The Schizophrenic in Guantánamo Whose Lawyers Are Seeking to Have Him Sent Home


The prison at Guantánamo is such an extraordinarily lawless and unjust place that 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009 are still held.

Other prisoners recommended for trials languish, year after year, with no hope of justice, and 46 others were specifically recommended for indefinite detention without charge or trial, on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, even though there is insufficient evidence to put them on trial.

That means, of course, that the supposed evidence is fundamentally untrustworthy, a dubious melange of statements extracted through the use of torture and other forms of coercion, and unreliable intelligence reports, but the government refuses to acknowledge that unpalatable truth.

Instead, the men have been obliged to resort to a hunger strike, now in its sixth month, to wake the world up to their plight, and to put pressure on the administration to act. Eight weeks ago, President Obama delivered an eloquent speech about national security, in which he perfectly described how unjust and counter-productive Guantánamo is, and promised to resume releasing prisoners, but he has still not released a single cleared prisoner, and nor has he initiated reviews for the 46 men whose indefinite detention he authorized in March 2011, when he promised to establish Periodic Review Boards (PRBs) to review the men’s cases, to establish whether they continue to be regarded as too dangerous to release.

In an effort to break through this deadlock, the attorney for one particular prisoner has submitted an unusual request to the court in Washington D.C. considering his habeas corpus petition. This potential route out of Guantánamo has also generally been blocked — this time by judges in the appeals court in the capital (the D.C. Circuit Court), where politically motivated judges rewrote the evidentiary rules governing the petitions, angered that dozens of prisoners had their habeas petitions granted by the lower court after the Supreme Court confirmed that they had constitutionally guaranteed habeas rights in June 2008.

However, Jennifer Cowan, the attorney for Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese prisoner in his early 50s, has asked the court to release her client because he is so mentally ill and so morbidly obese that he cannot be regarded as a threat. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in June 2004, the Supreme Court stated that the law used to hold prisoners at Guantánamo, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed the week after the 9/11 attacks, only allowed the government to hold a prisoner “for the purpose of preventing him from returning to the battlefield.”

However, Idris, as the Miami Herald described him, is “an obese, diabetic, schizophrenic Sudanese man who has mostly lived at Guantánamo’s psychiatric ward since he got to the US terror prison in Cuba on the day it opened.”

As Jennifer Cowan described the situation in her submission to Chief Judge Royce Lamberth:

Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated. When interpreted in accordance with domestic law and the principles of international law, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (“AUMF”) does not permit the continued detention of Mr. Idris.

Little was known about Idris until this submission, although it was established last September that he was one of the prisoners cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force. His Detainee Assessment Brief (DAB), the classified military file released by WikiLeaks in 2011, which was compiled in April 2008, ought to be a source of shame to the authorities. “Detainee has resisted cooperation with interrogators and remains largely unexploited,” the document stated, adding, “He has coached other JTF-GTMO detainees to use resistance techniques while in US custody.”

In fact, as Carol Rosenberg explained in the Miami Herald, far from coaching others, “his fellow prisoners don’t want him around,” because “he behaves bizarrely — wears his underwear on his head, whispers to himself, is delusional.”

The 14-page petition is backed by medical reports from the prison, and constitutes a sad indictment of a detention system that cannot deal fairly and appropriately with a severely mentally and physical ill prisoner. In page after page of the brief and the medical reports, the government’s myopic narrative — that he was at the Battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, the showdown between the US and al-Qaeda and the Taliban in December 2001 — is countered by the recognition by mental health professionals that Idris’s thought processes are “grossly disorganized,” as an Army psychiatrist explained in 2009, and that he operates “in a delusional reality system, with little foundation in his real-world circumstances.”

As Jennifer Cowan explained to the Miami Herald, “If you’re so sick that you can’t return to the battlefield, there’s no basis for holding you.” She added that Idris “has multiple illnesses. He has mental illnesses, which are severe, physical illness that’s long-standing, and nobody thinks he’s going to recover from any of those. It’s not like he has a cold.”

