The Banality of Evil: How the US Killed an Innocent Man at Guantánamo


Now that the all-consuming, and insanely expensive Presidential election is over for another four years, President Obama’s in-tray still contains Guantánamo, where, of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. Consisting of officials from the relevant government departments and the intelligence agencies, the Task Force analyzed the cases of all the remaining prisoners in 2009, and recommended them for trial, continued detention, or release.

These men have now been held for at least three years since the Task Force reached its conclusions, and many were previously cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration — in many cases in 2006 or 2007, and in 2004 in others.

Although the public’s interest in the long-term injustices of George W. Bush’s horrendous experimental prison has dwindled, some people still remember that the President promised to close the prison within a year, when he first came to office in January 2009, but failed to do so. That is a failure that those concerned with justice will not let him forget, not least because it perpetuates the notion, introduced by the Bush administration, that certain people — those labelled as “terrorists” — can be subjected to indefinite detention.

However, as profoundly disappointing as this is, it is, I believe, overshadowed by the ongoing detention — with no end in sight — of men approved to leave by the government’s own officials, for at least three years, and in some cases for eight years.

Congress has provided President Obama with some cover, imposing onerous restrictions on releasing prisoners, and the D.C. Circuit Court has also played a part, gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the remaining prisoners by commanding lower court judges to presume that the government’s supposed evidence is accurate. This is a position that is absurd to anyone who has examined the mixture of tortured confessions and hearsay that masquerades as evidence, as revealed in particular in the files relating to the prisoners that were released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.

However, as the President of the United States, Barack Obama cannot truly claim that his promise to close Guantánamo was too difficult to achieve, and should be forgotten. Leadership is required, of a kind lamentably lacking when, in May 2009, he refused to support efforts to give new homes in the US to cleared prisoners who could not be safely repatriated (the Uighurs, oppressed Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province), and when, in January 2010, he imposed a moratorium on releasing any cleared Yemeni prisoners, after hysteria greeted the news that the failed plane bomber on Christmas Day 2009, a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen.

Two-thirds of the men cleared for release but still held are Yemenis, and, in one particular case, the administration’s refusal to release any of these men led to a situation in which one of these Yemenis, a man named Adnan Latif, died at Guantánamo, despite being repeatedly cleared for release.

That was on September 8, and I told his story in an article at the time, entitled, “Obama, the Courts and Congress Are All Responsible for the Latest Death at Guantánamo,” in which I ran through the distressing story of a mentally troubled man, who had always stated that he had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 to seek treatment for a head wound sustained as a result of a car crash in Yemen many years before. As a result of his mental health issues, he had tried to commit suicide in Guantánamo on numerous occasions.

As well as being cleared for release under Presidents Bush and Obama, Adnan Latif had also had his habeas corpus petition granted, until the D.C. Circuit Court intervened. The final injustice came in June, just three months before his death, when his appeal to the Supreme Court was turned down.

At the time, no explanation had been given by the US military, or by the Obama administration, for the death of Adnan Latif, although it was clear, as one of his lawyers, David Remes, explained, that “it was Guantánamo that killed him.”

In recent weeks, however, it has become apparent that, not content with holding a cleared prisoner until he died, the US government continues to treat him with scorn, even after his death.

As Jason Leopold explained last month in a detailed report for Truthout, which began with a vivid reminder that Adnan Latif was a father, and that his death hit his 14-year old son particularly hard, his family was told by Yemen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the Yemen Embassy in Washington, D.C. had been told that his remains “would be sent home within two weeks after his death.” However, a Yemeni official, speaking anonymously, said that the Yemen government “refused to accept Adnan’s body until they receive a full accounting of the cause of his death.” The official added that Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi “was briefed about Adnan’s death and decided against accepting the remains.”

“We have asked for a copy of the autopsy report and it has not been provided to us,” the official said.

That was on October 18, and, in response to questions from Truthout, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said only that the US was “collaborating closely with the Republic of Yemen government on this case,” adding, “We respect their wishes that we maintain the remains until a time when they are prepared to receive them. Mr. Latif’s remains are being handled with the utmost care and respect by medical professionals and are being maintained in an appropriate facility designed to best facilitate preservation.”

He also explained, “His remains are no longer at JTF-Guantánamo Bay,” adding that they were “currently being held in a secure undisclosed facility.” Truthout established that this was Ramstein Air Base in Germany, but as Adnan Latif’s father Farhan explained, without the body the family “cannot mourn his death.” He said, “We will not mourn our son under Islamic law until we receive his body. As you can imagine, this is a nightmare for us.”

The latest news still provides no satisfactory resolution, two months after Adnan Latif’s death. As Jason Leopold explained in another article, the Yemen Embassy in Washington, D.C. received a copy of Adnan Latif’s autopsy report on November 10, although a Yemeni official told Leopold that he didn’t know “whether Latif’s remains would be accepted by the Yemeni government based on the autopsy report alone” — or whether they would want to see the results of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service report, which might take a year at least.

In another update, on November 14, Leopold explained that the Department of Defense “now intends to publicly disclose the cause of [Adnan Latif’s] death,” although Lt. Col. Breasseale stated, “We do not have an announced timeline but anticipate a COD (cause of death) announcement to be forthcoming.”

In the meantime, Adnan Latif’s body remains in Germany, and, with no official explanation forthcoming, rumors will continue to swirl. This is a deeply unsatisfactory way for Adnan Latif to be treated after his death, but it also continues to shine a spotlight on all the other cleared prisoners. They must be wondering if they too will die at Guantánamo, with the notifications of their proposed release providing a bitter reminder that America, while pretending to have established fair and just review processes for releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, is actually crueller than regimes that simply lock prisoners up and throw away the key, without pretending to offer them any hope.

