This article, published simultaneously here and on Andy Worthington's website, contains exclusive information from the unclassified notes of a visit to Abdelhadi Faraj -- a Syrian prisoner, and one of 86 men cleared for release from Guantánamo but still held -- by his attorney, Ramzi Kassem, in October 2012. During that visit, Faraj spoke about the death of Adnan Latif, the Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo last September, and the notes from that visit are compared and contrasted with the military's own account, as described in a report released to the journalist Jason Leopold through FOIA legislation at the start of July 2013.
By Andy Worthington, July 19, 2013
Ten months ago, on September 8, 2012, Adnan Latif, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, died in his cell. While no one at the time knew the circumstances of his death, it was clear that, however he had died, it was the fault of all three branches of the U.S. government -- of President Obama and his administration, of Congress, and of the Supreme Court and the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court).
Latif, who had severe mental health problems, had been cleared for release in 2006 by a military review board under George W. Bush, and again by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009. He also had his habeas corpus petition granted by a District Court judge in July 2010, but the Obama administration appealed that ruling, and the D.C. Circuit Court overturned it in November 2011. In 2012, when Latif appealed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land refused to accept his case (or those of six other prisoners), and three months later he was dead.
Two weeks ago, in response to a FOIA request submitted by the journalist Jason Leopold, the military released its report into Latif's death, which found that the prison guards and medical personnel responsible for him had failed to follow the prison's rules in dealing with him, and that Latif himself had "hoarded medications and ingested them shortly before he was found unresponsive in his cell."
However, not everyone finds this explanation convincing.
The report added that doctors at Guantánamo had diagnosed Latif with “Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder with antisocial traits,” and had described one of his mental breakdowns as “manic with psychotic features, possibly affected by Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)." The report also stated, “In layman’s terms, all of these diagnoses translate into an individual that would be unstable in mood, personality and relationships. The diagnosis also means that the individual would be difficult to live or work with and would be prone to impulsivity and to harm self or others, generally living life from one crisis to another.”
In a footnote, it was also noted that the diagnoses of Latif's condition had "evolved over the course of his detention," suggesting, as Leopold described it, that "his indefinite detention may have contributed to the deterioration of his mental health."
I think that latter point is absolutely beyond doubt, and is an indictment of the failures of those who could have released him -- primarily President Obama, who imposed an unacceptable blanket ban on releasing Yemenis in 2010, after it was revealed that a foiled airline bomb plot had been hatched in Yemen; Congress, where lawmakers also imposed their own unreasonable ban on releasing Yemenis in the National Defense Authorization Acts in 2011 and 2012; and the courts mentioned above.
In a detailed analysis of the report, published on July 3, Jason Leopold pieced together the last few months of Latif's life, which I am supplementing with information I was given by Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at CUNY (the City University of New York), who represents a number of prisoners in Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
Last year, Ramzi Kassem gave me exclusive access to notes from his meetings with Shaker Aamer, which were published here and on my own website (see here, here and here), and he has now allowed me to have access to notes from a meeting with another of his clients, Abdelhadi Faraj, on October 29, 2012, less than two months after Adnan Latif's death, in which Faraj specifically discussed Adnan's death.
Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj) is a Syrian who, like Adnan, was cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (along with 85 other men), and is now taking part in the prison-wide hunger strike, in which he is one of 46 men being force-fed. In the notes from October last year, he explained that he was with Adnan in Camp VI during Ramadan, which, last year, began on July 20. He said that Adnan "had been repeatedly asking for certain medications but it was to no avail," adding, "As a protest gesture, he covered up the camera in his cell with wet tissues but still there was no response to his request for medications, so, frustrated, he went out to the recreation yard."
In the yard, Adnan saw Faraj and explained the situation to him. He also "asked Faraj to act as an interpreter, using his limited English," to tell an Assistant Watch Commander (AWC), who was going up to the watch tower overlooking the rec yard, that he wanted to request an interpreter.
