Latif’s Unexplained Death: Yemeni Government Facilitates US Stall

Jason Leopold has an important story on Adnan Farhan abd al Latif’s unexplained death. He provides more detail of Latif’s struggles with his 1994 head injury the government claimed wasn’t the reason for his 2001 trip to Pakistan. He describes how Latif’s family–including his 14 year old son Ezzi Deen–responded to the news Latif had died at Gitmo.

But most importantly, Leopold adds more details to those reported by ProPublica on Latif’s death and subsequent limbo.

When Latif died, people–including me–suggested he might have finally found a way to kill himself. But as Leopold points out, with every suicide at Gitmo, DOD has released details on the obvious signs of that suicide. And a Gitmo spokesperson has repeatedly confirmed there was no immediately apparent evidence of suicide.

But in a statement to the Associated Press two days after Guantanamo officials announced the death of a prisoner without naming him, Durand said, “There is no apparent cause, natural or self-inflicted.”

Durand explained to Truthout at the time he made that statement he was responding to a reporter’s query: “Would you call it an apparent suicide or natural causes?”

Now, however, “It would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of death at this time.”

There was nothing to “immediately suggest ‘apparent suicide,'” Durand said, and the death is being investigated by “multiple entities.”

A Yemeni official reflecting information presumably passed from John Brennan to Yemeni President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi when they met on September 28 confirms the government appears to have ruled out suicide.

The Yemeni government official told Truthout that US officials appear to have ruled out suicide as the manner of his death.

Leopold quotes Cyril Wecht suggesting convulsions (possibly associated with his brain injury) or drugs may have had a role in Latif’s death.

Meanwhile, no one can perform independent analysis on Latif’s body, because the government has stashed it at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The US and Yemeni governments continue the same story shared with ProPublica: the Yemenis won’t accept the body until they get a report on why he died, the US hasn’t provided that, so the body decays in US custody.

[Latif’s brother] Muhammed said the family was told by Yemen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that his brother’s remains would be sent home within two weeks after his death. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to Muhammed, obtained that information from the Yemen Embassy in Washington, DC.

But according to a Yemeni official, the Yemen government refused to accept Adnan’s body until they receive a full accounting of the cause of his death.

[snip]The Yemeni government official’s comments about Adnan were obtained during an interview late last month when President Hadi visited the United States. His statements about Adnan were made in the context of discussions Hadi had with top US officials in the White House about the remaining Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo and Afghanistan.

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Latif died 40 days ago. Just 19 days remain before the election. Between them, the US and Yemeni governments have forestalled the time when the US has to admit a man–the sole evidence against whom was a flawed intelligence report written while Pakistanis were trying to convince us to pay a bounty for Latif–died of unnatural causes in their custody. Possibly, they will have to admit complications of the same head injury they claimed, in court, was not all that serious, killed him.

And it appears John Brennan may be buying Hadi’s complicity on this front with promises he may not be able to keep. Leopold’s Yemeni source makes clear that the US and Yemeni government have tied discussions of the release of the other Yemenis in Gitmo and Bagram to the fate of Latif’s body.

“President Hadi was in Washington, DC, and met with President Obama’s cabinet ministers,” the official said. “The remaining Yemeni detainees was one of the talking points. President Hadi has made Guantanamo and Bagram [prison in Afghanistan] a high priority for Yemen. We are emphasizing talks and opening up a dialogue to ensure the timely release and transfer and rehabilitation of those remaining detainees to Yemeni custody and we are working closely with the US government. These discussions took place with high-level officials in the Obama administration.” [brackets original]

I can imagine a quid pro quo that goes this way: Hadi agrees to refuse to accept the body, helping to forestall announcements of how Latif died, until after the election. And then the US will enter discussions to do what they should have done 2 years ago: release the Yemenis who don’t pose a threat to the US.

But all that’s premised on getting Congressional support to release roughly 60 Yemenis, after the Administration already neutralized the one point of leverage–detainee wins in habeas proceedings–that has worked to override Congressional intransigence in the past.

To some degree, I can’t blame Hadi for doing the bidding of the superpower that put him in power, on whose continued military support he relies. I can’t blame Hadi for trading Latif’s decaying corpse for the fate of 60 other Yemenis unjustly held at Gitmo.

But if that’s the trade-off, I do question Hadi’s judgment for believing Obama will do in a second term what he had easier ways of doing–habeas proceedings–in the first.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. central texas says:

    I guess that I wonder why anyone would go to all this bother predicated on the upcoming election. It has been demonstrated, again and again and again, that those who oppose the president would just as soon kill all of the Gitmo prisoners and so would be indifferent to the news that we “accidentally” killed one of them. His supporters are likewise willing to excuse any excess, illegal action, or screw up while criticizing prior administrations. Some of us care that we are actively destroying what this country is supposed to stand for, but there are nowhere near enough who think that way to matter in the election.

