Christmas at Guantánamo


Ten days ago, when I traveled to Sheffield with my friend, the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, for a screening of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash), I asked Omar what Guantánamo was like at Christmas, as I knew that he had spent five Christmases imprisoned in Guantánamo, and I thought it might make an interesting article for Christmas this year.

In fact, there was little to report. The authorities, it seems, made some effort on this great Christian holy day, but the prisoners, for the most part, were in no mood to accept one day of charity when the rest of the year was so devoid of Christian charity.

Instead, I thought I’d take this opportunity to remind readers who may be searching the Internet because they need a break from eating and drinking, or because they want to get away from their families for a while, or because the TV is so relentlessly pointless, or because they don’t celebrate Christmas, about some of the 174 men still held in Guantánamo, for whom concern is particularly appropriate right now, as, between them, the Obama administration and Congress seem to have ensured that the majority of them will be spending many more Christmases at Guantánamo.

My first thoughts were for prisoners I have written about recently — in particular, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, cleared for release in 2007 but still held; Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, also cleared for release in 2007, who is terrified of being forcibly repatriated; and Fayiz al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti who lost his habeas petition in September, but who appears, by any objective measure, to be an innocent man.

I encourage readers to visit this page for information about how to write to the British and American governments about Shaker Aamer, to visit this page for information about the latest attempts by Ahmed Belbacha’s lawyers to prevent his involuntary repatriation, and to visit this page to sign a petition asking Attorney General Eric Holder to return Fayiz al-Kandari to Kuwait (or just sign the petition here).

However, in thinking about all the prisoners still held, I was also reminded of one particular prisoner whose story I have not written about for many months, but who is in desperate need of help. That man is Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 34-year old Yemeni prisoner who won his habeas corpus petition on July 21 this year, but is still held, even though it became apparent during his hearing that the Bush administration had cleared him for release from Guantánamo in 2007, and even though 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.”

Latif is certainly mentally ill, and may have schizophrenia. He has also attempted suicide on numerous occasions, and as Amnesty International explained in a report in 2009, 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.”

Despite this, he continues to be held because the Obama administration has appealed against his successful habeas petition, as it has in the cases of four other Yemenis who won their habeas petitions: Mohammed al-Adahi, whose successful petition was reversed by the D.C. Circuit Court in July, Saeed Hatim, who won his petition last December, Uthman Mohammed Uthman, who won his petition in February this year, and Hussein Almerfedi, who won his petition in July this year.

Like Latif, these three men are awaiting a ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court (a largely Conservative court dominated by judges who have delivered a number of disturbing rulings supporting Bush-era executive power), and it would be difficult not to conclude that the Obama administration is happy to appeal any successful petition by a Yemeni, because it corresponds with senior officials’ desire not to release any Yemenis from Guantánamo at all.

Although the Guantánamo Review Task Force, convened by President Obama last year to review all the Guantánamo cases, concluded that 59 of the 89 Yemenis still held at Guantanamo should be released, only one (Mohammed Hassan Odaini, who won his habeas petition in May) has been freed in the last year because of a moratorium that President Obama issued in January, preventing the release of any prisoners to Yemen, after it was revealed that last year’s failed Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen.

Commenting on the injustice of this moratorium in September this year, with specific reference to the case of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, Letta Taylor of Human Rights Watch wrote:

Latif’s case underscores both the gross human rights violations and strategic risks inherent in such blanket bans. Detaining Latif because of an attempted bombing committed without his knowledge or participation is a form of collective punishment that violates American notions of justice. Holding him on suspicion of a crime he theoretically may commit in the future, particularly with no credible evidence that he committed a crime in the past, is an equally gross betrayal of US constitutional values. US reliance on preventive detention also hands militants a recruitment tool and sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the world.

While the government ponders its next move, Latif, 34, lives in an isolation cell, except when he is placed in the psychiatric ward or force-fed through his nose during his frequent hunger strikes. His attorney, David Remes, said that when he visited Latif last month, he found him emaciated and seated on the floor in a padded garment known at Guantánamo as a “suicide smock.” He said Latif’s neck was marked with abrasions from attempts to strangle himself the previous night with the waistband of his underwear.

Remes said that when he told Latif that a judge had ordered his release, he was too despondent to take much interest.

The “collective punishment” of the Yemenis — or what I call guilt by nationality –remains the most startling example of the ongoing injustice at Guantánamo, especially now that Congress has just passed this year’s defense authorization act, which specifically includes a provision preventing the President from returning any prisoners to Yemen — or to other countries considered problematical, including Afghanistan and Pakistan — under any circumstances.

