By Andy Worthington
Published simultaneously here and on Andy Worthington's website.
Over the weekend, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni, became the ninth prisoner to die in Guantánamo. Adnan had been repeatedly cleared for release -- under President Bush and President Obama, and by a U.S. court -- but had never been freed, like so many others in that disgraceful prison, which remains an insult to the rule of law ten years and eight months since it first opened.
Adnan was one of the prisoners profiled in our major report in June, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, and the overturning of his successful habeas corpus petition by politically motivated judges in the D.C. Circuit Court in October last year -- and the refusal of the Supreme Court to rebuke the court, just three months ago -- was notorious amongst attorneys for the prisoners and those interested in justice and the law, even though -- sadly and shockingly -- it had not awakened appropriate outrage in the mainstream media.
Last May, when the eighth prisoner died at Guantánamo -- a man named Hajji Nassim, known to the U.S. authorities as Inayatullah, who had serious mental health problems -- I wrote an article entitled, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin, which was horribly accurate, as the last two prisoners to leave Guantánamo had left in coffins. The other, Awal Gul, had died in February.
At that time, unfortunately, there was little interest in the mainstream media in asking if refusing to release anyone from Guantánamo was an acceptable policy, when there were 87 men in the prison who had been cleared for release by President Obama's Guantánamo Review Task Force, but who were still held because of political inertia, support for their indefinite detention in Congress, hostility towards them in the D.C. Circuit Court, indifference in the Supreme Court, and a lack of sufficient outrage in the media or amongst the American people.
Now, perhaps, there will be a change. In the 17 months since Hajji Nassim died, just three more living prisoners have left Guantánamo, meaning that, of the last six to leave, just three have left alive. This would be a disgraceful statistic for any President, but it is particularly so for President Obama, who promised to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, but then failed to do so.
I will be writing more about Adnan Latif soon, but in the meantime I recommend those who are interested in knowing more to check out my archive of articles about his tragic case, which I have been following since 2006. Every death at Guantánamo is deeply felt, because these men were not deprived of their liberty by any legal means, but Adnan's death is particularly shocking, as he was obviously so vulnerable and had been so scandalously scorned and abandoned by his captors, who didn't care that his arbitrary detention -- and that of many other prisoners -- was essentially barbaric behavior.
Below is a poignant and powerful statement issued by Adnan's lawyers, which I hope will be read and understood by anyone who cares to know why it is important that Guantánamo is closed, and that the 86 cleared prisoners who are still alive are released as soon as possible. I hope it also shows how it is necessary to behave with decency and respect for the law, and how, at Guantánamo, it is crucial not to accept the arbitrary detention of men against whom -- in most cases -- nothing resembling evidence of terrorist activities, or support for terrorism, has ever been established.
Adnan Latif's death in U.S. custody at Guantánamo is a tragedy. It could have been avoided.
Adnan spent more than ten years in Guantánamo -- nearly a third of his life -- but, like most Guantánamo detainees, he was never charged with a crime or accused of violating any law.
Adnan was slightly built and gentle, a husband and a father. He was a talented poet, and devoutly religious. The Administration cleared him for transfer back in 2009, but he was a Yemeni, and the Obama Administration will not send Yemenis home -- even if, like Adnan, they have been cleared for transfer by a unanimous decision of all responsible agencies after a comprehensive review of the evidence.
Because Adnan was from Yemen, he remained imprisoned for three more years after being cleared -- not for anything he supposedly did, but simply because of where he came from.
More tragic ironies abound. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that he should be released, but a divided appeals court overturned that ruling in a widely criticized decision a year later. Three months ago, the Supreme Court declined to restore the ruling, and instead let his case go back to district court for a new hearing that, sadly, will now never occur.
Amnesty International was about to launch a new worldwide campaign on his behalf.
Adnan consistently denied the government’s claims and maintained his innocence. He said that he was in Afghanistan when the United States began bombing in October 2001 because he was seeking free medical treatment for injuries he had suffered in a car accident as a teenager.
Fleeing Afghanistan, Adnan was captured and brought to Guantánamo, and held on claims that he was part of the Taliban. He was among the first detainees to arrive in January 2002. The military and the Administration cleared him for transfer, yet fought in court to keep him imprisoned.
Adnan endured great suffering at Guantánamo -- physical and spiritual -- and lived in constant torment. He complained of physical pain, impaired hearing and vision, untreated rashes, open sores, and unexplained bruises. He protested what he saw as the injustice of his confinement by hunger striking and injuring himself. He became mentally fragile and was at times sedated, placed on suicide watch, and sent to the prison’s psychological unit.
Adnan spent more than ten years in a foreign land separated from his family, his loved ones, and his home. He was charged with no crimes. He was cleared for transfer because the government did not believe his detention was necessary for our national security.
Yet he could see no end to his confinement.
However he died, Adnan’s death is a reminder of the injustice of Guantánamo, and the urgency of closing the prison. May this unnecessary tragedy spur the government to release the detainees it does not intend to prosecute.
David Remes (Contact: 202-669-6508 / firstname.lastname@example.org )
S. William Livingston
Brian E. Foster
James M. Smith
Philip A. Scarborough
Roger A. Ford
Marc D. Falkoff