  2. karenjj2 says:

    i expect the whole deal boils down to u.s. holding 60 “live” hostages vs. obtaining 1 dead body. no matter what occurs over the next 4+ years, the Yemen pres must realize that gangsters never really deal honestly; in fact, he serves at the pleasure of the current PTB and is realistically more concerned about his own family than the “living dead in gitmo.”

  3. karenjj2 says:

    “detainees of interest” = “charges?! we don’t need no steenkin charges!” –banana republics have a hallmark of “disappearing” people; only the language has been changed to reflect the end of personhood.

    perhaps the people being held should be “incorporated” in their home countries and get some corporate lawyers could go before the supremes arguing that their corporate CEO is being deprived of the corps’ “constitutional rights.”

  4. harpie says:

    @Jason Leopold: Hi Jason. Thanks for the great reporting work!

    Is there a typo in the following? [not that it necessarily makes much of a difference to your report, but…]:

    Adnan was housed in isolation in a section of Camp 5, where prisoners are checked on by the guard force every three minutes, 24 hours a day.
    […]
    “The guards are checking to make sure the detainees are alive. They need to see them breathing,” he said. “They do their rounds and they have a block log where they write in what they observed. It’s a sheet that you fill out on every shift recording the detainees’ movement every 30 minutes or so. […]

    Is it a difference between “checking” and “reporting”?

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    “I think he was psychotic or schizophrenic,” said a former senior intelligence official who served at Guantanamo between 2002 and mid-2003. The official, who requested anonymity because he still serves in US military intelligence, said it was “fairly common” to deal with noncompliant detainees by injecting them with sedatives.

    “In this detainee’s situation, because he was also a mental case as well as being a troublemaker, he was always doped up with sedatives and anti-depressants and who knows what else,” he said. “It was the only way we could deal with his mood swings.”

    If I may be so bold as to hazard a strong guess as to what happened. With the potent mix of sedatives, anti-depressants and possibly painkillers, anticonvulsants and other drugs, that Latif developed an acute brain syndrome, i.e., toxicity due to overmedication and/or drug interactions. This would have been either an intentional act aimed at a “troublemaker” or unintentional but nevertheless criminal negligence on behalf of medical and camp staff.

    Such acute brain toxicity or CNS shutdown is not unknown in the case of poly drug use, particularly with sedatives, etc.

    But in a larger sense — for instance, he was obviously mentally ill from the imprisonment and/or head injury, and yet kept in isolation — he was tortured to death. Let this sink in… Obama’s Guantanamo authorities tortured a man to death, and then has tried to hide evidence of that from the world. They hope that this news story like so many others will fade with time (and the election).

    My thanks to Jason Leopold for his heartfelt article looking at the life, unjust incarceration, and death of Adnan Latif.

    With his corpse locked up for who knows how long at Ramstein, I think we can accurately say that in Obama’s America even corpses are subject to indefinite detention.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    The shame has grown to solar system size now. So much for the most transparent administration evah.

  7. harpie says:

    From the linked article:

    Adnan would have turned 37 in December. Several years ago, as a much younger man, he wrote a Last Will and Testament in which he left all of his possessions to Ezzi Deen. But the US government refused to process it.

    wow.

    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up!”-[attributed to] Lily Tomlin

  8. PeasantParty says:

    @Jason Leopold: Jason, We are all very thankful for your work. When you have time could you give us some idea of what is happening in Paraquay? I have read some of the Land War issues and understand that many of the US elites have purchased large swathes there.

  9. harpie says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Thaks, Jeff.

    Bears repeating:

    But in a larger sense — for instance, he was obviously mentally ill from the imprisonment and/or head injury, and yet kept in isolation — he was tortured to death. Let this sink in… Obama’s Guantanamo authorities tortured a man to death, and then has tried to hide evidence of that from the world. They hope that this news story like so many others will fade with time (and the election).

    From John Donne’s 1625 Easter Sermon

    “St Augustine moves a question, and institutes a disputation, and carries it somewhat problematically, whether torture be to be admitted at all, or no. That presents a fair probability which he says against it. We presume, says he, that an innocent man should accuse himself, by confession, in torture. And if an innocent man be able to do so, why should we not think that a guilty man, who shall save his life by holding his tongue in torture, should be able to do so?
    And then, where is the use of torture? It is a slippery trial and uncertain (says Ulpian) to convince by torture. For many says (says St Augustine again) he that is yet but questioned, whether he be guilty or no, before that be known, is, without all question, miserably tortured. And whereas, many time, the passion of the Judge, and the covetousness of the Judge, and the ambition of the Judge, are calamities heavy enough upon a man that is accused. If the Judge knew that he were innocent, he should suffer nothing. If he knew he were guilty, he should not suffer torture. But because the Judge is ignorant and knows nothing, therefore the prisoner must be racked and tortured and mangled.
    […]
    “In which tortures, the Inquisition hath found one way to escape the generall clamour of the world against them, which is to torture to that heighth, that few survive, or come abroad after, to publish, how they have been tortured.”

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