I don’t like to be the bearer of such gloomy tidings at what should be a time of Christian celebration, but in just 17 days time it will be the ninth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo. I’ll be in Washington D.C. on that day, supporting Americans protesting against the continued existence of Guantánamo, and, to be honest, I could really do with some help from anyone who can advise me on how to get the message across to the American people — and to their leaders — that if Christ were to turn up tomorrow, he would be deeply disturbed to find Americans who claimed to be his followers finding ever more elaborate ways to hold men who should not be held — and whose ongoing detention is unjustifiable — nearly nine years after they were first imprisoned in an experimental facility that remains an insult to all of his teachings.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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 since the start of 2010, see: 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), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Mentally Ill Yemeni; 2nd Judge Approves Detention of Minor Taliban Recruit (August 2010), Judge Denies Habeas Petition of Afghan Shopkeeper at Guantánamo (September 2010), Nine Years After 9/11, US Court Concedes that International Laws of War Restrict President’s Wartime Powers (September 2010), Fayiz Al-Kandari, A Kuwaiti Aid Worker in Guantánamo, Loses His Habeas Petition (September 2010), Heads You Lose, Tails You Lose: The Betrayal of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (September 2010), First Guantánamo Habeas Appeal to US Supreme Court (Fayiz al-Kandari, October 2010), Former Guantánamo Prisoner, Tortured by Al-Qaeda and the US, Launches Futile Attempt to Hold America Accountable (October 2010), Judge Denies Guantánamo Prisoner’s Habeas Petition, Ignores Torture in Secret CIA Prisons (October 2010), Court Orders Rethink on Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner’s Successful Habeas Petition (November 2010).

18 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention Christmas at Guantánamo | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Susan Hall. Susan Hall said: Christmas at Guantánamo | Andy Worthington […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here are some comments from Facebook:

    WeAre Change Slovakia wrote:

    Thank you Andy!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Natashja de Wolf wrote:

    thank you for posting Andy

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sally Richardson O’Boyle wrote:

    Thank you, Andy. We have much to be grateful for. These men do not. They must be set free. Damn Obama and his lies.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Hall wrote:

    Yes, there are so many people who have not cared enough, but thank goodness and perhaps God for those who do like you, Andy, Sally, Omar, the people of Nogitmos, and some others.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Virginia Simson wrote:

    I have my own reasons to cry today .. but this moves me to something worse than grief. I think about Omar Khadr nearly every day.
    This is only about the Yemenis held, but there are so many still there.
    It’s hard to ‘cover’ and have feelings about rendition, torture, black sites, Guantanamo – Year after Bloody Year. There is really never any holiday from the outrage and sorrow of what has been and continues to be done (in our friggin names, too !)
    Torture sucks.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, everyone, and Virginia, I found your outrage particularly appropriate. I wrote this because, for these men — and for anyone held unjustly at this time — there are no holidays, as you say (although I do believe that campaigners need to take time off too, as the struggle is such a long-term project, and we need to be as strong as possible, so I intend to be slightly less industrious than usual over the next few days!)

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Virginia Simson wrote:

    Ever read Trauma and Recovery ? She (Judith Herman, head of Harvard’s Victims of Violence program) writes extensively about second-hand post-traumatic stress disorder, and I think we ALL have it – each dealing with it as we can.
    What complicates it is that folks just don’t know how to support us in this cycle.
    That whole slew of war criminals has SO much to answer for, eh?
    So, everyday, us campaigners have to support one another. I’ve paid my dues for speaking out, believe me. (Canada would not deliver my mail cuz I wrote Khadr, no joke ! And I’ve been labelled crazy for activism, for sure plus more) BUT I cannot live any other way than to keep articulating the problem in my own way, becuz I CAN.
    The miracle is how we just hang in there despite the horror and our FEELINGS (sometimes overwhelming), and continue to believe we CAN win this, and cut through that razor wire.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your support of Omar, Virginia, and I’m sorry to hear that you were persecuted because of it.
    I agree about the importance of supporting one another. It’s one of the things the Internet has given us the ability to do, although actually getting together with like-minded people whenever possible is also extremely important – and sometimes people get too attached to their keyboards.
    We CAN win this – but I’ve realized of late that it may be a generational struggle …

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Rister wrote:

    There was a time Guantanamo was the home of NASA, busily building rockets for the first people to go to the moon. So I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to totally shut it down (and I’ll avoid jokes about whom I’d like to see go to the moon next). But it’s far past time to reclaim a holy purpose for the place.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert also wrote:

    Well, Andy, should we imitate Michael Moore and rent a boat?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Sadly, we need to convince administration officials and lawmakers about the injustice of their actions, Robert, and I don’t think the vehicle has been invented yet that can peirce their defenses …

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Rister wrote:

    Then let’s not attempt the impossible. But what we can do is to help the imprisoned find meaning in their suffering, both by honoring their suffering and making it known, as you do so often and so eloquently, and by keeping a new Guantanamo from appearing if we can.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Robert. Very well put, and thanks for the supportive words.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Sally O’Boyle wrote:

    That brought tears to my eyes, Robert. Thank you.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Cynthia De Moss wrote:

    Bravo for you, Andy~!!!

  17. Guantánamo is “a piece of hell that kills everything”: A bleak New Year message from Yemeni prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif | The Muslim Justice Initiative says...

    […] Christmas Day, I wrote an article reminding readers of the plight of the remaining 174 prisoners in Guantánamo, and specifically […]

  18. Guantánamo Is “A Piece of Hell That Kills Everything”: A Bleak New Year Message from Yemeni Prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif « Eurasia Review says...

    […] Christmas Day, I wrote an article reminding readers of the plight of the remaining 174 prisoners in Guantánamo, and specifically […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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