- By Andy Worthington
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
Even in death, injustice stalks former Guantánamo prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who died at the prison in September, six years after he was cleared for release. At “Close Guantánamo,” we covered Adnan’s story at the time of his death, and quoted his lawyers, who stated, “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.”
We continue to believe that the death of Adnan Latif is the most powerful reminder of why President Obama must take the lead on releasing the 86 surviving prisoners cleared for release by his interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which issued its report in January 2010, and, in particular, the 55 cleared prisoners whose names were publicly made available for the first time ever by the government in a court case in September, as we explained in our exclusive report, “Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?“
Moreover, while we regard Adnan Latif’s death as the most compelling reason for these men to be released immediately — above and beyond the fact that holding prisoners cleared for release makes a mockery of all notions that the US is a nation founded on respect for the rule of law — we are also concerned that the truth about his death has not been told, and that attempts may be being made to hide uncomfortable truths about how he died.
When Adnan Latif’s death was first reported, the US authorities stated that there were no signs of “self-harm” on his body when he was found “motionless and unresponsive” in his cell on the afternoon of September 8, 2012, in Camp 5, a block where prisoners regarded as troublesome are held.
However, as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) was assigned to investigate Adnan Latif’s death, the official statements dried up, and it was only through dogged investigation that Jason Leopold of Truthout, who has been determined to keep a focus on the story of Latif’s death, found out that his corpse was being held at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and had not been returned to his grieving family in Yemen.
That in itself was troubling, but after many long months the US authorities have now contradicted their initial story, claiming — in an autopsy report that has not been publicly released, and that will not be commented on officially by the US authorities until after Latif’s body has been returned to Yemen — that Latif committed suicide through overdosing on psychiatric medication.
This claim, however, appears to be profoundly unreliable. David Remes, one of his lawyers, told the New York Times that, as the Times put it, “there was reason to be suspicious about how his client was overmedicated.” Remes “voic[ed] skepticism that he could have hoarded his daily dosages without detection,” noting that Latif “was under ‘intense scrutiny’ — including regular monitoring by guards and cameras.”
Remes also “suggested” that his client “may have negligently been given too many pills that day,” which he doubted, “or that the authorities might have deliberately given him access to too much medication hoping he would kill himself.”
One unidentified official discounted Remes’s theories, saying, as the Times put it, that “investigators were working from the premise that Mr. Latif pretended to swallow his drugs for a period and hid the growing stash on his body.” TheTimes added, “Prison monitoring policies — including how closely guards inspect detainees’ mouths after giving any medication and search their private areas — are now facing review.”
However, through further investigations, Jason Leopold has uncovered a troubling chain of events at Guantánamo prior to Latif’s alleged suicide that also casts doubt on the official story.
In an article entitled, “Latif Autopsy Report Calls Gitmo Death a Suicide: Questions Remain,” published on November 26, Leopold explained that Capt. Robert Durand, a JTF-GTMO spokesman, told him that Latif was sent to Camp 5 Alpha Block, where prisoners are held in isolation, “after being ‘medically cleared,’ because he assaulted a guard with a ‘cocktail,’ a mixture of bodily fluids and food.” Neither he nor another spokesperson, Capt. Jennifer Palmeri, would say when this took place, but Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, told David Remes that Latif was in Camp 5 only a day or two before he died, and that he was his “neighbor.”
Aamer’s statement is central to a chain of events established by six prisoners in total who spoke to David Remes, who, between them, established that he “was first sent from Camp 6 to a psychiatric ward, then the prison hospital and then to Camp 5.” As Leopold described it, “Aamer told Remes last month that, in early August, Latif was in the recreation yard at Camp 6 when he threw a stone at a guard tower and broke the spotlight; he was then taken to the psychiatric ward connected to the prison facility’s hospital.” Another prisoner pointed out that Latif was housed in a wing of the hospital reserved for hunger strikers, and Aamer also said Latif “was on a hunger strike at the time of his transfer to Camp 5.”
Furthermore, Shaker Aamer “contends Latif was told on September 6, two days before his death, he would be given an ‘ESP injection,’ that other prisoners claim ‘makes you a zombie’ and ‘has a one-month afterlife,’ according to unclassified notes of the meeting between Remes and Aamer.”
