As of today, the results of the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions stand at 38 victories for the prisoners against 15 victories for the government, after two recent rulings. On July 21, Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. granted the habeas petition of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 34-year old Yemeni, while, in another courtroom, Judge Reggie Walton denied the habeas petition of Abdul Rahman Sulayman, a 31-year old Yemeni.
The judges’ unclassified opinions are not yet available, so their reasoning is not yet known, but the rulings prompt three immediate responses: firstly, that Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, whose suicide attempts and mental illness have been apparent for many years, should be released immediately; secondly, that this is unlikely, given the Obama administration’s unjustifiable moratorium on releasing any Yemeni prisoners, even those who have won their habeas petitions; and thirdly, that the ruling in Abdul Rahman Sulayman’s case can only be construed as a victory for the government when viewed through very narrow parameters.
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a mentally troubled Yemeni, wins his habeas petition
For Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, Judge Kennedy’s ruling appears to vindicate what his lawyers have maintained for years: that he is an innocent man who had sought medical treatment in Afghanistan. As one of his lawyers, David Remes, explained after the ruling, “This is a mentally disturbed man who has said from the beginning that he went to Afghanistan seeking medical care because he was too poor to pay for it. Finally, a court has recognized that he’s been telling the truth, and ordered his release.”
26-year old Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (identified by the Pentagon Ab Aljallil Allal or Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd) stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000.
In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Latif appeared bewildered, refuting what he believed was an allegation that he came from a place called al-Qaeda by saying, “I am from Orday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda. My city is very far away from the city of al-Qaeda,” which perhaps reinforces his claim that he had traveled to Afghanistan to receive treatment for a fractured skull.
In an analysis of his client’s case in 2007, Marc Falkoff pointed out that the authorities alleged, in the unclassified summary of evidence against Latif, that he was “an al-Qaeda fighter,” that in 2000 he “reportedly traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan” and “reportedly received training at the al-Farouq training camp,” and that in April 2001 he “reportedly returned to Afghanistan” and “reportedly went to the front lines in Kabul.” He added, “[W]hen I first saw the accusations, I thought they looked serious [but] when I looked at the government’s evidence, I was amazed. There was nothing there. Nothing at all trustworthy. Nothing that could be admitted into evidence in a court of law. Nothing that was remotely persuasive, even leaving legal niceties aside.” At most, he added, “there was incredibly unreliable hearsay, often taken from other detainees who were — in the words of a military representative — ‘known liars,’ or else whom we now know to have been tortured.”
Despite this, the authorities in Guantánamo attempted — initially, at least — to portray Latif as a devious al-Qaeda operative who had been trained to resist interrogation (as they did, to be honest, with numerous other men seized in a random manner, many of whom were innocent). Prior to his tribunal hearing at Guantánamo in 2004, convened to confirm that he had been correctly designated as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without charge or trial, his Personal Representative (a military officer assigned in place of a lawyer) noted that he “[r]ambles for long periods and does not answer questions” and “[h]as clearly been taught to ramble as a resistance technique.”
Latif’s suicide attempts and probable schizophrenia
In fact, as later became apparent, Latif was unwell. In August 2008, Marc Falkoff filed an “Emergency Motion to Compel Access to Medical Records of Petitioner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif and for Other Miscellaneous Relief” (PDF). The motion was triggered because Latif had been prevented from having a blanket and a mattress in his cell, even though he was in a very poor state, and Falkoff wrote that he “visited with Mr. Latif yesterday at the Guantánamo Bay military prison and fears that Mr. Latif — whose body weight has dropped in the last six weeks from 145 to approximately 107 pounds — is near death.” He added, “Mr. Latif is not on a hunger strike, and the cause of his alarming weight drop appears to be unknown,” and also stated, “Mr. Latif is also manifesting signs of schizophrenia, for which he is apparently not being treated.” Falkoff reinforced this observation elsewhere in the motion when he declared that the government had “been aware for years that Mr. Latif suffers from serious psychological problems, apparently including schizophrenia.”
Even so, the authorities were reluctant to abandon their portrayal of Latif as a conscious troublemaker, as is demonstrated by the following notes in the summary of evidence for his military review board in March 2005: “Detainee’s overall behavior has been non-compliant and aggressive. Detainee does not comply with guards instruction. Detainee continues to talk between the blocks. Detainee also has multiple occurrences of causing damage in his cell. Detainee has shown by his actions that he has little regard for the rules of the cellblock and does not respect his fellow man.”
