suicide attempts themselves. Granted, Chatterbox made no scientific comparison examining this cohort's rate of attempted suicide at Guantanamo with that under its former Taliban masters during a comparable 16-month period. Nonetheless, Chatterbox seriously doubts even the most repressive Talib commander could get 3 percent of his platoon to try to scrag themselves, and at any rate, he feels confident Fleischer did not have the data in hand when he made his rash pronouncement.

Mightn't the Guantanamo prisoners be ingrates? We know they're eating better than they were, though apparently their cells are smaller than the tiny wire-mesh ones they first occupied. Still, Chatterbox believes that the best indication of how someone is being treated is that person's own testimony, and until a poll is taken ("Are you better off than you were two years ago?"), he will let the rate of suicide attempts serve as the leading indicator.

Got a whopper? Send it to chatterbox@slate.com. To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

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