In September of 2012, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni detainee at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was found dead of a psychiatric drug overdose.
As one of the first men to be transported to the military prison in 2002, Mr. Latif had been described as a persistent problem for prison staff, often going on hunger strikes, and had been repeatedly placed on suicide watch.
Ironically Latif had been cleared by a federal judge for transfer back to Yemen more than once, rulings which were reversed due to hesitation by both the Bush and Obama administrations in light of that country’s ongoing Islamic insurgency.
Last week, the New America Foundation in Washington, DC convened a panel to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison — which is still up and running despite President Obama’s promise to shut it down.
According to Andy Worthington, one of the panelists at NAF’s event and author of The Guantánamo Files, over half of the facility’s prisoner population has been cleared for release — release, in this context, at least indicating cleared for transfer and likely repatriation.
As of May of last year, 610 of the 779 inmates at Guantanamo had been released, with only five out of that total having ever been convicted of a criminal offense – the remainder being held under the auspices of sealed evidence. Legally, the entire process of winding down Guantanamo seems to have ground to a halt following 2010’s Al-Adahi v. Obama case, which was handled by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At the same time, the matter of where detainees have gone, or can go, has in itself proved a complicated issue. In the case of Yemeni nationals in particular, it has become de-facto policy that release back to Yemen presents an issue of national security, not because the inmates themselves have been proven to be high threat, but rather because the U.S. government is unwilling to entrust them to their own government.
It has become a political impossibility to relocate inmates out of Guantanamo and into a general prison population, even at a maximum security facility. As a result, and certainly ignoring the fact that Habeus corpus was ever granted to only about half of inmates prior to 2010, and rarely since then, even those cleared for transfer seem to face an indefinite detention.
Each inmate at Guantanamo arrived at the facility for distinct reasons, which is why the detainee population should not be viewed as one single, homogeneous group. So says Col. (ret) Morris Davis, another of NAF’s panelists, and the former chief prosecutor for military commissions at Guantanamo.
According to Morris, those men still held at the military prison represent a wide gamut of threat, if that is to be how they are regarded. While certain detainees due in fact fit the bill as “the worst of the worst” (as Donald Rumsfeld famously remarked in 2003), others were at some time merely foot soldiers, or even individuals at the wrong place at the wrong time, sold for bounty or to settle scores. Of the remaining inmates, at least 80 have already been cleared for transfer out of the facility.
Again, these distinctions among those inmates still held at Guantanamo are rarely made now, save for those who might be of particular interest to foreign governments, such as British nationals. Likewise, marking the anniversary of Guantanamo Bay is a headline that has been slowly relegated into obscurity with each passing year. Panelists at the NAF seemed almost surprised to find that C-SPAN had opted to carry the event’s live broadcast.
Eleven years into the prison’s existence, America’s political establishment seems to regard the entire inmate population as an unfortunate footnote of the war on terrorism, much as public opinion has slowly shifted to accept the existence of “enhanced terrorism techniques” by U.S. intelligence efforts.
As early as 2009, Gallup found that 55% of Americans believed the use of harsh interrogation techniques during the Bush administration were justified. While a softened public view on torture and the indefinite detention of Guantanamo inmates are not necessarily directly linked, they both indicate a general indifference to making complex moral choices.
Whether that indifference is borne out of political expediency or legal wrangling likely makes little difference to those inmates who, even by military definitions of national security, seem to have very little business being held in Guantanamo at all.
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