Special to The Public Record

The Death Of Adnan Latif

Adnan Latif in an undated photo wearing a "suicide smock." This never before published photograph was sent by Adnan to his family in Yemen. Photo/Courtesy of David Remes.

Adnan Latif in an undated photo wearing a “suicide smock.” This never before published photograph was sent by Adnan to his family in Yemen. The photograph was given to Remes by Adnan’s brother, Muhammed Latif during the lawyer’s recent visit to the country.

A military report relies on implausible assumptions and avoids unpleasant scenarios

In late April, the guards at Guantánamo prison began to subject detainees who wish to leave their camps to a humiliating new body search: The guards pat the detainees down, touching their genitals and buttocks. Since detainees must leave their camps to have meetings or calls with their lawyers, detainees have been declining lawyer meetings and calls, sacrificing their constitutional right to pursue habeas corpus. At our request, Judge Royce Lamberth recently ordered the military authorities to stop these groin searches. He found the searches to be just another government attempt to interfere with our clients’ access to counsel. He considered the government’s justifications pretextual. The government is appealing.

General John F. Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), cited the case of my late client Adnan Latif as “the basis” for the genital searches. Adnan died in his cell last September. According to the autopsy, Adnan committed suicide by swallowing 24 capsules of his antipsychotic medication Invega. Southcom investigated Adnan’s death, completed a report in November, and released a public version in June. The report hints that Adnan was able to smuggle the capsules from one place to another and into his cell by hiding them in his groin area, secure in the belief that it would not be searched. The mainstream media presented this narrative as fact. But the report is fatally flawed, and the narrative does not hold up. This post explains why.

The investigators took as a given that Adnan pocketed the 24 capsules, smuggled them into his Camp V cell, and swallowed them unnoticed. They took as their task to figure out how all this could have happened. They found their answers in theorizing that Adnan was able to pocket the capsules because corpsmen didn’t make sure he swallowed them; was able to smuggle the capsules into his cell by hiding them in his private parts, or in his Quran, where he believed the guards wouldn’t search; and was able to swallow the capsules unnoticed because guards assigned to watch him weren’t vigilant. In short, the investigators found systems and human failures at every turn, which enabled Adnan to commit suicide. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.

But what must have happened is not necessarily what happened. The investigators attached no significance to the fact that for 16 of the 19 days in question, including the days immediately preceding his death, Adnan was in the detainee hospital, shackled to his bed, or that the medical staff concluded that Adnan was doing well under the medication. The investigators did not ask why, if Adnan was doing well, he would have stockpiled the capsules.

A bed inside of the detention hospital at Guantanamo. The guard force uses restraints to keep prisoners from moving while under a doctor's care. Photo by Jason Leopold/Guantanamo Bay, May 2013.

A bed inside of the detention hospital at Guantanamo. The guard force uses restraints to keep prisoners from moving while under a doctor’s care. Photo by Jason Leopold/Guantanamo Bay, May 2013.

Nor did the investigators actually find that Adnan smuggled the capsules by concealing them in his groin area, only that the ban on searching that area gave him an opportunity to do so. Finally, the investigators did not explain how Adnan, lying on his side on the floor, apparently asleep, could have known when the guards weren’t looking, or could have reached for his stash and gulped down the 24 capsules in seconds.

Most glaringly, the investigators didn’t consider the possibility that the capsules were made available to Adnan after he got to his Camp V cell, to prompt or enable him to commit suicide. Adnan and other clients reported similar incidents in the past. The investigators, moreover, took for granted that Adnan swallowed the tablets to commit suicide. It would have been just like Adnan, though, to swallow the capsules to get himself moved back to the detainee hospital. If that was his motive, the investigators’ scenario falls apart.

Now to discuss in detail.

Adnan began taking his Invega regimen on August 21, 2012. He was found dead 19 days later, on September 8, in his cell in Camp V. The report tells us where Adnan was held each day, when he was moved, and the number of capsules he was administered each day. (The report uses “administered” to mean provided to the detainee, not consumed by the detainee.)

