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Latif Autopsy Report Calls Gitmo Death a Suicide: Questions Remain

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. (Photo: JTF-GTMO)

The manner of death has been ruled a suicide, the cause of death has not yet been disclosed. The list of unanswered questions grows.

Truthout has obtained the results of the autopsy on Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, but the long-awaited report on the mysterious September death of the Guantanamo Bay detainee raises more questions than answers.

Yemeni government officials, who have been briefed on the autopsy report, as well as a US military investigator close to the case, told Truthout this weekend that a military medical examiner has concluded the manner of death of the 36-year-old prisoner was suicide.

However, the cause of death has not yet been disclosed and the autopsy’s reported conclusions conflict with previous statements by US and Yemeni government officials that there was no sign of “self-harm” on his body when he was found “motionless and unresponsive” in his cell in a disciplinary wing of Camp 5 on the afternoon of September 8. The manner in which Latif is reported to have taken his own life has not been disclosed either.

These sources, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak with the media, would not disclose additional details from the autopsy report until the Yemen government accepts Latif’s remains and returns his body to his family.

“We will issue a statement as soon as [Yemen] accepts his remains,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flanders, a spokesman for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Task Force-Guantanamo’s (JTF-GTMO) higher command. Flanders would not comment on the autopsy report’s conclusions. Truthout has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the report.

Latif, who had been seriously injured in a car wreck in his native Yemen, was in search of free medical treatment in Afghanistan in October 2001 when the US invaded the country in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Trapped by the bombing of Kabul, Latif was captured at the Pakistan border by Pakistani police and sold to the Northern Alliance for a bounty of $5,000. He had been cleared for transfer back to his homeland four times over the past decade by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

A Yemeni government official told Truthout Saturday Latif’s remains would be returned to his family in “the upcoming days.” The Yemeni government had previously declined to accept his remains until they received a copy of the autopsy report and the findings from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which has been investigating the circumstnaces and cause of Latif’s death as required whenever a prisoner dies at Guantanamo.

Although the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, DC received a copy of the autopsy report on November 10, the NCIS probe, as Truthout previously reported, could take as much as a year to complete.

Latif’s body has been held for nearly three months at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. US officials have said Latif’s remains have been handled according to Muslim precepts, which precluded taking steps to preserve his body and organs, now badly decomposed. Therefore, his family will not be able to seek an independent autopsy.

“This will be very tough for [Latif’s] family,” the Yemeni government official said the condition of Latif’s remains.

That the cause of Latif’s death was determined to be suicide -the seventh such case at Guantanamo – appears to contradict what US officials originally believed.

Last month the Yemeni official told Truthout a US government official seemed to rule out suicide during their discussions with embassy officials in September, prior to the completion of the autopsy report.

Embassy officials specifically asked the US government representative if there was any sign Latif “choked himself” or hung himself and the answer was “no,” the Yemeni official said.

Previous rulings of suicides at Guantanamo, several of which have been called into question, were the result of hanging and strangulation by the elastic waistband of a pair of underwear. In all of those cases, a news release was immediately issued characterizing the deaths as suicides.

But Latif’s death stands out because, after three months, the US government still has not issued a statement saying how he died. That is partially due to the fact that when his body was discovered there wasn’t any sign of “physical harm” or “any harm” on Latif’s body to suggest he committed suicide, the Yemeni government official said.

That’s consistent with what Capt. Robert Durand, a JTF-GTMO spokesman, told the Associated Press two days after Latif’s death in which he is quoted as saying, “There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted.”

Durand told Truthout that although Latif “had a history of self-harm acts” he “generally refrained from activities which would potentially cause his death.”

Latif, who had suffered severe head injuries in the car accident that caused neurological problems, was deemed a mentally unstable prisoner who often said he wanted to die.

Still, Durand said, Latif “was monitored by the behavioral health unit, and his recent actions, activities and statements to therapists indicated that he did not appear to want to end his life.”

Absent an obvious indication of self-harm, or a known medical condition, it would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of death,” Durand said in October.

Durand would not say if Latif, who was monitored round-the-clock by prison guards and subjected to video surveillance, was placed on suicide watch.

