1-11-2013By Daphne Eviatar
Law and Security Program
Eleven years after President George W. Bush first opened it, it’s hard to believe the United States is still running an offshore prison in Cuba for men seized at least half a decade ago and most never even charged with a crime. Given that the 166 men still imprisoned there indefinitely have been locked away so long, sight unseen, it’s not surprising most Americans have forgotten they’re even there — now under the authority of President Obama.
Laura Poitras’s Op-Doc in today’s New York Times is a really important reminder. Following home to Yemen the corpse of Adnan Latif, a Guantanamo prisoner cleared for release three separate times by the Defense Department but still held indefinitely, the short film reminds us that we are all responsible for this ongoing tragedy.
Adnan Latif was 36 years old when he died at Guantanamo after more than ten years in captivity there, without charge. Seized in Pakistan by U.S. soldiers who claimed he was training with the Taliban, Latif said he had traveled to Pakistan to seek medical treatment for a head injury he suffered years earlier in a car accident. A U.S. federal judge in 2010 ordered his release for lack of evidence of wrongdoing, but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, applying a standard of proof that makes it virtually impossible for a detainee to prevail, no matter how weak the evidence.
It was clear over the years that Latif wasn’t doing well at Gitmo. He had ongoing medical problems, went on a hunger strike to protest his unjust detention, and eventually was prescribed psychiatric medication, which he was initially too afraid to take. An overdose of that medication is the official U.S. military explanation for his death, although it remains unclear why he had enough prescription medication on hand to kill him.
In reality, we’re all responsible for what happened to Latif. Despite the tireless efforts of advocates like his American lawyer, David Remes, who meets with Latif’s family in Poitras’s film, the U.S. government that we just re-elected kept this man locked away for no reason it was ever able to substantiate publicly. Any evidence it supposedly had against him was classified.
In forgetting about the men locked away by our government based on secret evidence or no evidence at all, we’ve all gotten lazy. Some human rights advocates even now say we may as well just leave Guantanamo open. But that’s the wrong answer.
This is not an insoluble problem. There are clear steps the government can take now to move toward shuttering the notorious prison for good.
It is our responsibility, today, on the prison’s 11-year-anniversary, to insist that this hideous chapter in American post-9-11 history finally come to a close.