I am the Tribunal President. That is All You Need to Know

September 12, 2012

Cross-posted at Balkanization

This past spring the Liberty and National Security program filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case of Adnan Latif, a detainee at Guantanamo whose detention may have been the result of botched paperwork. We learned yesterday that Mr. Latif was the detainee found dead at Guantanamo over the weekend.

I won’t belabor the details of his capture, interrogation, or prolonged detention; the recommendations for his release from the Department of Defense and the federal trial court judge in his habeas litigation; the evidence suggesting he was swept up solely because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and his files then possibly mistaken with another detainee’s; or the absurdity of the D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, which created an almost insurmountable barrier to challenging government evidence and in so doing effectively gutted the Supreme Court’s promise in Boumediene v. Bush of a habeas remedy for all Guantanamo detainees. All of those things are covered in our amicus brief and the many other briefs, blogs, and articles about his case.

I think what best captures the tragedy of his ten-plus years at Guantanamo is this Kafka-esque excerpt from his hearing before the Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo (undated, but probably from about 2005):

Latif: I do not know you. Who are the other people, who are you?

Tribunal President: I am the Tribunal President. The person to my left and my right are Tribunal members. We are here to determine if you have been appropriately classified as an enemy combatant. That is all you need to know about us at this time.

* * *

Latif: I told you, I am not the person. Why do you keep referring me to that person? That is not my name.

Tribunal President: It is the name that has been provided during your interrogations and it is the name you have provided to us in the past.

Latif: That is why I told my Personal Representative in the interview it was a mistake and he needed to review the information. If that is not my name and not the city I am from.

Tribunal President: al Qaida is not a city. It is the name of an organization.

Latif: Whether it is a city or an organization, I am not from al Qaida.

* * *

Tribunal President: Did you receive training in Afghanistan?

Latif: No, that is incorrect. I have medical paperwork that will state I went there for treatment. Why didn’t my Personal Representative present the information in my medical records?

Tribunal President: Now is the time for information to be presented to the Tribunal, not before.

Latif: My medical records can verify this information. I gave this information three years ago. The information you are presenting I based on another person. You haven’t come up with the right information about me.

Tribunal President: Now is the time for you to tell us what you believe is the correct information about yourself.

Latif: All the information is in my files.

Tribunal President: We will read it when we read the files later. We are giving you the opportunity to tell us your story now, if you wish.

Latif: That is what I am doing. I gave you the information. The name is not correct. I told you I went there for medical treatment and there is official paperwork that will verify that. How can this be possible? I am supposed to review the information, so I can tell you correctly.

* * *

Latif: Is it clear now?

Tribunal President: Yes, your story is clear to us.

Latif: People told me before my story was clear, but they never went and got my files. The problem could have ended quite easily. … Why have I been here for three years? Why have I been away from my home and family for three years?

Tribunal President: That is what we are trying to determine today.

Latif: Why did you come after three years? Why wasn’t it done much sooner after my arrest?

Tribunal President: I cannot answer to what has happened in the past. I was asked to come here now, and I came.

Latif: Why am I not allowed freedom here?

Tribunal President: Because you have been classified as an enemy combatant.

Latif: How can they classify me as an enemy combatant? You don’t have the right documents.

Tribunal President: That is what we are here to determine.

Latif: For three years I haven’t been treated very well because of wrong information. Would you let that happen to you? What will be your position if you find out what happened to me was based on wrong information and I am innocent?

Tribunal President: Your current conduct is unacceptable. If you keep interrupting the proceedings, you will be removed and the hearing will continue without you.

I think often of this interchange and the outrage we would feel if we or our loved ones were subjected to this treatment in another country. Many spoke movingly yesterday of the heroism of September 11, as well as both the challenges to and reaffirmations of American values as a result of the attacks. It is tragic and ironic that the announcement of Mr. Latif’s death came on that anniversary, since the continued operation of Guantanamo – and, unfortunately, the administration’s legal positions on the detainees still confined there – are at odds with the best of those values. And, of course, his death came just a week after the administration declined to hold a single person accountable for the torture of prisoners in CIA detention facilities. I hope this latest tragedy causes us to think again about how we treat those whose health, safety, and sanity we hold – for whatever reasons – in our hands.