Guards are supposed to check on prisoners in Camp 5 at least every three minutes and, if the prisoner is deemed a “detainee of interest,” every 60 seconds. The guards are supposed to check to make sure the prisoners are breathing, according to one former Guantanamo guard.

Latif’s Last Days Revealed

According to Durand, Latif was sent to Camp 5 after being “medically cleared,” because he assaulted a guard with a “cocktail,” a mixture of bodily fluids and food. Neither Durand nor Guantanamo spokeswoman Capt. Jennifer Palmeri would say when the incident took place or when he was transferred to Camp 5 Alpha Block, where most prisoners are held in isolation.

But according to the accounts that a half-dozen prisoners gave David Remes, a Washington, DC-based human rights lawyer who began challenging Latif’s detention in 2004, the circumstances that led to Latif’s transfer to Camp 5 are much more complex. He was first sent from Camp 6 to a psychiatric ward, then the prison hospital and then to Camp 5.

Some of the prisoners, who are also represented by Remes, were housed in the same cell block in Camp 6 as Latif. Remes has asked that their names not be used for their protection.

It appears Latif was in Camp 5 only a day or two before he died. One of the prisoners who provided insight into Latif’s detention in Camp 5 is Shaker Aamer, who was Latif’s “neighbor” in the Alpha cellblock at Camp 5. Aamer, who allowed his name to be used, is the last British prisoner whose ten-plus years of detention and torture at Guantanamo has attracted international attention and has put pressure on the British government by human rights organizations to secure his immediate release.

Aamer told Remes last month that in early August, Latif was in the recreation yard at Camp 6 when he threw a stone at a guard tower and broke the spotlight; he was then taken to the psychiatric ward connected to the prison facility’s hospital.

Aamer contends Latif was told on September 6, two days before his death, he would be given an “ESP injection,” that other prisoners claim “makes you a zombie” and “has a one-month afterlife,” according to unclassified notes of the meeting between Remes and Aamer.

It is not known what an “ESP injection” is or how Aamer obtained the information. Remes said he could not provide additional details about his discussions with Aamer. However, Truthout has previously reported, based on a Defense Department Inspector General’s report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that Guantanamo prisoners who act out are “chemically restrained” with unknown medications.

A Defense Department spokesman said he could not respond to the allegations leveled by Aamer because he was not familiar with the chain of events.

Aamer, who speaks English, then told Remes that on September 5, three days before his death, Latif broke a fence and “escaped,” presumably from the psych ward, and was then taken to the hospital at the urging of another prisoner who said it would “calm him.”

Either on September 6 or 7, just a day or two before he died, is when Latif was moved to Camp 5. Aamer said Latif protested his transfer into the cell at Camp 5 because of the constant buzzing noise from a generator located behind a wall.

“He fought and fought against going there,” Aamer said, according to the unclassified notes.

Another prisoner said a female psychologist accompanied Latif from the hospital to Camp 5, where one prisoner told Remes the minimum stay is three months, “regardless of the magnitude of the offense.”

The female psychologist said she would communicate Latif’s concerns about being housed in Camp 5 to “higher-ups.” Latif said he was happy at the hospital and eventually wanted to return to Camp 6. But a guard apparently told Latif, according to another prisoner, he would never return to Camp 6.

Aamer’s account is consistent with the accounts provided to Remes by other prisoners who gave statements to Remes.

The other prisoners went into greater detail about the guard tower incident. They said Latif threw the rock at the guard tower because he was not given his medication “on time or not at all,” according to unclassified notes of meetings between Remes and a half-dozen other prisoners that took place in September and October.

Latif went out to the rec yard of Camp 6 and, through an interpreter, sought assistance from guards, asking them to contact “the clinic people” for his medication. It’s unknown what medication Latif was taking. Those details are classified.

“The guards waved him off, so [Latif] picked up a rock and threw it at one of the towers in the rec area, breaking a spotlight,” according to the prisoner’s account.

The incident took place during Ramadan and resulted in dozens of soldiers being called into the rec area, some of who rolled up in Hummers, fired their weapons into the ground and threatened to kill Latif, according to several prisoners who were present.