The AWC explained that "he could not get him an interpreter out in the yard," and that "he had to go request the interpreter from the commander on the cellblock." At that point, Faraj explained, "Adnan got frustrated, lost his temper, dug up a rock from the yard, and threw it towards the watchtower, breaking one of the large searchlights." When the AWC came out of the tower booth to see what was happening, Adnan "pelted him with small stones."
At this point, a number of soldiers "came pouring into the yard." Faraj "calmed them down, and tried to defuse the situation," but in the meantime, "Adnan dug up another rock and threw it, breaking the other watchtower’s searchlight."
More guards then came into the yard, "wielding a large tear gas canister." The officer in charge also came out with the riot squad. This was a reference to the IRF (Immediate Reaction Force), also known as the ERF (Extreme Reaction Force) or, according to the military report, the QRF (Quick Reaction Force), a group of armored guards who punish all infringements of the rules -- and perceived infringements of the rules -- with brutality.
Faraj "tried to talk down the soldiers" and tried to talk down Adnan as well, but it was too late. The riot squad "took Adnan inside, to one of the small meeting rooms in the camp that were once used for attorney-client meetings," where, Faraj heard, "a psychologist talked to him."
That incident in the rec yard was the last time Faraj ever saw Adnan.
This took place towards the end of July, according to the military report, when Latif was apparently involved in "multiple incidents" of aggression, including the "rock throwing incident" described by Faraj. As Jason Leopold described it, "the military report blamed Latif's refusal to take medications during his fast for Ramadan for precipitating the events," which appears to directly contradict Faraj's statement that Latif "had been repeatedly asking for certain medications but it was to no avail."
Although Faraj never saw Adnan again, he did hear about what subsequently happened to him. He said that he was moved out of Camp VI "to the Behavioral Health Unit and then to the hospital." Faraj added, "He stayed in those places for approximately six weeks, before being moved to the punishment camp," where "he barely lasted a day."
In fact the sequence appears to have been slightly more complicated -- although it ended with the visit to Camp V (or, as Faraj called it, "the punishment camp"), where Adnan died. However, he had apparently also been there for a few days in August as well.
The military report claims that, on August 2, Adnan was involved in another "incident," this time in the Behavioral Health Unit recreation yard, which resulted in a visit from the QRF, and the administration of three emergency injections. A week later, when he seemed to be calmer, he was moved to the DH (Detainee Hospital), where it was noted that he "did extremely well", and "was getting a lot of support from other detainees at that point."
A major change seems to have occurred between August 23 and 26, when Adnan was "moved twice" for unspecified "operational reasons" -- firstly, on August 23, to Camp V, the maximum-security block described by Faraj as "the punishment camp," and then back to the Detainee Hospital on August 26. One person interviewed by the military noted that, during this period, Adnan "was drafting many dark poems."
According to the report, on September 6, there were discussions about moving Adnan back to Camp V on September 10 or 11. Adnan was told about the move, and was apparently happy for it to go ahead, but later that day he "began spontaneously yelling and kicking, and threw his portable urinal thereby splashing a guard."
The next day, someone whose name was redacted "asked the Senior Medical Officer" and someone else whose name and role were redacted "whether there was a medical or psychiatric reason that ISN 156 [Latif] could not serve his discipline time" -- presumably, for his outburst the day before.
One of these individuals said to the other "that she viewed ISN 156's recent behavior as willful, and that there was no medical or reason that ISN 156 could not serve his discipline time." it was also noted that Col. Bogdan, in charge of detention operations, "indicated that based on that, he decided to send ISN 156 to Camp V for discipline."
Told that he was going immediately to Camp V, Adnan became "increasingly agitated" over the next few hours, and tried to delay his departure. Another prisoner, whose name was redacted, was also being moved, and tried to calm Adnan. It was noted that he "had been accompanying ISN 156 through the camps in recent moves," and "was considered a close friend of ISN 156 and one of the few people who could calm him."
Adnan "wanted to know what specific tier they were going to at Camp V." Camp control indicated that "they did not have that information," but reassured him that he and the other man "would be kept together."