The saddest part of this whole sorry tale is that the Army psychiatrist stated that Idris “was diagnosed as having a mental illness within weeks of getting to Guantánamo,” and yet no effort was made to repatriate him, even as other Sudanese prisoners were sent home — by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The time is long overdue for Idris to be returned to his family, but on past evidence it is unlikely that the government — and specifically the Civil Division of the Justice Department, which deals with the prisoners’ court cases, and has an unbroken record, from Bush to Obama, of aggressively contesting everything relating to the their habeas corpus petitions — will agree, and that, of course, is another source of shame to add to the countless others that Guantánamo embodies.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

37 Responses

  1. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy. His is a hearbreaking story. I was particularly struck by how he was so detached from reality that when he was shackled into the chair in the phone room, with the call already placed to his lawyers, and he sat there quietly during his entire scheduled phone time, unaware that they were waiting for him to pick up the handset.

    Here is something else interesting. To keep up the guard’s morale the administration pays $500,000 a year for the guard’s internet service.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Anne FS wrote:


  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathryn M Blackwood wrote:

    This poor soul.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Hashim wrote:

    Such a sad story and awful that these men are innocent and are STILL being held against their will….any other situation this would amount to kidnapping surely…this reminds me of the conditions in asylums in the earlier centuries…….barbaric, inhumane and unbelivable that this is happening in a so called modern society. Well done Andy………… and the others helping these men are stars…..keep up the good work.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Nicola Mattiagne wrote:

    We need to find someone creative enough to create a banner with all the available pictures of the men. It makes perfect sense when we can put a face to a number, and remember that they are individual people, with different needs and characters, just like us.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Kathryn M Blackwood wrote:

    I just do not and will not understand how the US is getting away with this.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Lisa Goldwater wrote:

    Disgraceful. Totally inhumane.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich wrote:

    Andy: You only get away with mental illness if you attack and shoot a US congresswoman and happen to be Jewish.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Magnuson wrote:

    The US is getting away with it because there is no oversight; nor is there any outrage by the American people.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Neil, Anne, Nicola, Kathryn, Sarah, Lisa, Soraya, Mary and everyone else who has liked and shared this. I’m glad this story has moved you. I was deeply shocked when I read it, not just because this man hasn’t been released, but also because I have been studying the stories of the prisoners for over seven years, and there are still horrendous surprises like this. I had seen the publicly available information about him, but the US had kept the truth hidden about how mentally and physically ill he is.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennifer Cowan, his lawyer, has come up with a powerful argument for his release. Now it remains to be seen if the court is able accept it, and to order Idris’ release, and (b) if such a ruling would spur President Obama, the great procrastinator, to release him.
    Judge Lamberth, who is handling the case, resigned as Chief Judge last week, but will stay on as a senior judge. I hope this means he keeps the case, as one of his last moves as Chief Judge was to issue the recent ruling barring the government from undertaking the genital searches of prisoners at Guantanamo that were preventing some men from meeting with their attorneys or having phone calls with them. He described the practice as an “exaggerated response” to security concerns, and stated in his ruling, “The choice between submitting to a search procedure that is religiously and culturally abhorrent or foregoing counsel effectively presents no choice for devout Muslims like petitioners.”
    The ruling only lasted six days, as the appeals court (the D.C. Circuit Court) granted a stay of Judge Lamberth’s ruling, after Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, who leads the U.S. Southern Command, “essentially rebuked the chief judge and said he considers ‘prohibiting the search of the areas between detainees’ waists and knees’ an ‘unacceptable risk to the military personnel under my command,'” as the Washington Post described it.
    Here’s Judge Lamberth’s ruling:
    The Washington Post article:
    Just before the stay was issued, Reprieve explained how the Guantanamo authorities were, in any case, ignoring Judge Lamberth’s ruling:

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Heartbreaking indeed. And as I mention elsewhere, I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard before how ill he is, and evidently has been throughout his detention, which no doubt has made his pre-existing conditions much worse, as with Adnan Latif.
    And yes, that story about not understanding that he had to pick up the phone is very sad.

