An Impossible Suicide at Guantánamo

5.12.12

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.” The Times 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.

25 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Richard S. Kell wrote:

    Andy, this article written by Jason Leopold also speculates on the possibility that he didn’t commit suicide.
    http://truth-out.org/news/item/12967-latif-autopsy-report-calls-gitmo-death-a-suicide-mystery-endures

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Richard,
    Yes, this article would be nothing without the dogged investigative work of my friend and colleague Jason Leopold, who is quoted extensively in it.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    D J Sanchez Montebello wrote:

    I smell a COVER-UP.
    HOW does anyone hoard pills? How can anyone sneak anything in or out of this supposedly maximum security prison? Their cells are supposedly searched constantly. You can’t sneak squat into these places.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sisterz Filleh wrote:

    How can he have a overdose when they are the one giving him his daily medicine ???? It’s not like he has a bottle of pills on his bed side no ??? Weird

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, DJ and Sisterz. Weird indeed. Smells of a cover-up indeed. I got really alarmed reading the story in detail, about how armed soldiers had turned up after Adnan threw a rock, how he escaped from the psych ward, how he was threatened. And then his corpse gets hidden in Germany for three months?
    Plus, of course, as you say, Sisterz, how is he supposed to hoard anything? The only way is also damaging for the authorities, as it would mean that they allowed him to hoard his medication because they wanted him to OD.
    But most of all there’s an undercurrent of violence to this story that I really don’t like at all …

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    Andy, my friend, thank you so very much for highlighting my work on Adnan and for the incredible kind words about my reporting. This is such a disturbing story and I am happy that you are raising these important questions as well as calling into question the circumstances of his death. Incidentially, I filed a FOIA request for a copy of Adnan’s autopsy report with the the Armed Forces Medical Examiner and was told yesterday my request was denied because its release would interfere with the “ongoing and active” NCIS probe into his death. Meanwhile, Adnan’s family is unable to obtain any answers from Yemen about when they can expect to receive his body nor are they able to obtain a copy of the autopsy report yet, which is their right.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason, you’re welcome, my friend. Your doggedness in pursuing this story shames the mainstream media in the US. The suspicions of a cover-up just get more prominent, however, as time passes and adequate explanations are not forthcoming. Keep at it!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    It’s a damn shame, Andy, more people working for US media outlets don’t care about these issues. Thank goodness you’re out there after all of these years continuing to hammer away as well.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    We will prevail, Jason, or we will at least be able to say that we resisted the new barbarism as fully as possible.

  10. Sara says...

    The words “medical experimentation” disturb me deeply. The concept of doctors taking an oath and dedicating years of study to treat people, being twisted to this extent… there are no words.

    In the Islamic tradition, when a Muslim dies, he / she is meant to be buried as soon as possible. I can’t even imagine the state of Adnan’s family and having to deal with this abhorrent delay.

    I must echo Jason Leopold’s sentiment regarding your dedication and work. Thank you, always.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Sara, for your well-expressed disgust at the disdainful treatment of Adnan’s body and how it must be affecting his family – and for your supportive words.

  12. Josie Setzler says...

    And after being held for 3 months, the body can no longer provide evidence for the family to question the autopsy report.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Josie. And to my mind, that’s made horribly clear by having moved the body to Germany, away from all outside scrutiny.

  14. Jeff Kaye says...

    A belated thanks, Andy, for hanging in there, both with this story and your work in general. What we are up against here is great evil. To this day, near 3 months exactly from the date of death, the government has yet to make an official statement regarding the cause of death. And of course, Adnan Latif’s body still languishes in an Air Force base in Germany. Whatever the truth is here, it must be REALLY bad, and it will be known!

    Take care.

    As the great English revolutionary and poet John Milton once wrote, “He who overcomes with force overcomes but half his foe.”

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff, and may I bounce all of that back at you as well, of course. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to make it to the US in January, and also that I’ll be able to make it out west to see you. It’s necessary and reassuring to actually hang out with other people who refuse to give up on these horrific stories, even in the face of colossal indifference! Take care, my friend.

  16. Tom says...

    Something to add to Jason’s point about the Stateside MSM.

    The reason they won’t touch it is because self-preservation comes before actually doing your job. Bear with me if this is repetition.

    At one time, many journalists actually did their job. Now however, everything’s corporatized. Network presenters keep talking about you don’t know how stressful my job is. If I actually put someone like Daniel Ellsberg on our air I could get sacked.

    Why? He’s peacefully protesting and exercising his right to be heard. Despite that, he’s a threat and that’s not tolerated.

    Another example? Noam Chomsky. MSNBC will do an online interview/chat session with him. But put him on live air? Absolutely not.

    Many of these people (Bob Woodward included) are thinking and acting in corporatespeak. I must not piss off the Powers that Be. Everything must be done in a soundbite. Otherwise, I’ll be cut off.

    Can you name one news presenter in the UK that would willingly risk their career for doing the right thing? I can’t. Now, it’s all about money, power and fame. If Paxman is angry about the slightest thing, it’s FRONT PAGE news.

