Miami - A prisoner who died in his cell at the Guantanamo Bay naval base at the weekend was a suicidal and mentally ill Yemeni who had won a U.S. court order for his release, only to have it overturned on appeal, according to his lawyer and court records.
The military identified the dead detainee on Tuesday as Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 32-year-old from Al Udayn, Yemen.
He had been held at the U.S. detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base on Cuba's southeast coast since 2002. He died on Saturday, but his name was not released until after his relatives were notified.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service was investigating the cause of death but results of the autopsy were still pending, said Navy Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman for the detention operation.
Latif had attempted suicide several times, said his attorney David Remes.
“He was so fragile, he was so tormented that it would not surprise me if he had committed suicide,” Remes said. “However you look at it, it was Guantanamo that killed him.”
Latif died in Camp 5, a maximum security facility that holds those accused of breaking camp rules. He was being disciplined for assaulting a guard with a “cocktail” of bodily fluids, Durand said.
Guards found him unconscious, medics tried to revive him and took him to the base hospital, where he was pronounced dead, he said.
Latif was captured near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in late 2001.
An administrative review board at Guantanamo recommended his transfer to his homeland in 2006, but this did not come about.
Latif challenged his detention in the U.S. District Court in Washington, which ruled in July 2010 that he should go free. His lawyers argued that Latif had gone to Pakistan and then Afghanistan to seek medical treatment from an aid group for a severe head injury suffered in a car crash.
The U.S. government, which says Latif was an al Qaeda fighter recruited and trained in Afghanistan by the Taliban, successfully appealed against the District Court ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Latif's appeal against this decision in June.
It was unclear whether Latif was among the Yemenis cleared for transfer by President Barack Obama's Guantanamo Review Task Force in 2009. Remes said government secrecy rules prevented him from commenting on that.
“He was never a threat to the United States and should never have been brought to Guantanamo,” Remes said. “He should have been released long ago not just because he was innocent of any wrongdoing but because humanitarian considerations cried out for his release.”
Obama imposed a moratorium on returning Guantanamo captives to Yemen after a Yemeni-trained Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane with a bomb in his underpants on Christmas Day 2009.
Latif had severe psychological problems, his lawyer said. At Guantanamo, he went on hunger strikes that caused his weight to drop precipitously and was force-fed. He abandoned his hunger strike in June, apparently after losing his final court appeal.
“He did try to commit suicide many times, by hanging, he swallowed screws, he swallowed plastic garbage bags,” Remes said.
Latif had a neat scar on his stomach where surgeons had operated to remove foreign objects, he said.
In a letter he wrote to his lawyer in Arabic in 2010, Latif called Guantanamo “a piece of hell that kills everything.” In another, he wrote that his life had become a living death.
“Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul. I will not allow any more of this and I will end it,” he wrote.
Durand said Latif's remains were being treated with respect for Islamic culture and traditions and his body would be returned to Yemen.
Latif was the ninth prisoner to die in custody at the Guantanamo detention camp, which was set up after the September 11, 2001, attacks to hold non-American captives suspected of involvement with al Qaeda, the Taliban or other Islamist militant groups.
Of the 779 men held there, 167 remain.
Two of the earlier deaths were from natural causes and six were designated as suicides, most of them by hanging. - Reuters