Adnan Latif was found dead in his cell on September 10, 2012, just a day before the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. He was 32. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade, despite being cleared for release in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010 by US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy. There has never been any evidence that Latif ever committed a crime. He suffered at the hands of the US government in ways that most people can’t begin to comprehend, and his death should be a reminder that the national shame that is Guantanamo Bay lives on.
Latif wrote in a letter to his lawyer:
Do whatever you wish to do, the issue is over. This is a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know except the language of power, oppression, and humiliation for whoever enters it. Anybody who is able to die will be able to achieve happiness for himself, he has no hope except that. The requirement … is to leave this life which is no longer anymore called a life, instead it itself has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul. I will not allow any more of this and I will end it.
The Obama administration appealed the 2010 decision to release Latif, in part because of a policy of not transferring detainees to Yemen, and so Latif remained in custody – not because of what he had done (which was nothing), but because of where he was born. The decision to appeal his release wasn’t a holdover from the Bush era. That was an affirmative decision made by the Obama administration, and any supporters who hoped Obama would close Guantanamo Bay should understand that fact.
Latif is far from the only prisoner still held at Guantanamo despite being okayed for release. Over half of the people left in Gitmo have been cleared for years. That young man, who was, say, twenty when he is seized, is now thirty. He sees his life slipping away from him with no sign of release. Hopelessness takes lives at Gitmo now.
Some Guantanamo numbers:
- Number of men imprisoned at Guantanamo by the Department of Defense since it opened in January of 2002: 779
- Number of men still there: 166
- The total number of those 166 who are actually serving sentences, because they had a trial: 3
Did you catch that? Three people in Guantanamo have actually been convicted of something. And it gets worse…
- The number of people still imprisoned at Guantanamo after being cleared for release by our government: 86
- The percentage of prisoners who have never been even remotely connected to Al-Qaeda and have never fought against the US in any way: 92%
- Percentage of prisoners who were actually captured by American troops: 5%
- The percentage of prisoners who were picked up through a bounty ad: 86%
This is absolutely amazing and tragic. Our government put out ads in poor neighborhoods in Pakistan and Afghanistan – here’s an actual quote: “We will provide you with millions of dollars, enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe, for the rest of your life.” So what do those poor villagers do? They turn in the village crank, the guy no one likes, the guy who was sleeping with your sister.
- Age of the youngest detainee: 13
- Age of the oldest detainee: 92
- Number of children who have been held at Guantanamo: 21
- Age of the youngest prisoner to kill himself: 21 (captured at age 16, for throwing stones at American forces.)
- Cost per year to detain the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release: 69 million
- Cost per year were these prisoners to be moved into federal prisons: 3 million
- Number of FBI agents who have personally witnessed and independently filed protests regarding the abusive treatment of prisoners: Over 200
- Number of prisoners transferred for prosecution in federal court: 1
- The number of military prosecutors who have requested to be reassigned or who have quit because they considered the imprisonment of these men to be unjust: 7
This is the wrong thing to do. This is not who we want to be as a nation.
It is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists, it wastes the taxpayers money, it needs to be closed. It is contrary to who we are. Guantanamo is an indelible stain on America.
Unfortunately, Guantanamo is now a sign of the compromise of Obama’s principles. True, this wasn’t Obama’s prison – it was one of the many ways that the Bush/Cheney administration betrayed America and did irreparable damage to our reputation, our honor and our national conscience. But Obama promised to close it, and in fact he signed an executive order to close it, but he backed down in the face of ferocious resistance from the Republican dominated Congress. Congressmen cut the funds needed to transfer prisoners and adopted various measures to avoid sending them anywhere else. The president had the alternatives of vetoing congressional decisions or using executive order to circumvent them, but he preferred to give in, as he’s done in so many other areas in which he needed to stand up and do what’s right.
The men in Guantanamo are condemned to live in prison forever, with no evidence, no due process, no trial. History is going to look back on this and rightly condemn us. We are America. We are better than this.