September 15th, 2012
10:33 AM ET

Guantanamo still a blight on U.S. record?

By Letta Tayler, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Letta Tayler is a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the author's own.

As the world was gripped this week by the storming of U.S. diplomatic compounds in the Middle East, another troubling event that coincided with the September 11 anniversary unfolded largely unnoticed at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

There, a prisoner found dead in his cell over the weekend was identified Tuesday as Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who had been cleared for transfer five years earlier. Latif’s death should serve as a wake-up call for the United States to change its tarnished response to 9/11 by closing Guantanamo, even as it grapples with the horrifying attacks on its missions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

Latif, 32, had reportedly been suicidal for most of the decade he spent at Guantanamo. Year after year, the U.S. government maintained he had trained and fought with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but never formally charged him with any crime. U.S. officials said he was found unresponsive in his cell on Saturday and did not respond to emergency treatment.

Latif is the ninth detainee to die at Guantanamo. The U.S. military says five of those prisoners committed suicide; the others, it says, died of natural causes. Of the 167 detainees remaining at Guantanamo, only six face active charges, according to Human Rights Watch.

“You are still looking for justice and seeking hearings,” Latif wrote to his lawyer in 2010 in one of a torrent of letters and poems he penned during his detention, much of it spent in isolation or a psychiatric ward. “I am being pushed toward death.”

As far back as 2004, according to NBC, the Defense Department conceded it had no knowledge of Latif’s training in any terrorist activities and recommended his transfer from Guantanamo. The Bush administration even authorized Latif's transfer in 2007.

But that information only came to light in 2010 in an opinion by a federal judge who ruled that the government had failed to demonstrate that Latif was part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and ordered Latif's immediate release. U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. concluded that Latif had made a “plausible” claim that he left Yemen to seek free medical treatment.

Kennedy's order should have marked the final chapter in the sordid tale of Latif's indefinite detention without charge. But rather than do the right thing by sending Latif home or to a third country, the U.S. government successfully appealed Kennedy’s ruling. A Washington, DC appeals court in 2011 not only overturned Kennedy’s decision, it also severely undercut Guantanamo detainees’ ability to challenge their detention. Henceforth, the court ruled, lower courts must presume that evidence against detainees is accurate barring clear evidence to the contrary – even if it was obtained in chaotic battlefield settings. In June, the Supreme Court decided not to consider an appeal.

In the meantime, the Obama administration froze all transfers from Guantanamo to Yemen after a Nigerian trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen tried to blow up a passenger jet over Detroit in 2009. Then Congress passed legislation making it more difficult to transfer Guantanamo detainees to at-risk countries such as Yemen.

Latif reportedly suffered seizures and a dislocated shoulder during his years at Guantanamo. He was repeatedly force-fed through his nose during his frequent hunger strikes, which at one point reduced his weight to less than 90 pounds. David Remes, his lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that in 2009, Latif tried to slit his wrists in front of him, using a strip of broken veneer from a prison interview table. The following year, Remes said, he found Latif with abrasions around his neck from an attempt to strangle himself with the waistband of his underwear. At the time of his death, U.S. officials said he was in a disciplinary cell for having thrown a “cocktail” of bodily fluids at his guards.

It reportedly took Latif more than two years even to get a military review hearing at Guantanamo. According to Human Rights Watch, when he protested that the name on his form was not correct, the head of the panel merely replied, “Well, that's the name we have.”

Latif, who was picked up at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the military review board that he went to both countries in search of a  free operation promised by an Islamic charity for head injuries he had suffered in a car accident. He said he was too poor to afford the surgery at home. The board rejected his plea to search for medical records that would support his story. The medical records, later obtained by Latif's lawyers and sent to Human Rights Watch, described acute head injuries and recommended that he seek an additional operation.

As events this week in the Middle East remind us yet again, the Obama administration is right to remain vigilant against security threats. In Latif’s homeland of Yemen, the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was marked by a bombing in the heart of the capital, Sanaa, which killed at least a dozen people and narrowly missed the Yemeni defense minister, who has supported the U.S. counterterrorism program in Yemen. On Thursday, the turmoil that began on September 11 in Benghazi and Cairo spread to Sanaa as well, where scores of men bearing Islamic flags and chanting “Death to America” breached the wall of the U.S. Embassy, a compound that al-Qaeda had attacked in 2008.

But these attacks should not become a fresh excuse for President Obama to continue abandoning his inauguration pledge of nearly four years ago to close Guantanamo.  The detainees still held there without charge had nothing to do with the events in Benghazi, Cairo and Sanaa. And holding them for crimes the administration fears they might commit violates U.S. legal obligations and generates animosity from populations abroad who might be potential allies in efforts to end global terrorism.

Instead of continuing to keep the ugly problem that is Guantanamo swept under the rug, the administration should end its practice of indefinite detention without charge and release and repatriate the Guantanamo detainees it lacks evidence to prosecute, monitoring them if necessary.