  13. Thomas says...

    He’s no danger to anybody.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely, Thomas. And every day his continued imprisonment ought to be a source of shame to those responsible – President Obama and Congress.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Hashim wrote:

    Its a shame they cant appeal to the eu for human rights.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Lorna Singh wrote:

    How much longer can this outrage continue?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Mike May wrote:

    The only way I can understand this ongoing human rights crime known as Guantanamo is to acknowledge what should be obvious – that all three branches of the federal government are in contempt of humanity and the rule of law. If a critical mass are willing to speak truth to power, as opposed to sheeple cowering to it, then justice might prevail, instead of people-power advocates getting thrown in jail. Peace demands action.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sarah, Lorna, Mike and all the people who keep liking and sharing this. On reflection, what I find so shocking is how the US military completely ignored his mental health issues in his Detainee Assessment Brief, the file released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Right-wingers use the information in these files as though it was evidence, rather than an extraordinarily unreliable collection of lies and hearsay, with sometimes a sprinkling of truth, and on the face of it there’s nothing to suggest that Idris is profoundly ill, just descriptions of him as a long-term al-Qaeda member. What a disgrace.

  19. Jeff Kaye says...

    Powerful article, Andy. My thanks to you and Idris’s attorneys and the doctors who have tried to help this beleaguered and ill individual. The doctors, though, must ask themselves what they were helping Idris for in giving him powerful antipsychotics… so he could better perceive the despair of being locked away for what seems forever for nothing! No wonder his psychosis returned.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff. The more we learn about what medical and psychiatric personnel have been obliged to do at Guantanamo, the more incomprehensible it is to me that they continued in their work, and didn’t resign.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Emma Brunton Hargrove wrote:

    Such a sad story, a real tragedy

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Maria Scheibl wrote:


  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Linda Bond wrote:

    I hope Judge Royce Lamberth is a decent human being and releases this poor man.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Melisa Malek wrote:

    Jusqu a quand cet injustice et ce traitement brutale de l etre humain

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Emma, Maria, Linda and Melisa, for your understanding of why the ongoing imprisonment of Ibrahim Idris is such a disgrace.
    Linda, I don’t know if Judge Lamberth has the authority to grant Idris’s petition – or, if he does, whether there is anything to prevent the D.C. Circuit Court ( the appeals court) from overruling him. We have reached a point with Guantanamo where nothing seems to make sense anymore, and there appears to be no way to make those resonsible – Obama, Congress and the higher courts – aware of how callous and unacceptable their actions are.

  26. Sheila Meneely says...

    Andy, Thank you so much for your ongoing research and efforts in uncovering and documenting the injustices being perpetrated on Gitmo detainees. These horrible stories need to be fully shown to all, and the innocent scapegoats released.

  27. Ibrahim Idris [ISN 036] – (Sudan) | Be in this world as a wayfarer says...

    […] one of his latest article : The Schizophrenic in Guantánamo Whose Lawyers Are Seeking to Have Him Sent Home tells us more about Ibrahim Idris […]

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your supportive words, Sheila. Great to hear from you.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    John Garrett wrote:

    Q: How long does it take to make a person schizophrenic in GTMO?

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    I imagine the poor man was schizophrenic to start with, John, and that his mental health has deteriorated significantly over the last 11 years, as was the case with Adnan Latif, who died at Guantanamo last September. What we don’t know is how many others are mentally ill, and maybe weren’t when their long ordeal began. I fear it may be one of the secrets being hidden at Guantanamo, which may be one obstacle to the prison’s closure – along with many others of course.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    John Garrett wrote:

    Could be. From the extensive interviews I recorded of the guards and commanders there were civilian criminal and mental prisoners housed there, and the MPs had no idea what to do with them.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Gus Kelley wrote:

    No no! Dick Cheney told us, and GWB confirmed it, that only the worst of the worst of the guilty evil people are in guantanamo and that’s why they don’t get due process, or speedy trial or stupid things like basic human rights or trials! Only terrorists are there, none of these ‘innocent and cleared of all charges bystanders illegally held for no reason for 12 years.”