In fact, far from demonstrating deliberate non-compliance, Latif was in such a precarious mental state that he attempted to commit suicide on a number of occasions. In an appeal issued in May 2009, Amnesty International noted that he had “attempted suicide several times since September 2008,” and that he “told his lawyer that on one occasion in November 2008, he tried to hang himself twice in one day.” The Amnesty report added, “At least one of these attempts was confirmed to his lawyer by an official at Guantánamo.”
Amnesty’s appeal was triggered in particular by a suicide attempt that took place on May 10, 2009, when he cut one of his wrists during a meeting with David Remes. After the incident, Remes explained that Latif “chipped off a piece of the stiff veneer on the underside of our conference table and used it to saw into a vein in his left wrist … As he sawed, he drained his blood into a plastic container and, shortly before it was time for me to leave, he hurled the blood at me from the container.” As Amnesty also explained, “A spokesman at Guantánamo confirmed the incident took place but said it could not be classified as a suicide attempt.”
Amnesty also noted that Latif had been “held in solitary confinement in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo since at least November 2008,” and that he told his lawyers that “when he is awake he sees ghosts in the darkness, hears frightening voices and suffers from nightmares when he is asleep.” He also told his lawyers that he had “ingested all sorts of materials including garbage bags, urine cups, prayer beads, a water bottle and a screw,” that he had “eaten his own excrement and smeared it on his body” and that he had “used his own excrement to cover the walls of his cell door, the camera on the ceiling of his cell and the air vent in his cell.”
In addition, Amnesty noted that Latif reportedly suffered from “a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee.” Latif also said that he suffered “constant throat and stomach pain which [made] it difficult for him to eat,” but that, instead of dealing with this in an appropriate manner, the authorities strapped him in a restraint chair and force-fed him up to three times a day through a tube pushed up his nose into his stomach.
Just two months ago, Amnesty International issued another appeal, and noted little improvement in the intervening 12 months, stating that Latif was “held in isolation,” and that in March this year he told his lawyer that he “continues to be subjected to ill-treatment and indicated that he feels suicidal.” At the time, Latif was held in isolation in Camp 5, which, as Amnesty explained, “holds the few remaining hunger strikers at Guantánamo” and others, like Latif, who had once been on hunger strike but had abandoned that particular response to the conditions in which they were held. Amnesty noted that the majority of the remaining prisoners were living in communal conditions in Camps 1, 4, and 6, but that, although Latif’s lawyers had asked the authorities to move him to one of the other camps, they had had no response.
In a letter to his lawyers in March 2010, Latif stated that he was regularly subjected to violent assaults by the Immediate Response Force (IRF), a group of guards who punish even the most minor transgressions with disproportionate violence. “IRF teams enter my cell on [a] regular basis,” he wrote in his letter. “They throw me and drag me on the floor … two days before writing this letter [the IRF team] strangled me and pressed hard behind my ears … I lost consciousness for more than an hour.” He added that the circumstances in which he was living “makes death more desirable than living … I find no taste for life, sleep or rest.”
Abdul Rahman Sulayman, a minor Taliban recruit, loses his habeas petition
From the publicly available information about Abdul Rahman Sulayman, whose habeas petition was denied by Judge Reggie Walton, it appears that he was one of several Guantánamo prisoners recruited by Ibrahim Baalawi (also known as Abu Khulud), allegedly a facilitator for Osama bin Laden, who, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “escaped from Tora Bora and would clearly have been a much bigger catch than any of the foot soldiers rounded up instead.”
In Guantánamo, Sulayman claimed that Baalawi recruited him under false pretences with tales of the good life in Afghanistan. He “promised me that I’d be able to get married in Afghanistan. He may have had different intentions for me other than the marriage, but I didn’t know,” he told his tribunal, adding that he was also told, “you can go to certain counties and they’ll give you a house, even if it’s an old house, and some financial assistance to get married. That’s without having to contribute anything at all. It’s a charity type of thing from these people. If you put yourself in my shoes, what would you do?”
