Remembering a Death at Guantánamo, Six Years Since I Began Writing About the Prison as an Independent Journalist

Please support my work!

Six years ago, on May 31, 2007, I posted the first article here in what has become, I believe, the most sustained and comprehensive analysis of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo that is available anywhere — and for which, I’m gratified to note, I was recently short-listed for this year’s Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. In these six years, I have written — or cross-posted, with commentary — nearly 2,000 articles, and over 1,400 of these are about Guantánamo.

I had no idea it would turn out like this when I began writing articles about Guantánamo six years ago. I had just completed the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, which consumed the previous 14 months of my life, and which was published four months later, in September 2007.

I was wondering how to follow up on the fact that I had lived and breathed Guantánamo almost every waking hour over that 14-month period, as I distilled 8,000 pages of US government allegations and tribunal and review board transcripts, as well as media reports from 2001 to 2007, into a book that attempted, for the first time, to work out who the men held at Guantánamo were, to explain where and when they were seized, and also to explain why, objectively, it appeared that very few of them had any involvement whatsoever with international terrorism.

As I was wondering how to proceed, I received some shocking news. A Saudi at Guantánamo, a man named Abdul Rahman al-Amri, had died, reportedly by committing suicide. I knew this man’s story and decided to approach the Guardian, explaining who I was and why I felt qualified to comment, but when I was told that they weren’t interested, and would be getting the story from the Associated Press, I realized that the WordPress blog that my neighbour Josh had set up for me, initially to promote my books, provided me with the perfect opportunity to self-publish articles, and to see what would happen. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama, the Courts and Congress Are All Responsible for the Latest Death at Guantánamo

I felt sick when I heard the news: that the man who died at Guantánamo last weekend was Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni. I had been aware of his case for six years, and had followed it closely. He had been cleared for release under President Bush (in December 2006) and under President Obama (as a result of the Guantánamo Review Task Force’s deliberations in 2009). He had also had his habeas corpus petition granted in a US court, but, disgracefully, he had not been freed.

Instead of being released, Adnan Latif was failed by all three branches of the US government. President Obama was content to allow him to rot in Guantánamo, having announced a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane in December 2009. That ban was still in place when Latif died, and had been put in place largely because of pressure from Congress.

Also to blame are the D.C. Circuit Court and the Supreme Court. Latif had his habeas corpus petition granted in July 2010, but then the D.C. Circuit Court moved the goalposts, ordering the lower court judges to give the government’s alleged evidence — however obviously inadequate — the presumption of accuracy. Latif’s case came before the D.C. Circuit Court in October 2011, when two of the three judges — Judges Janice Rogers Brown and Karen LeCraft Henderson — reversed his successful habeas petition, and only Judge David Tatel dissented, noting that there was no reason for his colleagues to assume that the government’s intelligence report about Latif, made at the time of his capture, was accurate, as it was “produced in the fog of war, by a clandestine method that we know almost nothing about.” In addition, Judge Tatel noted that it was “hard to see what is left of the Supreme Court’s command,” in 2008’s Boumediene v. Bush ruling, granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, that the habeas review process be “meaningful.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Premonition of Death at Guantánamo: Adnan Latif’s Hunger Strike Poem

Note: This image was produced by Amnesty International as part of their letter-writing campaign for this December, featuring Adnan Latif (on the left), a Yemeni prisoner who died at Guantánamo last weekend, and Hussein Almerfedi, another Yemeni who, like Latif, won his habeas corpus petition, but then had it reversed by the malignant rightwing ideologues of the D.C. Circuit Court. Amnesty made the image available to Latif’s attorneys, so please feel free to circulate it widely.

The news cycle is such that we are all trapped like hamsters on a fast-moving wheel, and even when something terrible happens, the media tends to move on after a couple of days — even when that terrible event is the death of a man at Guantánamo who had mental health problems, who was cleared for release in 2006 by a military review board under George W. Bush, and in 2009 by Barack Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and who had his habeas corpus petition granted by a federal judge in July 2010.

Instead of being released, Latif had his successful habeas petition thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court last October, not on any factual basis, but because of the application of a twisted ideology, and in June this year the Supreme Court also failed him, refusing to get involved when he — and six others — appealed for them to restore justice to the habeas process. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers for Adnan Latif, the Latest Prisoner to Die at Guantánamo, Issue A Statement

This article was published simultaneously here, and on 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.

