End 22 Years Of Injustice

“I Am Not Even Allowed To Hear My Own Story”: A Letter from Guantánamo by Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release But Still Held By Donald Trump

A photo of Abdul Latif Nasser, taken at Guantánamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.

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By Andy Worthington, July 26, 2020

Since the vocal British resident Shaker Aamer and the best-selling author and torture victim Mohamedou Ould Salahi were released from Guantánamo, in 2015 and 2016, the prison population has lacked a prominent and well-known face to illuminate its continuing injustice.

This has been particularly unfortunate because, for the last three and a half years, Guantánamo has been largely forgotten by the mainstream media, demonstrating, to anyone paying attention, that a dangerous and unprincipled leader (in this case, Donald Trump) can, in a supposedly liberal democracy, make people forget about a gross and lingering injustice largely by pretending that it doesn’t exist — or, in Guantánamo’s case, by metaphorically sealing it shut and largely ignoring it.

This is particularly shameful because Guantánamo is not just a symbol of injustice; it is also the place where the United States’ notion of itself as a country that respects the rule of law was sent to die on January 11, 2002, and has been dead ever since. At Guantánamo, 40 men are still held, but the majority of those men are still held in the same despicable conditions of lawlessness that first prevailed on that winter morning over 18 and a half years ago when the Bush administration first released photos of the prisoners it intended to hold, without any rights whatsoever, and quite possibly for the rest of their lives.

In the last 18 years, there have been challenges to this grotesque lawlessness. The prisoners, after a long struggle, secured the right to habeas corpus, but that right was extinguished by politically motivated appeals court judges, and has not been reinstated. A handful of the men still held (nine in total) are involved in what passes for justice at Guantánamo — a novel trial system, the military commissions, that is mired in a Groundhog Day nightmare, as prosecutors try to hide all evidence of the men’s torture in CIA "black sites," while the defence teams constantly try to expose it — but the rest of the men are still, fundamentally, held without rights, their release dependant on the whim of the president, or of lawmakers in Congress, and not on anything resembling the rule of law.

The ongoing imprisonment of 26 of these men is justified because panels of military and intelligence officials approved their continued detention as part of a parole-type review, the Periodic Review Boards, that was set up by President Obama. Under Obama, the PRBs led to the release of 36 men who would otherwise have continued to be held forever, and so, to that extent, they were a success, but under Trump the process has withered under a commander in chief who stated, even before he took office, that "there must be no more releases from Gitmo," and, as a result, the 26 men still subject to the PRBs have now boycotted the process, having correctly concluded that it is now a sham.

For five other men, the layers of injustice run even deeper, as all were unanimously approved for release under review processes established by President Obama, but were not released before he left office. Three of these men were approved for release by the the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, and which spent a year reviewing the cases of all the prisoners Obama had inherited from George W. Bush. That task force recommended the release of 156 of the remaining 240 prisoners inherited by Obama, and all but these three men were released before Obama left office in January 2017.

The other two men were approved for release by the Periodic Review Boards, in 2016, but didn’t manage to make it out of Guantánamo before Trump took over. One of the two, Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan national, was particularly unlucky, because the paperwork approving his return to Morocco only arrived on the desk of the defense secretary 22 days before Obama left office, and, by law, Congress was required to be given 30 days notice before any prisoner release. Nasser, therefore, missed out on being released by just eight days.

In the years since, his story has been reported several times, including by us, and earlier this year he arguably became the best-known of the "high-value detainees"), when his story was covered in "The Other Latif," a six-part podcast by WNYC Studios, part of New York Public Radio, as part of journalist Latif Nasser’s exhaustive investigation into how and why someone with the same name as him was held at Guantánamo.

We promoted "The Other Latif" back in May, and we’re glad to note that numerous other media outlets also picked up on it, including Esquire Middle East, who ran a long article by Latif Nasser about his project.

Esquire Middle East has now followed up with a poignant and powerful open letter by Abdul Latif Nasser, which we are cross-posting below. In it, Nasser explains how he has coped with being stuck at Guantánamo, under Donald Trump, despite having been unanimously approved for release by high-level representatives of the U.S. government. It was, he makes clear, a process that hurled him into a profound despair, from which it took an extraordinary effort to recover — and the title of our article refers to his reflections on hearing about "The Other Latif." As he states, "Of course, they had to make it without me. I am not even allowed to hear my own story."