This was not the whole story, as Sulayman also conceded that, after arriving in Afghanistan in March 2001, he stayed in Kabul for seven months, and then, when given the opportunity to go to the front lines or the second lines or to return home, he went to the second lines because he didn’t want to fight but he also didn’t want to return home. It was there, he said, that he received some weapons training, and later, after the US-led invasion began, he fled to Pakistan in the company of men that he didn’t know, where he was seized and handed over to US forces.
This, presumably, was enough for Judge Walton to conclude that he had been “part of” al-Qaeda or the Taliban, which is all that is required for the prisoners to lose their habeas petitions, even though much of the other supposed evidence was demonstrably false, and almost certainly produced by unreliable witnesses, either in Guantánamo or in other US-run prisons. These included ludicrous allegations that he was identified as a mortar instructor from a video made in the Tarnak Farms training camp in 2000 (before he arrived in Afghanistan), that he “was identified as an al-Qaeda spokesman and was part of Osama bin Laden’s entourage … during the escape from Tora Bora,” and that he was identified as a Taliban prison guard “who used torture techniques on inmates under his control.”
No escape from Guantánamo for either man
While Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s successful habeas corpus petition should lead to his immediate repatriation from Guantánamo, this is unlikely given the moratorium on releasing any prisoners to Yemen — even mentally ill prisoners whose release has been ordered by a US court — that was announced by President Obama in January, following the discovery that the failed Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen.
As I have maintained ever since the moratorium was announced, this was a cowardly and unjust move on Obama’s part, conceived and executed in response to sustained hysteria from lawmakers and the media, when what was actually required was a leader prepared to stand up to his critics, and to point out that refusing to repatriate Yemenis in Guantánamo — even if they had been cleared for release by President Bush, by Obama’s own Guantánamo Review Task Force, and/or by a US court — only sent out one message: that everyone in Yemen was a potential terrorist, and that guilt by nationality was an acceptable reason for refusing to release any of these men.
In the Obama administration’s compromised, pragmatic world, the absurdity of continuing to hold 59 Yemenis cleared for release by the Task Force (including some or all of the other three men who won their habeas petitions, but are still held) apparently means nothing, even when, as has become apparent in the last few months, the moratorium has obliged the Justice Department to challenge the habeas corpus petitions of prisoners whom the administration has already conceded it has no reason to hold.
The only exception, to date, has been Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized in Pakistan, whose wrongful arrest was so blindingly obvious that the administration was unable to contemplate holding him any longer. Distressingly, the administration also attempted to justify his release by noting that he came from a good family, and as a result Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif may have to reflect that, despite his victory, he will only be released if his story causes the mainstream media to pay attention, and if he comes from a good family.
As for Abdul Rahman Sulayman, he joins the small group of other prisoners (14 at present), who have lost their habeas petitions, and are consigned to endless detention at Guantánamo on an apparently legal basis, even though he and the majority of those 13 men were minor players in a military conflict that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, or other acts of international terrorism, and who should, therefore, have been held as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions, rather than being held as a unique category of human being in an experimental prison established to hold “the worst of the worst.”
In Sulayman’s case, it would appear that his ability to challenge his detention has come to an end until someone in authority decides that the legislation justifying his detention — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks — is inappropriate, and that the men held at Guantánamo are either soldiers, or criminal suspects involved in terrorist activities, rather then the “enemy combatants” conjured up by the Bush administration. He has the right to appeal, of course, but as recent rulings by the D.C. Circuit Court have shown, the majority of judges dealing with the prisoners’ appeals are not only unconcerned by these questions, but are actually dedicating themselves to eroding the District Court’s ability to grant prisoners’ habeas petitions by attempting to lower the already low burden of proof required by the government to win its cases in the first place.
With the Circuit Court in such aggressive form, not only does Abdul Rahman Sulayman stand little chance of winning an appeal, even though there is no evidence that he ever raised arms against US forces, but even Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s successful habeas petition could be overturned, consigning a mentally ill man to the kind of ongoing detention that would make Obama’s unprincipled moratorium irrelevant.
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 and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, as “Guantánamo: A Mentally Ill Yemeni and a Minor Taliban Recruit.” Cross-posted on Cageprisoners, Eurasia Review, The Public Record and Uruknet.