The temptation to compromise American values, including the right to due process, runs high during crises such as the one the U.S. faced this week. But doing so is a disservice to the memory of the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11 and to the tens of thousands of other victims of violent militancy around the world, including those who died Monday in Yemen and Tuesday in Benghazi . It also is a disservice to the memory of Adnan Latif, who never had a chance to make his case.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Human Rights

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. diane

    The uprisings in the middle east began this time around after the assassination of a prisoner we had released. Burn gitmo to the ground, with everyone in it.

    September 15, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      How can you be so cruel and callous?

      September 15, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        While we remember the tragic deaths of Chris Stevens and his three subordinates in Benghazi, Adnan Latif's death hardly made headlines. Indeed Obama has to do something with the detainees in Gitmo. Those, who are really innocent should be released. The Gitmo was alltogether a bad idea right from the start.

        September 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
      • JAL

        We need to shift our focus to Africa (while teaming with the Arab League) and show that we aint bluffin. All-in with a grin.

        September 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
      • Gene

        "Crue and callous" when you said:

        J. von hettlingen
        didnt hindus win a cow dung medal in j@rking off?
        August 15, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply

        September 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  2. ✠ RZ ✠

    Any harm or injustice whatsoever to an innocent is unfortunate and regretful. And wherever the cause might result from a suspension of civil rights and freedoms, and especially if any neglect is involved, the governments and their agents acting under such sweeping powers are entirely responsible and must be held accountable. In short, the powers invoked are done so for a valid reason, and because they are so distasteful in their authority and nature it is critical that they not be mishandled or abused. Otherwise there really is no respect for law, and the abusers are no better than the criminal or terrorist element they proclaim to be thwarting.

    A patch on one's arm is only as honorable as the person who wears it. And like the movie line goes, "You don't need a patch on your arm to have honor".

    September 15, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
    • 100 % ETHIO

      Jewish are committed enormous crimes against Christian-Ethiopians in Toronto, Canada , in other Canadian places and in America.

      Jewish uses RBC (Radiological, Biological and Chemical) agents and attacked Christian-Ethiopians.

      Jewish have a Birthmark in their DNA called, DENIAL.

      Jewish never admitted their crimes. They uses other Ethnics for cover-ups. Such as, Phillipinos, South-Asians,...

      Proof? Ask Christian-Ethiopians who are victims.
      Jewish committed Cultural-Genocides against Christian-Ethiopians.

      September 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
      • ✠ RZ ✠

        Ethernopen, that is one of the most insanely idiotic replies I have ever seen. At no point in your irrelevant grumblings did you even come close to what could be considered a realistic thought. Everyone blogging on this site is now dumber for having read it. I give you no hearing, and may God have mercy on your soul.

        September 15, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • JAL

      What do you think will happen over the next couple of months with, what looks to be, US embassy closings and this latest protest environment sweeping through the Arab world? I must be missing some data, as it doesnt really seem to fit any balance. Perhaps it is pent up frustration?

      September 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Reply
      • ✠ RZ ✠

        Hello Jal my friend. My intended response to your answer will not go through. In short, it doesn't look good.

        September 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
      • 100 % ETHIO

        We will find out on the next Three Months of Mayo PROPHECY. Just kidding.
        We will find out in the next Three Days of UN summit in New York.

        Guantanamo and other new incidents, including the British protests against French Embassies and French Flag burning will be on their Agendas, I guess.

        September 16, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  3. 100 % ETHIO

    For Guantanamo case, "....the Obama administrations remain vigilant for security reasons."

    Whereas, the US Government knows... better than our comments here. Which is more relevant than....

    September 15, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  4. stambo

    Considering that the assassin-in-chief has his very own list of people to kill how could Guantanamo be anything but a symbol for how the usa is run today. Guantanamo is the poster perfect image of the new usa that kidnaps, tortures and assassinates people all around the globe completely devoid of the legal process or the Rule of Law.

    They cannot release those that are innnocent in Guantanamo because they would disclose the tortures and deaths that occur there, which of course would compromise 'national security' if it leaks out how barbaric the americans have become.

    It has been said time and again throughout written history that the civilized man who stoops to the action of his barbaric opponent becomes actually worse than his opponent. An elevated, civilized man of intelligence, reason and honour would rather shed his own life than act in a manner contrary to his beliefs. Truly america today is lead by the weakest, most ignorant dishonorable cretins the world has ever witnessed. The supposed president of the free world has an assassination list no different than any banana-republic 'leader' around the globe. What a pathetic joke.

    September 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • sandy

      Some thoughtful,logical writing

      September 29, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  5. Dan M

    Gitmo is a MILITARY PRISON. The men there are Prisoners of War, and as such, will be released at the war's conclusion. The only thing keeping those terrorists there are their fellows in the Middle-East and elsewhere continuing to wage their "Jihad" against the West.

    September 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      And by that very reasoning it would likely be safe to assume that they will be there for a long, long, long time.

      September 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Reply
  6. John Heinz

    I hear that lawyers are no longer allowed in "Gitmo." We the people must keep up pressure for Guantanamo Justice
    –err we end up in there.

    September 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • Rich

      Complete BS. They are aloud

      September 29, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply

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