No one can find any reference to what an “ESP injection” is, but Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye, writing for Truthout, have spent several years investigating medical experimentation at Guantánamo, including obtaining a Defense Department Inspector General’s report, through the Freedom of Information Act, in which it was noted that “Guantánamo prisoners who act out are ‘chemically restrained’ with unknown medications.”
Shaker Aamer also told David Remes that, “on September 5, three days before his death, Latif broke a fence and ‘escaped,’ presumably from the psych ward, and was then taken to the hospital at the urging of another prisoner who said it would ‘calm him.’”
After explaining that Latif was moved to Camp 5 on September 6 or 7, just one or two days before his death, Aamer also said that Latif “protested his transfer into the cell at Camp 5 because of the constant buzzing noise from a generator located behind a wall.” Aamer told Remes, “He fought and fought against going there.”
Leopold reported that another prisoner “said a female psychologist accompanied Latif from the hospital to Camp 5,” and that Remes had been told by another prisoner that “the minimum stay [in Camp 5] is three months, ‘regardless of the magnitude of the offense.’”
The female psychologist apparently “said she would communicate Latif’s concerns about being housed in Camp 5 to ‘higher-ups,’” although it is unknown if she did. According to Remes, “Latif said he was happy at the hospital and eventually wanted to return to Camp 6,” although another prisoner said that a guard told Latif that “he would never return to Camp 6.”
That may have been an idle threat, but in the circumstances it is difficult not to wonder if there was more to it, and if the “escape” — and Latif’s persistent troublemaking, caused through his long-standing mental health problems, based on head injuries suffered during a car crash in Yemen in 1994 — led to something other than suicide.
Details of the incident that led to Latif being moved from Camp 6 to the hospital and then to Camp 5 certainly contradict the unnamed official who suggested that Latif had been hoarding his medications so that he could kill himself by taking an overdose.
As Jason Leopold described it, other prisoners “said Latif threw the rock at the guard tower because he was not given his medication ‘on time or not at all,’ according to unclassified notes of meetings between Remes and a half-dozen other prisoners that took place in September and October.” According to these accounts, “Latif went out to the rec yard of Camp 6 and, through an interpreter, sought assistance from guards, asking them to contact ‘the clinic people’ for his medication.” One prisoner said, “The guards waved him off, so he picked up a rock and threw it at one of the towers in the rec area, breaking a spotlight.”
That was during Ramadan, and it “resulted in dozens of soldiers being called into the rec area, some of who rolled up in Hummers, fired their weapons into the ground and threatened to kill Latif,” according to the accounts of several prisoners who were present — and that, of course, is an even more explicit example of a death threat than the veiled one mentioned earlier, in which a guard told Latif that “he would never return to Camp 6.”
Another prisoner provided another perspective on the death threat, but in a more general context, although it is easy to see how Latif could have been singled out, given that he had thrown the rock and had a history of disruption. This prisoner stated, “The guards came into Camp 5 with guns, and beat up the detainees. Other soldiers surrounded the camp. [The Officer in Charge] came and told detainees, ‘You are extremists and I’m going to deal with you in a harsh way. You intend to kill our soldiers; we’ll do the same thing to you.’”
Given the profound doubts about other alleged suicides in Guantánamo — at least four of the six other supposed suicides (excluding Latif’s) — these aspects of the story of Adnan Latif’s death are profoundly disturbing, especially when no explanation has been provided for the removal of his corpse to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, away from all outside scrutiny.
Is there more to the story of Adnan Latif’s death than we have been told? Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we wish to state unequivocally that the public needs to know the full story of his death, and that, although we await the results of the NCIS investigation, sometime next year, we believe that a full outside investigation should be allowed to proceed.
Adnan Latif, scorned in life, deserves nothing less in death than to have the truth of his death properly explained — that, and the release of all the other cleared prisoners who all run the risk of dying before being freed, comprehensively undermining America’s claim that it believes in fairness and justice and showing the world that, as demonstrated at Guantánamo, it is a place of cruelty, secrecy and contempt.
Andy Worthington is 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.