For an overview of all the habeas rulings, including links to all my articles, and to the judges’ unclassified opinions, see: Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List. For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer (November 2009), Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere) (November 2009), Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait (December 2009), What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo? (December 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit (December 2009), Serious Problems With Obama’s Plan To Move Guantánamo To Illinois (December 2009), Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights (January 2010), Fear and Paranoia as Guantánamo Marks its Eighth Anniversary (January 2010), Rubbing Salt in Guantánamo’s Wounds: Task Force Announces Indefinite Detention (January 2010), The Black Hole of Guantánamo (March 2010), Guantánamo Uighurs Back in Legal Limbo (March 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit (April 2010), An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition (April 2010), With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic (April 2010), Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims (April 2010), Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture (April 2010), Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo (April 2010), How Binyam Mohamed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Consigning Soldiers to Oblivion (May 2010), Judge Denies Habeas Petition of an Ill and Abused Libyan in Guantánamo (May 2010), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Russian Caught in Abu Zubaydah’s Web (May 2010), No Escape from Guantánamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court (June 2010), Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who Is at Guantánamo? (June 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: 2 Years, 50 Cases, 36 Victories for the Prisoners (June 2010), Obama Thinks About Releasing Innocent Yemenis from Guantánamo (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Yemeni Seized in Iran, Held in Secret CIA Prisons (July 2010), Innocent Student Finally Released from Guantánamo (July 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Prisoners Win 3 out of 4 Cases, But Lose 5 out of 6 in Court of Appeals (Part One) (July 2010), Obama and US Courts Repatriate Algerian from Guantánamo Against His Will; May Be Complicit in Torture (July 2010), In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies (July 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Prisoners Win 3 out of 4 Cases, But Lose 5 out of 6 in Court of Appeals (Part Two) (July 2010).
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Here are a few comments from Facebook:
Yusuf Mohammed Abdullah wrote:
Thanks Andy, without your posts a lot of people would not know about this.
Ann Alexander wrote:
As you say, Yusef, without Andy’s posts we would not know about the terrible — and continuing — suffering of these poor Yemenis. Thanks for all your hard work, Andy. I just wonder how you stay sane having to digest all these awful stories.
Mui J. Steph wrote:
If Latif has a head injury plus added trauma, it worries me that they’d treat this as schizophrenia. The two are not the same, even if they manifest the same symptoms. I read somewhere some epilepsy patients get a toxic reaction to schizophrenia meds — not good because epilepsy patients can be misdiagnosed pretty easily. I guess my point is that Latif’s illness may be difficult enough to treat & diagnose in the real world. Sounds like Latif may have delicate nerve system. If they want this man to survive, there’s no way in hell he should be in Gitmo. & bad, very bad. Especially not to such a sick man: “constant throat and stomach pain which [made] it difficult for him to eat,” but that, instead of dealing with this in an appropriate manner, the authorities strapped him in a restraint chair and force-fed him up to three times a day through a tube pushed up his nose into his stomach.”
Which reminds me: Have they done an MRI or cat scan on Latif to make sure he doesn’t have something obvious? Oh but wait *slap forehad*, this is the military. They left my ex on a stretcher for most of the day and neglected to give him one or the other test even though he was going blind.
Susan Hall wrote:
Thank you for caring and though I can only use my free speech, I appreciate the opportunity to do so.
This was my reply:
Thanks for the comments, everyone, and Mui, I was particularly interested in your analysis of Adnan’s mental health problems, which really brought home to me how isolated mentally ill prisoners are in Guantanamo. I do hope that the administration makes another exception to its cowardly and unjust moratorium on releasing Yemeni prisoners in his case, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Doing the right thing doesn’t come easily to Obama and his senior officials, unfortunately.
[…] of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000. On July 21 this year, Latif won his habeas corpus petition, but he has still not been released. This is partly because of President Obama’s unprincipled […]
[…] on several occasions. Despite being cleared for release in 2007 by the Bush administration, and winning his habeas corpus petition in the District Court in Washington D.C. in July 2010, Latif remains in Guantánamo, as, […]
[…] (the DC Circuit Court) in February this year and Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who won his petition last July, is currently preparing to challenge the government's […]
[…] for Transfer Out of DoD Control (TRO),” dated December 18, 2006. Latif subsequently had his habeas corpus petition granted, in July 2010, but that ruling was overturned on appeal in October 2011. He has since appealed to […]
[…] Obama in 2009, and by Judge Anthony Kennedy Jr., of the District Court in Washington D.C., who granted his habeas corpus petition in July […]
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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