Over the weekend, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni, became the ninth prisoner to die in Guantánamo. Adnan had been repeatedly cleared for release — under President Bush and President Obama, and by a US court — but had never been freed, like so many others in that disgraceful prison, which remains an insult to the rule of law ten years and eight months since it first opened.

Adnan was one of the prisoners profiled in the major report I wrote in June, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, and the overturning of his successful habeas corpus petition by politically motivated judges in the D.C. Circuit Court in October last year — and the refusal of the Supreme Court to rebuke the court, just three months ago — was notorious amongst attorneys for the prisoners and those interested in justice and the law, even though — sadly and shockingly — it had not awakened appropriate outrage in the mainstream media.

Last May, when the eighth prisoner died at Guantánamo — a man named Hajji Nassim, known to the US authorities as Inayatullah, who had serious mental health problems — I wrote an article entitled, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin, which was horribly accurate, as the last two prisoners to leave Guantánamo had left in coffins. The other, Awal Gul, had died in February. Read the rest of this entry »

Chaos at Guantánamo as the 9/11 Trial Begins

On Saturday, the eyes of the world were on Guantánamo, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning and facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash — appeared in a courtroom for the first time since December 2008. All were dressed in white, apparently at the insistence of the authorities at Guantánamo, and most observers made a point of noting that Mohammed’s long gray beard was streaked red with henna.

For the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the five men’s appearance — for their arraignment prior to their planned trial by military commission — was supposed to show that the commissions are a competent and legitimate alternative to the federal court trial that the Obama administration announced for the men in November 2009, but then abandoned after caving in to pressure from Republicans. The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder — one for each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks — as well as charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

Unfortunately for the administration, the omens were not good. The military commissions have been condemned as an inadequate trial system ever since the Bush administration first resurrected them in November 2001, intending, in the heat of post-9/11 vengeance, to use them to swiftly try and execute those it regarded as terrorists. However, after long delays and chaotic hearings, this first reincarnation of the commissions was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions were then revived by Congress a few months later, and were then tweaked and revived by President Obama in the summer of 2009, despite criticism from legal experts. Read the rest of this entry »

Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009?

My friend and colleague Jeff Kaye, a full-time psychologist who somehow also finds time to conduct research into Guantánamo and America’s post-9/11 torture program, had a fascinating — and disturbing — article published last week on Truthout, in which, after stumbling upon the autopsy reports of two prisoners who died at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009, reportedly by committing suicide, he “found irregularities, unanswered questions, and startling new facts the government has withheld from the public for years,” as he explained in a follow-up article on his blog, Invictus.

Summing up the core of his findings, he added, “For instance, one detainee, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, was found hanged with his hands tied behind his back. The other deceased prisoner, Mohammad al-Hanashi, was said to have strangled himself to death with a type of underwear not used by detainees at the time.”

I’m cross-posting the article below, as I believe Jeff has indeed exposed some previously unexplored, and genuinely troubling “irregularities, unanswered questions, and startling new facts” regarding these two deaths, which have long troubled me as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court

Late on Sunday evening, I publicized a conference call taking place on Monday to discuss an appeal in a court case brought by the families of two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006 under mysterious circumstances. The supposed triple suicide of the three men — Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi — was questioned when it took place five years ago by former prisoners who knew the men, as I reported in an article last year, Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues, and the official story was challenged in the most spectacular manner last January, when law professor and Harper’s columnist Scott Horton drew on the testimony of four soldiers who were manning the watch towers on the night in question. Their accounts indicate that the men could not have committed suicide, as alleged, and that there must be some other explanation — possibly that they were killed either by accident or design during torture sessions at a remote facility, identified as “Camp No,” located outside the main perimeter fence of the Guantánamo prison.