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.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Do check it out! It has been relaunched after a major redesign, and is looking very good indeed!

19 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Dani Voluntaryist Taylor wrote:

    Will read asap, Andy.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Andrew Brel wrote:

    Thanks Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dani and Andrew, and everyone who’s already picked up on this. Many thanks to Jason Leopold for his invaluable work on this!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    Great, great work as always, Andy!!!!!!!! Nearly three months after his death and still no official cause of death. Disgraceful is an understatement.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    I also hope to see you soon, Andy!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jason. I’d been meaning to follow up on your excellent work on this story since you wrote that detailed article about Adnan a month ago, so I’m very pleased to have had this opportunity to thank you, and to do my bit to keep the focus on Adnan.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And I also hope to see you soon, Jason. Hoping we can sort something out for January. Debra’s making arrangements. It would be sooo good if I could finally get to LA and see you there and do an event with you. Unsubtle hint over!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    you keep the flame alive Andy Worthington xx

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Neil. Hope all is well with you and Dee.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Jason Leopold wrote:

    I am working on that, Andy!! I hope to pull something together. I will call Debra tomorrow to check in. But rest assured that wherever you are in January I will be there, coffee in hand.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Quadruple espresso, my friend?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Seriously though, I’m very much looking forward to seeing you, Jason. Perhaps with it not being an election year in 2013, it might be easier to get people who should be concerned to do something about it. After all, every branch of the government – the administration, Congress and the courts – bears responsibility for 86 cleared men still being held at Guantanamo.

  13. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy, and Jason.

    These deaths are very disturbing. We still don’t have satisfactory disclosure on the first three deaths that the DoD has acknowledged. Didn’t it take years before the NCIS published even the redacted version?

    Although suicide is the possible cause most often assumed, I suspect it may turn out to be a combination of years of neglect and abuse, on top of the seizures that took him to Pakistan.

  14. arcticredriver says...

    WRT his seizures, I’ll bet they went very poorly treated — contradicting the meme that the US gave the captives health care comparable to that received by the best insured Americans.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, we can only speculate on the cause of death, given the disgraceful silence regarding the autopsy, and the authorities moving poor Adnan’s corpse to Germany. As for his treatment in Guantanamo, I think we can be sure that he wasn’t looked after adequately.

  16. Bill Michtom says...

    Thanks for your work, Andy.

    I wanted to make two small points:

    “President promised to close the prison within a year, when he first came to office in January 2009, but failed to do so.” Actually, Obama promised to move the illegal system created in Guantanamo to Illinois, not to actually stop having a place where people are held with no due process for arbitrary reasons.

    Also, any court that presumes the government’s evidence is accurate without examination, or worse, in the face of the problems you mention, is ignoring the very premises on which tripartite government is based. Evidence ALWAYS needs to be examined carefully.

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Bill. It’s a good point about the prison’s closure actually. I’ll try and remember to include that aspect of the story in future.
    Your encouragement is very much appreciated!

  18. Jeff Kaye says...

    I guess you’ve seen by now, Andy, that the military’s medical examiner has supposedly decided the “cause” of Latif’s death is an overdose of psychiatric medications in connection with a suicide attempt. However, the manner of death and a full investigation is not yet decided. In other words, even the government is still officially investigating.

    But every sign points to a cover-up… again, of course. It’s easy to spin the death of this profoundly depressed and beaten down man as a suicide, but the facts as we know them thus far really don’t point to that. By protocols, there was no way he could have hoarded enough psych meds to kill himself (which is actually a hell of a lot of pills) without being noticed. Also, he was under near-constant video surveillance. We know that he was forcibly injected with powerful meds at times — such injections themselves are dangerous. We need to see the autopsy report, but it’s possible the drugs in his blood and/or urine came via injections, not pills, for instance.

    Finally, there is the matter of the death threats made to Latif (and apparently other detainees) in early Aug, abt one month before Latif died, and the fact Latif was slated to be the center of a huge worldwide campaign by Amnesty International, a campaign forestalled by his death. In other words, the governent had both means and motive to kill him. The investigation is by an agency that has been involved in interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo. This investigation is a farce, in other words. But it is both Gitmo fatigue and bowing to Obama and the Democrats that will keep this issue from becoming the scandal it should, or getting the impartial public investigation that is required.

    Already, the New York Times and ProPublica are announcing suicide as if it is a fact, and even when they report there is still an investigation, they only report evidence of Latif’s prior suicidal statements, and no evidence to the contrary (as I’ve noted above).

    Readers are invited to read Jason Leopold’s reporting on the latest developments, and my own comments in an opinion posting.

    If you come to Calif., Andy, I hope I get to see you. Take care, and thanks as always for your essential work!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff. I hope I do make it out to California – L.A. for a change?!?
    Jason’s work and yours has been so important. I’ll be adding my own take on it next week, but we’re certainly back in a very murky world of deaths at Guantanamo, and inadequate explanations. And, of course, the barriers to doing anything about Guantanamo are going up again in the Senate, meaning more deaths are likely.
    It’s hard not to succumb to the fatigue, but I maintain that we need to constantly invoke Adnan’s death as the driver for a renewed effort to close Guantanamo. Now we’re well and truly in the world of Obama’s legacy, however, needing to push the President to acknowledge that history will not remember him fondly if he fails to do anything because it was politically inconvenient. An uphill struggle all the way …

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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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