In a footnote, the report explained, "Several of the cells at Camp V are designed for single cell detention, distinct from the communal cells on Camp Delta (communal) block, where it was originally envisioned ISN 156 would be transferred. The single cells are used to house detainees on discipline who meet certain criteria of the detainee disciplinary matrix."
It was also noted:
Camp V houses several categories of detainees on its five blocks. One block is for communal, compliant detainees. Another block contains convicted detainees, and another block is used for single cell detention for those detainees in a disciplinary status. There was considerable discussion regarding where ISN 156 would be housed at Camp V. [Redacted] indicated, for example, that ISN 156 had "a lot of bad memories" of Alpha Block -- events that occurred during earlier rotations including splashing, self-harm, and Forced Cell Extractions (FCEs).
Accordingly, [redacted] recommended against housing [Latif] in Alpha Block. However, "because there were issues involving another detainee in Camp V, ([redacted], who in the past had encouraged detainees to commit suicide) on Charlie Block, [redacted] discussed the matter with [redacted]. They agreed to allow the guard force to determine the best location for ISN 156. The guards placed ISN 156 on Alpha Block.
Although his friend was across the way from him, this was clearly going to be extremely difficult for Latif, and it is no surprise that Abdelhadi Faraj stated that, after his move, "he barely lasted a day."
In fact, as the report explains, Adnan himself had said just before he was moved, "something along the lines of 'when I die, it will be on you' and 'you know that you have killed me sending me [to Camp V].'"
To make matters worse, the report also notes that "another unidentified member of the military "recalled that earlier in the day, around 1400, a [redacted] analyst from the [redacted] arrived with a Force Protection Report indicating that [redacted] was saying that ISN 156 was suicidal and was going to kill himself." This individual "recalled asking the analyst whether he knew what method ISN 156 intended to use to kill himself. The analyst indicated that he did not know, and followed up the exchange with an email."
That email was apparently forwarded to Col. Bogdan, but he claimed he did not see it until after Adnan's death.
By 6pm, Adnan was in Alpha Block on Camp V and "causing a racket," according to the report. Officials came and spoke to him, but at 10pm he "was still jumping around, now with a towel tied around his neck that he was using as a cape and smearing honey on his face."
Eventually, however, he calmed down, and appeared to be asleep by midnight. One of the guards stated that he "did not recall seeing ISN 156 'lift his head or move all night' but did recall seeing ISN 156 breathing. [He] noted that in his experience, it was "odd" that ISN 156 would have slept that long, as he was usually a very active sleeper. [He] noted that he had 'never seen ISN 156 sleep that much,' pointing out that ISN 156 usually slept for only a few hours at a time, and even then, continued to move all over his cell in his sleep."
That, of course, should have triggered some sort of response, if, of course, it is true. According to Abdelhadi Faraj, however, other prisoners told him that "they heard Adnan’s last words around four in the morning." Moreover, in contrast to the official story, which involves Adnan hoarding medication and killing himself, he "was asking for medication."
Ramzi Kassem's account of his meeting with Faraj concluded, "From that point until the afternoon, not a sound was heard from Adnan’s cell. At that point, another prisoner (Shaker) asked the guards to check on him and that is when they found him inert."
Faraj added, "Adnan never left that isolation room in the punishment camp: not for exercise, food, or the restroom. He was under constant observation in that room. The door was transparent, there was a camera, and guards were watching."
As Ramzi Kassem stated, Abdulhadi believes that the "only possible explanation" for Adnan’s death is that "it was internal, something the authorities gave him, either a drug overdose, or a misdosing of medication issued."
Whether by design or neglect, this appears to be true. Certainly, as we learn more of this story, in broken pieces, the notion that Adnan hoarded medication, during his many moves in the six weeks before his death, continues to sound implausible, and although it is clear that the rules regarding the treatment of prisoners -- and especially of disturbed individuals like Adnan -- were repeatedly ignored, that is not enough to dispel the dark shadows that still engulf Adnan's death.
A report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has not yet been completed, but 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. 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.
My thanks to Ramzi Kassem, and to his students at CUNY, Sarika Saxena and Fabiana Araujo, for making the notes of the meeting with Abdelhadi Faraj available to me.