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    John Garrett wrote:

    Sorry, was thinking about Abu Ghraib, which has been in the news lately.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Gus Kelley wrote:

    well, a lot of the prisoners were there are a result of bounties that we paid to the locals in Afghanistan after we invaded. See, when we got there…no wait, back up. BEFORE we got there we alerted Pakistani ISI that we were going to invade as a courtesy because they were training organizing advising and funding the Taliban and they asked us to delay our invasion so they could evac their personnel and we said sure! Why not? So the pakistanis evacked their men out, and, oh, you know, also all of the senior taliban leadership because hey! They were friends, you know? And before they left they alerted Al Queda because, hey! They were friends, you know? So all the high value targets disappeared leaving all the mid level taliban NCOs to look around and think to themselves, hmmm, we don’t know what’s going on but now might be a good time to visit cousin Ahmed just over the border, but they couldn’t just leave things abandoned for the pending USA invasion so they rounded up the elderly, disabled and children of the villages, deputized them, gave them AKs and then screwed. The Americans, after courteously giving the taliban and al queda plenty of time to get to safety, finally started carpet bombing the abandoned mountainsides at the cost of several hundreds of millions of dollars with no strategic benefit whatsoever. Then the ground invasion started! Yippee! Only we had no idea who the taliban were, leadership or otherwise, so we had to ask the locals to identify them for us. At first they were reluctant, but then we started offering them $50,000 bounties for senior members of the Taliban and Al Queda. A few intrepid villagers considered it, asking, of course, for the names of the people we were looking for. Oh, we don’t know their names! That’s why we need YOU to identify them for us. We were dealing with professional salesmen, well versed in the art of bargaining. Thousands of years of wheeling and dealing on the silk road had prepared them for this moment. One can imagine what happened next: “Let me get this straight. You are offering me $50,000 american dollars cash to bring you senior members of the Taliban and Al Queda, and you have no way to confirm whether the person I bring you is Taliban or Al Queda, only my word. This is correct?” “Yessirree! Absolutamundo!” “You have come to the right man, my friend. We hate taliban here. I will bring you many many MANY of the people you seek.” Then out the door and over to his cousins where: “Cousin! Cousin! You know that man that disgraced your niece? Come with me. We grab him, throw a bag over his head, and the Americans will pay us $50,000 to take him away for ever.” “What? That’s crazy?! Why would they do that?” “Because we tell them he is Taliban. Come on!” And when they ran out of personal vendettas they rounded up cripples, down syndrome sufferers, people with birth defects, and turned THEM in as senior Al Queda operatives, collected their bounties and stuffed guantanamo with the cast offs of Afghani society. These were the people that Cheney called the ‘worst of the worst.’ And this, perhaps more than anything, revealed the limits of American intelligence and leadership to our enemy in a time of crisis.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Gus Kelley wrote:

    I saw a GREAT interest piece on a gas station owner who alerted the US Military that the owner of the gas station across the highway was Taliban, and they raided his shop and sure enough, found an arsenal in the back room, whisked him away and shut the gas station. Then, as soon as the competition was out of the way, the first guy raised his gas prices and business BOOMED. Laughing, of course, because EVERY business in afghanistan has an arsenal in the back room. Then there was the village that turned in the village on the other side of the mountain, and sure enough, the canadian special forces were surveilling from the mountainside and saw gun emplacements, armed patrols, strong points, firing positions. And when they noticed the canadians on the mountainside they started shooting, and the villagers from the first village started shooting down the mountain, and the canadians were caught in the crossfire. So they called in an airstrike and leveled the second village. And the first villagers rejoiced! Because the 1000 year feud over grazing and water rights on the mountain had finally been decided in their favor! Their village had finally beat those bastards from the other village…I mean, Taliban. guffaw guffaw!

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    John Garrett wrote:

    I haven’t forgotten Obama’s promise to close GTMO, “and you can take that to the bank.” I guess he forgot to add, “when they’re all dead.”

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Gus, for those entertaining and accurate accounts, and thanks again, John. I had missed your comments until now.

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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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