Table 5 of the report (page 37) states that, for the first two days, when he was in the detainee hospital, Adnan was administered one 6 mg capsule a day. Thereafter, wherever he was, he was to be administered two capsules a day (6 mg + 3 mg), once daily, at 0400. The following chart combines information drawn from Table 5 with Adnan’s reported whereabouts:

Dates Places Days Capsules
Aug. 21–23 Detainee Hospital

 3

4

(Move)

Aug. 24–26

Camp V

 3

6

(Move)

Aug. 27–Sept 7

Detainee Hospital

12

24 (22)

(Move)

Sept. 8

Camp V

 1

2 (0)

Aug. 21–Sept. 8

Totals

19 (17)

36 (32)

The report accounts for two of the 19 days and 4 of the 36 capsules: It says Adnan consumed 2 capsules on September 7, while still in the detainee hospital, and none the next day, September 8, when he was found dead in his Camp V cell. That leaves 17 days and 32 capsules to account for. As noted, Adnan spent most of that time in the hospital, shackled to his bed. He also went through as many as three moves. The facts in the report do not support its narrative, and in some cases contradict it.

1.     The report’s hoarding and smuggling scenario falls apart if Adnan was not planning to commit suicide.

Notwithstanding his suicidal ideation, Adnan did not necessarily intend to commit suicide. As JTF–GTMO spokesman Robert Durand told investigative reporter Jason Leopold in an October 5 email:

[Latif] had a history of self-harm acts, but generally refrained from activities which would potentially cause his death. . . . [H]is recent actions, activities and statements to therapists indicated that he did not appear to want to end his life.

As far as I can recall, Adnan generally attempted suicide in circumstances where he was bound to be caught trying. On one occasion, for example, in a recreation area, in plain sight of guards, Adnan tore off a piece of sniper tarp and attempted to fashion it into a noose. Of course, the guards noticed and thwarted him. On another occasion, Adnan brought into a meeting with me a noose he had made from a flimsy plastic bag and told me he intended to commit suicide with it. When I told him he couldn’t do that, he meekly handed his noose to me. Adnan swallowed all manner of indigestible items—urine cups, plastic bags, even screws—in the hospital, only to be quickly discovered.

On September 7, Adnan was moved from the detainee hospital to Camp V. He was put in Alpha block, the punishment cellblock consists of isolation cells (unlike the detainee hospital, where the men live communally). He was put in Cell 105. Traumatized by earlier experiences in Alpha block, in Cell 105 in particular, it would have been just like Adnan to swallow the capsules to get himself transferred to the detainee hospital. The report’s hoarding and smuggling scenario would fall apart if Adnan swallowed the capsules to have himself transferred back, because he would not have anticipated that he would find himself back in dreaded Alpha and in dreaded Cell 105.

2.     Adnan did not have the opportunity to pocket, rather than take, the 24 capsules.

For Adnan to be able to stockpile 24 capsules, those providing the capsules would have had to leave the capsules with him, and not observe him taking them, a dozen times in 17 days. On each occasion, those monitoring him would have had to fail to notice him stockpiling the capsules. The report suggests that Adnan could hoard capsules when a corpsman left them in the splashbox of his cell door while he was asleep. (A splashbox is a steel box welded to the door of cells holding detainees known for splashing staff with urine and feces or other matter, into which medications are placed and passed to the detainees at a safe distance.) There’s no indication that there are splashboxes in the detainee hospital. There’s also no discussion in the public version of how Adnan was monitored in the hospital, or how he could have pocketed or hidden the medication while shackled to his bed.

3.     Adnan’s behavior indicated that he was taking, not saving, the capsules.

The report indicates that Adnan was taking his Invega in the days before he was transferred to Camp V. Thus, the report states that, on September 5, a member of the medical staff noted that “[Adnan] seemed ‘much improved’ on his daily oral medications, and appeared to be suffering no side effects from the oral Invega.” Conversely, the report states that “When not compliant with oral medications, [Adnan’s] condition became ‘critical and emergent’ as evidenced by harmful actions directed at himself and others.” Stockpiling the 24 capsules would have required Adnan to skip 24 Invega capsules over a 17-day period. It seems inconceivable that Adnan could skip that much Invega in so brief a short period without arousing suspicion that he was not taking the medication. The report also indicates that Adnan seemed “happy” with the plan to transfer him to Camp V Delta, a communal block, until he learned that he was going to Alpha. Finally, the report states, the Chief Medical Officer told Colonel John Bogdan, Commander of the Joint Detention Group (JDG), that there was no medical or psychiatric reason Adnan could not be transferred from the detainee hospital to Camp V for discipline.

