Friday, August 11, 2017

Guantanamo Detainee Was Disciplined by Putting Him in the Morgue

You'd think the crazy things done to prisoners of the United States in the "war on terror" couldn't get any more bizarre. The U.S. government has waterboarded prisoners, placed them in coffin-like confinement boxes, threatened them with drills, given them forced enemas of hummus and pasta, and sealed them up in all-white rooms and blasted music at them night and day.

ISN 00156, Adnan Farhan Latif
By JTF-GTMO (File:ISN 156's Guantanamo detainee assessment.pdf) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But a newly surfaced document, part of a FOIA release on the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif in September 2012, seems to state that subsequent to an alleged rock throwing incident by Al Latif on July 25, 2012, he was taken to Guantanamo's morgue for some unspecified punishment.

Even more, a series of reports, beginning July 25, and ending August 2, indicated that Al Latif had been sent to or located in the "morgue." The reports were each labeled "DIMS Observation/Disciplinary Report Form" and classified "Secret." See end of this post for all the documents. DIMS stands for "Detainee Information Management System" and is the primary documentary record at Guantanamo for literally everything a detainee does or happens to him. For more on DIMS, see my Truthout article here.

I asked the JTF-Guantanamo Public Affairs Office for an official explanation. I queried, "Was Mr. Latif imprisoned for a time in the morgue at Guantanamo as some kind of discipline or punishment for perceived or actual infractions?"

Commander John Robinson at PAO replied tersely, "We don't discuss details of camp operations." (I've asked whether this means they don't deny Al Latif was placed in the morgue as discipline. I've not yet had a reply but will update this post when I do.)

[Update, August 15, 2017: Today received a further communication from JTF-GTMO's Public Affairs Office, responding to a second query of mine on August 11. I had asked if military authorities weren't really going to deny use of the morgue as a disciplinary action. Commander Robinson wrote back:
"JTF GTMO does not discuss the details of camp operations or specific locations of specific detainees. However, the morgue is only used for proper handling of detainee remains, not for detention. In response to apparent confusion regarding Detainee Information Management System data received via FOIA, please note that when an electronic query is conducted in DIMS, a detainee's 'Current Location' in block 7 will show the physical location (updated to date) of the detainee at the time the search was conducted. The 'Current Location' in block 7 is not associated with the "Date" of the report shown in block 2. Therefore, the location 'Morgue' in block 7 was the updated (most current) location of the detainee at the time the electronic file query in DIMS was conducted."
This would seem to negate the essence of the claims made in this article. But in the service of transparency, I'll leave open what I wrote as a cautionary tale about the use of government documents, and because the other points in the article are still relevant. I'd note, as you'll see in update below, this explanation for the surfacing of the location as the "morgue" as something generated by computer or software dynamism was first brought to my attention by Charlie Savage of The New York Times.]

The period July 25 to August 2, 2012 produced a flurry of disciplinary reports on Al Latif. Only three days earlier, the Supreme Court had refused to hear Al Latif's appeal of a lower court's overturn of his habeas appeal. For the young Yemeni detainee, the Supreme Court's decision was devastating, condemning him to an unending detention with no hope of knowing when it would end. Such indefinite detention has been found to be extremely emotionally and mentally stressful.

Indeed, Al Latif's behavior became more erratic and confrontative after he was in effect sentenced to indefinite detention, following the Supreme Court's decision. If we can believe camp accounts, Al Latif assaulted guards and a nurse with urine and feces, threw a rock at a guard in a watch tower, and possibly even grabbed for a guard's gun in the recreation yard. Only a little over a month later, he was found dead in his cell in Camp 5, ostensibly from a drug overdose of prescription antipsychotic medication. He was also suffering from pneumonia only a day after being medically cleared to be moved from the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at the Detainee Hospital to Alpha Block at Camp 5.

During the period in question in this article - July 25 to August 2, 2012 - Al Latif was ostensibly quartered in the BHU for ongoing suicidality and psychotic behavior. The registered nurse who worked closely with him told government investigators after Al Latif's death that during the period we're looking at Al Latif was “particularly agitated about events that had taken place the previous two days....”

The nurse described Latif as "jumping from the bed to the sink to the table to the toilet.” The jumping behavior would not stop. There was a lot of back and forth about giving Al Latif a forced injection of drugs to calm him. He refused the injection, and in the end, they opted to simply observe him, though there were other times when the prisoner was supposedly agitated when he was involuntarily injected with the drug Haldol to sedate him.

While the government isn't about to explain what really happened, reading between the lines, it looks like Al Latif became very upset when the Supreme Court denied his habeas appeal. His protests and psychological regression overwhelmed camp personnel, who responded ham-handedly by upping the discipline on him. While he was sprayed with pepper spray and involuntarily drugged, it looks like they also imprisoned him in the morgue for hours each day, returning him to the hospital later each day.