Despite the gravity of these allegations, there has been no independent investigation into the soldiers’ claims, as aired in Harper’s Magazine, and the families’ attempts to have their questions about the deaths answered in a US court have also been thwarted. Although the families of Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami launched a case in January 2009, and later resubmitted it with new material from the Harper’s story, a judge in the District Court in Washington D.C. — Judge Ellen Huvelle — declared last September that she was unable to proceed with the case, because existing legislation (the Military Commissions Act) prevented a court from “‘hear[ing] or consider[ing] any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant,” and also because the courts have accepted the government’s arguments that judges must not intrude on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Teleconference: Five Years After Disputed “Suicides” at Guantánamo, Father of Dead Man Appeals Court’s Refusal to Consider His Case

Friday June 10, as I explained in an article at the time, marked the fifth anniversary of the disputed triple suicide of three prisoners at Guantánamo, and on Monday June 13, to mark the filing of new legal documents as part of the families’ attempts to secure justice, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York are holding a telephone conference, open to the public, with the participation of Scott Horton and Talal al-Zahrani.

Scott Horton is the lawyer and Harper’s columnist who, last January, wrote a shocking exposé about the alleged suicides, revealing contrary accounts from soldiers who had been present at the time, and Talal al-Zahrani is the father of Yasser al-Zahrani, one of the three prisoners who died — and was himself an official in the Saudi Interior Ministry. As I explained in an article on Saturday, WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo, Yasser al-Zahrani was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan and taken to Guantánamo.

Yasser al-Zahrani’s family, and the family of Salah al-Salami, another of the three men who died, have been seeking justice in the US courts since January 2009, but lost their case last September, in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge Ellen Huvelle found her hands tied. She wrote that “the section of the MCA [Military Commissions Act] removing from the courts ‘jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant by the United States is still valid law.” Read the rest of this entry »

On the 5th Anniversary of the Disputed Guantánamo “Suicides,” Jeff Kaye Defends Scott Horton

Back in January 2010, law professor and Harper’s columnist Scott Horton had a fascinating and alarming article published in Harper’s Magazine (it was online in January, and in the March print edition), entitled, “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta Sergeant Blows the Whistle,” a devastating analysis of three supposed suicides at Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006. The official report into the deaths had been previously condemned by researchers at the Seton Hall Law School, who had concluded that it contained more holes than verifiable content, but Horton’s exposé ratcheted up the interest, as it drew on the testimony of a number of military personnel who were not only present on the night in question, but were manning the watch towers, which, of course, provide a unique overview of life in Guantánamo and the coming and going of prisoners and military personnel.

I won’t run through the whole article here — and its suggestion that the men were killed, either by accident or design, and probably during torture sessions in “Camp No,” a separate facility outside the main perimeter fence — as I recommend anyone who has not read it to do so (and also to read my own commentary on it, and my follow-up here), but I will say that, having spoken to the lead soldier responsible for questioning the official story, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, I was convinced that he had no reason to fabricate a story that could only damage his career, and was particularly impressed by the description of how “he could not forget what he had seen at Guantánamo. When Barack Obama became president, [he] decided to act. ‘I thought that with a new administration and new ideas I could actually come forward,’ he said. ‘It was haunting me.’” And as he told me last year, he felt “physically sick” after holding onto his story for three years. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Suicide Was Severely Mentally Ill, And Was A Case of Mistaken Identity

There is cruelty. There is stupidity. And far too often, when it comes to the activities of the US government in the “War on Terror,” there is both.

In my previous article, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin, I wrote about the death at Guantánamo — reportedly as a result of committing suicide — of an Afghan prisoner identified by the US military as Inayatullah, who was the penultimate prisoner to be brought to the prison in Cuba, arriving in September 2007.

Noting that the US military had recycled information from a press release issued when he arrived at Guantánamo, describing him as “an admitted planner for Al-Qaeda terrorist operations,” but dropping a claim that he had “admitted that he was the Al-Qaeda Emir of Zahedan, Iran,” I suggested that he had never, in fact, been appraised adequately since his arrival, as no tribunal had been held to assess him as an “enemy combatant,” and noted, moreover, that his file was one of 14 missing from the classified military assessments of 765 prisoners, which were recently released by WikiLeaks.

In addition, I lamented that it was “unlikely that the evident truth about Obama’s Guantánamo — that the only way out is by dying — will shift public option either at home or abroad,” and also noted that, “whatever Inayatullah’s alleged crimes, it was inappropriate that, because of President Obama’s embrace of his predecessor’s detention policies, he died neither as a convicted criminal serving a prison sentence for activities related to terrorism, nor as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions.” Read the rest of this entry »

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo