September 9, 2013
Exactly a year ago, on September 8, 2012, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, died in circumstances that are still disputed. The US authorities claim that he committed suicide by overdosing on psychiatric medication that he had hoarded, but that has always seemed unlikely, given that the prisoners at Guantánamo are closely monitored, and it has become clear that he was moved around the prison on a number of occasions before his death, making the hoarding of medication even more unlikely.
Despite the inconsistencies in the US authorities’ account of Adnan’s death, it is undisputed that, throughout his ten years at Guantánamo, he had attempted to commit suicide on several occasions. A talented poet, and a father, Adnan also had severe mental health problems, the result of a car crash in Yemen many years before his capture. Adnan always claimed that he had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in search of cheap medical treatment for his head wounds, in contrast to the US authorities’ attempts to portray him as a member of al-Qaeda.
Those claims, however, evaporated over the years of Adnan’s long and pointless imprisonment, as he was cleared for release on three occasions, only to discover that decisions to release prisoners meant very little, especially in the case of Yemeni prisoners. At the time of his death, 87 of the remaining 167 prisoners had been cleared for release, by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009, but were still held, and 57 of these men were Yemenis.
Congressional opposition and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital on Guantánamo had led to this intolerable situation, but in the Yemenis’ case there was an added obstacle — a moratorium on releasing any Yemeni prisoners, which President Obama had issued in January 2010, in response to the hysteria that had greeted the news that a failed bomb plot in December 2009, in which a Nigerian man had tried and failed to detonate a bomb in his underwear on a flight into Detroit, had been hatched in Yemen.
I explained the extent to which Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif was failed by all three branches of the US government in an article published a week after his death, entitled, "Obama, the Courts and Congress Are All Responsible for the Latest Death at Guantánamo," in which I wrote:
I felt sick when I heard the news: that the man who died at Guantánamo last weekend was Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni. I had been aware of his case for six years, and had followed it closely. He had been cleared for release under President Bush (in December 2006) and under President Obama (as a result of the Guantánamo Review Task Force’s deliberations in 2009). He had also had his habeas corpus petition granted in a US court, but, disgracefully, he had not been freed.
Instead of being released, Adnan Latif was failed by all three branches of the US government. President Obama was content to allow him to rot in Guantánamo, having announced a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane in December 2009. That ban was still in place when Latif died, and had been put in place largely because of pressure from Congress.
Also to blame are the D.C. Circuit Court and the Supreme Court. Latif had his habeas corpus petition granted in July 2010, but then the D.C. Circuit Court moved the goalposts, ordering the lower court judges to give the government’s alleged evidence — however obviously inadequate — the presumption of accuracy. Latif’s case came before the D.C. Circuit Court in October 2011, when two of the three judges — Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Karen LeCraft Henderson — reversed his successful habeas petition, and only Judge David Tatel dissented, noting that there was no reason for his colleagues to assume that the government’s intelligence report about Latif, made at the time of his capture, was accurate, as it was "produced in the fog of war, by a clandestine method that we know almost nothing about." In addition, Judge Tatel noted that it was "hard to see what is left of the Supreme Court’s command," in 2008′s Boumediene v. Bush ruling, granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, that the habeas review process be "meaningful."
Despite this, when the Supreme Court had the opportunity to take back control of the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas petitions in June […], through a number of appeals, including one by Latif, they refused.
I have written a number of other articles about Adnan since his death, most recently an article published in July, entitled, "EXCLUSIVE: The Last Days in the Life of Adnan Latif, Who Died in Guantánamo Last Year," in which I explored the inconsistencies in the official account, drawing on the US military’s report into his death, obtained through FOIA legislation by my colleague Jason Leopold, and on unclassified notes from a meeting in Guantánamo between Abdelhadi Faraj, a Syrian prisoner, and his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, who made the notes available to me exclusively.
In that article, I accepted the military’s own conclusions that, as I put it, "the rules regarding the treatment of prisoners — and especially of disturbed individuals like Adnan — were repeatedly ignored," and also noted that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has not yet completed its own investigation into Adnan’s death, but as I also explained, drawing on my experiences covering the six other deaths at Guantánamo described contentiously as suicides, "the NCIS has a record of producing inadequate reports following alleged suicides at Guantánamo, and it is clear that what is actually needed is an independent investigation."
As I also explained, "Adnan Latif deserves nothing less, but it is extremely unlikely that it will ever happen, because transparency and accountability are still words that are not even remotely associated with the running of the dreadful 'war on terror’ prison at Guantánamo Bay, whose continued existence ought to be a source of enduring shame for all decent Americans."
When Adnan died, I made a promise to try and ensure that his death would not be in vain, and would not lead to other prisoners who, like him, had been cleared for release but were still held, dying at the prison from which they were supposed to have been freed.
His death is an indelible black mark on any claim that America believes in justice and fairness, but, distressingly, little effort has been made to make sure that other cleared prisoners do not die at the prison. In February, despairing at ever being released or given any form of justice, the majority of the surviving prisoners embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike, endangering their lives to awaken the world to their plight.
The hunger strike, which led to renewed outrage about Guantánamo, finally prompted President Obama into action. In May, he delivered a major speech on national security issues in which he stated, "I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries."
Despite this, however, just two prisoners — both Algerians — have been released. President Obama is lucky that no one has died as a result of the hunger strike, which is still ongoing, with 20 men currently being force-fed twice a day, but that should not be the basis of his policy decisions.
The president needs to understand that establishing a review process that clears prisoners for release but then continuing to hold them for years — and possibly for the rest of their lives – is unacceptable under any circumstances. The 84 other cleared prisoners who are still held must be released as soon as possible.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the "Close Guantánamo" campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
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