    Why? Because celebrity is way more important than actual reporting.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    I think the situation you describe is largely true, Tom, and although I think there’s slightly more leeway for independence here in the UK, the problem, even at somewhere like the Guardian, is that the editorial stance is essentially to preserve the status quo. I stopped reading the Saturday Guardian years ago when I realised that its magazine had been generally gutted of any serious content, and that it was far too much about lifestyle ad celebrity, as well as all the rest of the stuff that’s been there since the 70s – which restaurant to eat at, which car to buy, where to go on holiday. Hard news is rationed, as though, at a metaphorical dinner table of a serious newspaper’s readers, there’s just enough for the most driven political guest to vent a bit, to have a few people murmur their accord, and then all to move on to something less disturbing.
    While the media plays at objectivity, the psychopathic scum involved in politics and business are pretty much free to do whatever they want.
    We need campaigning journalism from the top, essentially as an antidote to the Fox model of right-wing lies, distortions and black propaganda.

  18. Tom says...

    Spot on in your comments. I agree about the Guardian. There used to be more of a harder edge to it. Now (because of management consultants?), it’s go tabloid to compete with Murdoch. Oliver Stone’s sex life has nothing to do with his new movie. But, we’ll throw it in anyway. Glen Greenwald’s column is just rehashing obvious information. This is “hard hitting commentary’? No, it’s not.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    The Guardian has good reporters and commentators, Tom. Nick Davies has worked there his whole life, and is the model of a great investigative journalist, there’s Amelia Gentleman doing good work on the effects of austerity, and Ian Cobain on torture. However, overall every part of the mainstream media chases the same stories, celebrities, fads, “lifestyle choices” … Life has been getting harder, weirder, more unjust for decades, but you won’t find that as a persistent campaigning issue at all. Too many “downers” and people will go elsewhere, it is presumed …

  20. Tom says...

    You’re right. To be fair, they do have some good reporters. Also, to many a photo of Oliver Stone smoking a splif is WAY more exciting than boring politicians and economists talking about budget cuts. That being said, over here 95% of the maintream and progressive media is really that bad. Is satellite radio the answer? No, it’s not. I have a trial subscription on my car stereo, and out of roughly 160 channels, maybe 2 are worth listening to. A lot of it is cable news channel simulcasts. This is “radio”? I’ve worked in TV, radio and in newspapers as well. So I speak with some experience on this.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Tom, the first problem is the lack of serious media, and the second is the lack of a serious audience!

  22. Jan (Cosmic Surfer) says...

    Late to the party but never late with a thought…

    What I know of security prisons can be put in a teaspoon but I do know of security hospitals and psych wards. Sorry, The controls and procedures at Gitmo are much higher than your local psych ward and even nurses at local psych wards know that cheeking meds is a commonly tried method by patients hoarding meds to sell or stash for suicide attempts. Either they wanted him to do it, knowing he was hoarding for that reason and drove him over the edge, or it isn’t as stated in our over-regurgitated and manipulated reports coming from Guantanamo.

    Either way it is abuse in the highest form – but why should that surprise us? THE ENTIRE CONCEPT of Guantanamo is illegal, abusive, immoral, and corrupt. From having a base on the island at all to the current practices of using it as a place to illegally hold innocent men with a handful of suspects who might be criminals and using it to abort and usurp the entire world community’s laws on humane and legal treatment — not to mention OUR own!

    Comments made earlier about the roll of the MSM in cover-up by ignoring the story are on point. I will add that until the late 70′s, the news was considered sacrosanct in the US. A “Loss” for the companies that produced the media. It was a “”public service”.

    It was when the 60 companies that held media concerns were beginning to get gobbled up, the advent of a crazed oligarchical madman named Murdoch buying off Newt Gingrich so he could buy media for control in the US (Until 1980′s it was illegal for a foreign national to own media in the US – now we have the Unification Church and their UPI as well as “Washington Times” – Reverend Moon, aka “Father”, aka leader of the Moonies – recently deceased but may be growing more as control by the church is turned over to his chosen leaders – and, of course, the ever popular and corrupt NewsCorp – home of propaganda for the 1% and against the people of the planet) were gobbled up by what is now only 6 HUGE corporations, that the news had to be a “profit center”. It was that profit driven attitude that used the media to manipulate the message and the unsuspecting people believing in the “news” as a public service were easily controlled.

    We are now no more than 24/7 advertising for the power brand – Wall Street

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Well said, Jan. Great points about the enduring evil of Guantanamo – and about the corporate takeover of the media.

  24. The season of death at Guantánamo | San Francisco Bay View says...

    [...] wrote a skeptical article about their alleged suicides for Truthout, and, last September, there was another disputed suicide – of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a mentally troubled Yemeni who had reportedly hoarded medication, [...]

  25. The season of death at Guantánamo | Happily Natural says...

    [...] wrote a skeptical article about their alleged suicides for Truthout, and, last September, there was another disputed suicide – of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a mentally troubled Yemeni who had reportedly hoarded medication, [...]

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