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The Adnan Latif Report and Obama's Real Scandal

In the chilling anthology, Poems from Guantanamo, the following was penned by Adnan Latif:

They are artists of torture,
They are artists of pain and fatigue,
They are artists of insults and humiliation.

Where is the world to save us from torture?
Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness?
Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?

Mr. Latif was the same age as me when he died. But he had spent over ten years imprisoned in Guantanamo. He was guilty of no crime or conspiracy to commit one, as was repeatedly found by every conceivable authority who examined the case. A summary of his time there can be found here. He was cleared for release as long ago as 2004. 

Where were you in 2004? Put yourself in his shoes -- if he were permitted to have them. We hear that Mr. