And it was under such principle that two years later, a United States District Court judge hearing Mr. Latif’s habeas corpus petition ordered him released, ruling that the accusations against him were “unconvincing” and that his detention was “not lawful.” By that time, Mr. Latif had been cleared for release from Guantánamo on three separate occasions, including in 2009 by the Obama administration’s multiagency Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Nevertheless, the Department of Justice appealed the district court’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — which has ruled in the government’s favor in nearly every habeas corpus appeal it has heard. The appellate court reversed the trial judge’s release order, effectively ruling that evidence against detainees must be presumed accurate and authentic if the government claims it is.
A strong dissenting opinion criticized the appellate court majority for not just “moving the goal posts,” but also calling “the game in the government’s favor.”
But Mr. Latif didn’t see it as a game. He was dying inside. Like other men, he had been on a hunger strike to protest his detention. After losing the appeal of his case, he told his lawyer, “I am a prisoner of death.”
Three months ago, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeals of Mr. Latif and six other detainees, who pleaded for the court to restore its promise of meaningful review of their cases.
But what is unsaid in all of the court rulings is that Mr. Latif was imprisoned not by evidence of wrongdoing, but by accident of birth. In Guantánamo’s contorted system of justice, the decision to detain him indefinitely turned on his citizenship, not on his conduct.
With Mr. Latif’s death, there are now 56 Yemenis who have been cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force since 2009 but who remain in prison. President Obama, citing general security concerns, has imposed a moratorium on any and all transfers to Yemen, regardless of age, innocence or infirmity.
It is fair, and regrettable, to assume that some of these detainees will die there as well.
Mr. Latif, after all, was the ninth man to die at Guantánamo. More men have died in the prison camp than have been convicted by a civilian court (one) or by the military commissions system in Guantánamo (six). In 2006, Salah al-Salami, a Yemeni, and Yasser al-Zahrani and Mani al-Utaybi, both Saudis, were the first men to die at Guantánamo. Their deaths were called suicides, even though soldiers stationed at the base at the time have raised serious questions about the plausibility of the Defense Department’s account. (Full disclosure: the Center for Constitutional Rights represents the families of two of the men who died.)
According to the government, three more detainees committed suicide and two others died of natural causes. There has been no independent investigation into any of the deaths, however; there has been no accountability for a range of constitutional and human rights violations at Guantánamo.
The government has not yet identified the cause of Mr. Latif’s death, but it is Guantánamo that killed him. Whether because of despair, suicide or natural causes, death has become an inevitable consequence of our politically driven failure to close the prison — a natural byproduct of the torment and uncertainty indefinite detention inflicts on human beings.
The case of Adnan Latif should compel us to confront honestly the human toll of the Guantánamo prison — now approaching its 12th year in operation. We can start this reckoning by releasing the 86 other men at Guantánamo who the United States government has concluded no longer deserve to be jailed there.
Baher Azmy is the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
(Source: New York Times, September 14, 2012)