“The guards came into Camp 5 with guns, and beat up the detainees,” another prisoner recalled. “Other soldiers surrounded the camp. [The Officer in Charge] came and told detainees, ‘You are extremists and I’m going to deal with you in a harsh way. You intend to kill our soldiers; we’ll do the same thing to you.'”

Aamer also said Latif was on a hunger strike at the time of his transfer to Camp 5; another prisoner said before his transfer to Camp 5, Latif was housed in a wing of the hospital reserved for hunger strikers.

A US official knowledgeable about the NCIS investigation into Latif’s death told Truthout Latif did not leave his cell to attend prayer on the day of his death and did not eat breakfast or lunch prior to being found unresponsive by prison guards on Saturday afternoon, September 8.

After prisoners were informed about his death on September 8, according to the account of another detainee, they “refused food” and “people in various blocks demonstrated.”

Politics at Play?

The autopsy report into Latif’s death has been complete for more than a month and was shared with Yemeni government officials on November 10. But both the US and Yemen have refused to discuss it – until now.

Several US officials told Truthout that Yemen did not publicly disclose the contents of the autopsy report or accept Latif’s remains because they were “using him as a political tool during high-level discussions” about the release of other Yemeni detainees.

Discussions between the US and Yemen surrounding Latif’s death have always centered on the repatriation of the remaining Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo, half of whom have been cleared for release, and those being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

In a statement issued in Arabic by the Yemen Embassy in Washington, DC on November 11 – one day after embassy officials received an official copy of Latif’s autopsy report – the Yemen government said Adal Al-Suneini, acting charge d’affaires in the Yemen Embassy in Washington, DC, met with William K. Lietzau, the assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy, to discuss these issues.

According to a copy of the statement, for which Truthout obtained a translation:

It should be noted that the embassy spokesman who wrote this release, Mohammed Albasha, disputed the translation provided to Truthout that alludes to “mysterious circumstances.” He contends there are no “mysterious” circumstances.

The Latif family reports they received a telephone call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a few days after their eldest son’s death. They were told to expect to receive his body within two weeks, but did not hear any more from the Yemen government until last week.

In an interview with Truthout over the weekend, Adnan Latif’s brother, Muhammed, said the family received a telephone call on Thursday from Yemen’s feared intelligence agency, the Political Security Organization (PSO), which deals with issues involving Yemeni Guantanamo prisoners, and was asked if the family still wanted to receive his brother’s remains.

“Yes,” Muhammed told the PSO officer. “He said the initial [autopsy report] is only conditional and the final cause [to be issued by NCIS] will not be available for nine months.”

Muhammed said when he tried to ask the PSO official questions about the cause of his brother’s death he was told, “We’re very busy. Call back later.”

Muhammed also said he had sent numerous emails to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the past several months inquiring about his brother and not one was answered.

“The family is still very sad and in shock,” he said. “We don’t know what is happening with Adnan.”

It was during this interview that Truthout told Muhammed that the autopsy report concludes that his brother committed suicide. He was silent, eventually saying he refused to accept the autopsy report’s conclusions and reiterating what he has said in earlier interviews: that President Obama is personally responsible for the death of his brother.

The Yemeni government official disputed any suggestion that politics played a role in their government’s failure to release details of the autopsy report publicly, or share it with Latif’s family.

“This is just the worst time for the Yemeni government to be working on this,” the government official said. “The government is preoccupied with other things and this is on the backburner. The bureaucracy is terrible in Sana’a. Things are not going as smooth as we would hope it to be.”

The official declined to elaborate and it is unclear why Latif’s family has not yet received a copy of the autopsy report.

Remes, Latif’s lawyer, told embassy officials he was authorized to accept it on behalf of the family. But Asmaa Katah, the political official at the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, DC, said she was not authorized to give it to Remes. Katah, who did not respond to requests for comment, told Remes that Muhammed make the five-hour journey to Sana’a and pick up a copy.

But Katah would not guarantee that it would be turned over to him, Remes said.

“It’s easy to imagine why the Defense Department would want to keep Adnan’s autopsy report under lock and key,” Remes said. “The mystery is why the Yemen government is following suit. Yemen has nothing to fear from the report. They apparently lack the resolve to stand up to the United States. Once again, it’s Adnan’s family that bears the brunt. This matter is getting weirder by the day.”

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