Nasser’s powerful open letter is a testament to human endurance, and presents a portrait of the most extraordinary grace under pressure that is the very opposite of every aspect of the existence of the man who continues to holds him so cruelly at Guantánamo: Donald Trump.

We hope you will share it if you find it as moving as we do.

An open letter from Guantánamo Bay
By Abdul Latif Nasser, Esquire Middle East, July 21, 2020

Earlier this year, we ran a story of two men called Latif Nasser. One was a journalist on a quest to track down his namesake, only to find him being held indefinitely without trial within the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay — the world’s most infamous prison.

Following the creation of Nasser’s podcast ‘The Other Latif’, a spotlight was cast on the case of inmate 244. Here he speaks for the first time.

The following is an open letter from ISN 244, Abdul Latif Nasser, written exclusively for Esquire Middle East.

My lawyer tells me people know my name now. I suppose it beats being a number. For the last 18 years at Guantánamo Bay I have been ISN 244. Now there is a podcast about my life, The Other Latif. Of course, they had to make it without me. I am not even allowed to hear my own story.

Three years ago, I was unanimously cleared for release by the six federal intelligence agencies charged with keeping the USA safe. They concluded I was "no threat to the U.S. or its coalition allies" — as I have said all along. But then, before I could be sent home to Morocco, Donald Trump was elected with a promise that there would be "no further releases from Gitmo."

The time since I was cleared has been the hardest. Before, I experienced the profound isolation of being held in solitary confinement for years, the fear of dying on hunger strike and the helplessness of being force-fed. But there is something uniquely painful about knowing your freedom lies in the hands of one man who will not let you go.

After Trump became president, I lost my desire for sleeping, eating or doing anything except locking myself inside my cell and crying bitterly. For the first time in my life I hated myself, detested everything in this world, and could not stand talking to anyone. I was on the verge of losing my mind.

For three months, I lay awake every night. I only learned how to sleep again after reading a book about Napoleon. When he was exiled to Elba, he too suffered from insomnia, so he took a plot of earth and turned it into a garden. He worked the soil every day, until he was so tired that he needed to sleep.

I started to do something similar. I exercise, read and practice my vocabulary, until I am exhausted.

This is also my way of resisting: I can do nothing about my captivity, but I can stay busy and try to stay healthy. There are many small, pointless cruelties here that seem designed to maintain hostility between prisoners and guards. Many detainees don’t take care of themselves because it will just prolong their suffering. I refuse to give in.

Reading has helped me. I have learned so much about other cultures in the last few years. When you read a story, you immerse yourself in different minds, and start anew. There is a saying I enjoy: you cannot put your hand in a pot of glue without some of it sticking. It’s the same when you start learning about the world.

Books also help me experience those things I have lost. I enjoy books about love, relationships and morals. There are so many things I cannot experience, but in books, you have infinite possibilities. I miss my family terribly, and wish I had the opportunity to start a family of my own. At least I can experience some of this through stories.

I try to make the most of my relationships with the other prisoners, as we only have each other. I especially enjoy my conversations with Saifullah Paracha, the oldest detainee at Guantánamo Bay. We spend our weekends talking in the recreation yard over cups of instant coffee.

One morning, he pointed out that no-one else was awake yet. "The yard is completely empty, except for two crazy people," he said. What else can we do but laugh?

What must my life look like, from the outside? What do the people listening to my story on the radio make of it? Even President Trump thinks it is "crazy" that the U.S. spends $13 million each year to keep me here — one guy from Morocco, long since cleared by the military and intelligence services. So what is stopping him from taking his own advice and sending me home?

To strip someone of his freedom, to deny him a trial, to reduce him to utter despair — these are violations of basic rights as a human being. I hope readers remember that when they think of me here, trapped in a story I cannot read, hear or control, waiting for a happy ending that never comes.

Yours sincerely,

Abdul Latif Nasser