While it seems Al Latif was driven insane, or at least driven to desperate acts of defiance and protest by his despair at conditions at Guantanamo, things definitely seemed to get worse after July 25, the first day at the morgue. What happened to Al Latif there? Was he placed in a coffin-like box, as happened to Abu Zubaydah at a CIA "black site" prison? Was he threatened with death? Did he have contact with a corpse, or a fake corpse? Did Guantanamo authorities try to worsen his already fragile mental health?

We don't know the exact answer to the questions above, but given the macabre imagination of the torturers in the U.S. government, anything is possible.

[Update, 8/12/2017: Journalist Charlie Savage at the New York Times saw the documents online, and thought a simpler explanation for the "morgue" location could be that, since the documents contained "dynamic content" (as described at the top of each report), the "current location" was really simply the last location for Al Latif at Guantanamo. That would have been Guantanamo's morgue. In other words, the document automatically updated when it was processed for FOIA. Mr. Savage links to this webpage as an explanation. I think it's a possibility, at this point, and will look more into this explanation.]

The entire episode is an indication of how much we still don't know about the U.S. torture activities undertaken by both the CIA and the Pentagon. Meanwhile, apparently the U.S. is trying to suppress the publication of a "tell-all" book about Guantanamo from an insider, Mark Fallon, who worked with the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2004.

There is also the fact the Senate Intelligence Committee has refused, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, to fully declassify and release their report on CIA torture.

Only a public outcry against torture and its effects, the human costs of which are staggering, will put an end to this censorship. Societal indifference to such inhumanity is highly damaging, the effects of which are to brutalize the society and render it less able to fend off authoritarian or even totalitarian impulses from above.

NOTE: The documents released from SOUTHCOM that are the basis for this story came from a FOIA I filed some years ago. The initial filing for the documents, however, was made by Jason Leopold, a journalist who now works at Buzzfeed, and with whom I worked on various stories about torture a few years back. Jason followed the Al Latif story for some time (see here and here). I've previously covered Al Latif's death as well, most recently in my book, Cover-up at Guantanamo.


If the embedded documents below don't work for you, you can download them here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Saudi government defends imminent protest-related executions

The following is an August 4 press release from the international human rights and legal group, Reprieve. I'd note only that Saudi Arabia is a firm ally of the United States, and U.S. apologia for that government's human rights violations have been going on for decades.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice has released a rare response to criticism over the imminent execution of 14 Saudi nationals on protest-related charges - including juveniles and a man with disabilities. The statement, released today, makes a number of apparently false claims about the trial of the 14.

The Saudi government is facing criticism over plans to execute the 14, who were arrested in the wake of protests and sentenced to death on protest-related charges in a secretive counter-terrorism court. Among the group is a juvenile, Mujtaba al Sweikat, who had a place to study at university in Michigan, but was arrested at the airport en route to the USA; and Munir Adam, who has disabilities. Both men were tortured into making false confessions, which were used against them at trial. Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the 14 protest-related death sentences, meaning the executions are now imminent.

In a statement released today, Sheikh Mansour Al-Qafari, the spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, responded to criticism over the standard of the trial of the 14. The statement claimed that all trials before the controversial Specialised Criminal Court - which sentenced the 14 to death - meet international standards for fairness and due process, and allow for access to lawyers, the preparation of a defence, and even access to the trials by media and human rights observers.

The public statement on the executions is at odds with assessments by the UN, as well as rights groups such as human rights organization Reprieve. Reprieve has established that at least one defendant, Mujtaba, was never permitted to see a lawyer; in Munir's case, no evidence against him was presented at trial. Mujtaba told the court at trial that he was tortured into a false confession, but this claim was dismissed by the judges and never investigated.

In November 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said of the Specialized Criminal Court that “such a special court, specifically designed to deal with so-called terrorism cases, raises serious concerns about its lack of independence and due procedure.” The UN Committee Against Torture has accused judges of the Court of “repeatedly refus[ing] to act on claims made by defendants facing terrorism charges that they had been subjected to torture”.

Today’s Saudi statement also claimed that death sentences are only handed down for the most serious crimes. However, the Saudi authorities continue to carry out executions for non-violent alleged crimes, including political protest and drug offences. Some of the 14 men were convicted of offences such as using mobile phones to organise demonstrations, and using social media.

Commenting, Maya Foa – Director of Reprieve – said: “Saudi Arabia’s attempts to justify these 14 unlawful executions are appalling. This statement is a serious mischaracterisation of the trial process against the 14 men, and it is risible to claim that a protester like Mujtaba – who never even saw a lawyer – received a fair trial. Governments close to Saudi Arabia – including the Trump Administration and the UK – must urgently call on the Kingdom to halt these executions.”
According to Reprieve, English translations for the Saudi documents linked in their press release can be arranged via request. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on:, or +44 (0)7792 351 660.

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