4.     Adnan did not have an opportunity to store the capsules.

The report says the guards handled Adnan with a light touch. That is completely false. Few detainees were more roughly handled or severely punished. Few felt the kicks and punches of IRF teams more often. And it showed. At the start of each meeting, Adnan would remove his shirt and roll up his trousers, and I would examine him from the crown of his head to the souls of his feet, as a physician might, recording his bruises, bumps, scrapes, open wounds, and rashes. Of course I never examined his groin area.

I am confident that Adnan was the most closely watched detainee in the camp. He and his belongings were obsessively and microscopically searched. The authorities treated this slight, harmless young man like Hannibal Lecter. I saw this first-hand, and it shocked me. In one meeting in 2009, three guards, their faces nearly pressed to the mesh, watched Adnan intently when he was in the cage portion of the meeting hut, where he had been led (in shackles) to pray and use the toilet. The cage door was locked. Adnan was in upper body shackles. Yet they watched him like a hawk.

Adnan was often kept naked or in a suicide smock. He complained to me that the only way he could have any sense of privacy was to sit with his back to the cell door. Moreover, Cell 105 in Alpha block, where he died, had a special cell door. Unlike regular cell doors, made of iron, with small observation windows and and a bean hole, Adnan’s was made of shatterproof glass, the better to keep watch of him all the time. Yes, this was special treatment, but not the way the report means it.

The report suggests that Adnan might have stored the capsules in his Quran to avoid detection. I’m not sure Adnan even had a Quran in his Camp V cell, and in any case he would not have desecrated his Quran by using it for this purpose. Moreover, though not routinely done, Qurans could be searched by the Cultural Advisor and Muslim interpreters. And, as a practical matter, whether stored between the pages or in the spine, 24 capsules would surely have spilled out.

In connection with the ongoing general hunger strike, the military has claimed that a detainee might hide contraband in his genital area or buttocks, secure in the knowledge that guards would not search those places. Even assuming it’s physically possible to hide and carry Invega capsules in these warm, moist areas, the capsules surely would not keep for even a day, much less up to 17 days, not to mention that throughout the period in question, Adnan had to urinate, defecate, shower, and change his underwear.

Guards frequently searched Adnan’s personal belongings, making it unlikely that he could have used them to store stockpiled capsules. The report says specifically that when Adnan arrived in his Camp V cell and demanded that his personal belongings be returned (he obviously was brought to Alpha without them), the block NCO first searched the belongings and removed unauthorized items. In addition, the report states that a JDG procedure, Search and Inspection, requires that detainees be searched every time they move from one area to another, regardless of the circumstances.

5.     The investigation did not consider alternative scenarios.

The report’s scenario—that Adnan hoarded the 24 capsules and smuggled them into his Camp V cell—is not the only conceivable scenario. One alternative scenario is that prison administrators decided to rid themselves of this challenging detainee and made the capsules available to Adnan after he got to his cell as a prompt to commit suicide. Other detainees, and Adnan himself, have reported previous instances of such suicide prompts. For example, in the summer of 2009, two of my clients reported returning from recreation to find scissors and other sharp metal objects in their cells, which they construed as prompts to commit suicide. Another alternative scenario is that, finding himself in dreaded Cell 105, Adnan persuaded a sympathetic guard to give him the capsules so he could get himself transferred—or maybe, under the circumstances—commit suicide.

* * *

In sum, the report took crucial assumptions as givens. It also did not consider the alternative scenario, that the capsules were made available to Adnan after he was brought to his cell. The report should be scrapped. An independent investigation into Adnan’s death should be commissioned. The investigation should be conducted by a team of investigators who are neutral and independent of the military and have no institutional stake in the outcome. And they should take nothing for granted.

David Remes is a human rights lawyer best known for his representation of Guantánamo detainees, including Adnan Latif, a mentally disturbed young Yemeni who died in September 2012 under suspicious circumstances. Mr. Remes also litigates civil liberties cases, including a First Amendment challenge by Christopher Hedges and others to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. For many years, Mr. Remes was a partner at Covington & Burling, a Washington, D.C. law firm. Mr. Remes left the firm in July 2008 to devote himself exclusively to human rights and civil liberties law and advocacy. He calls his practice Appeal for Justice. Mr. Remes received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1976, and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979. David visited Adnan’s family earlier this month.

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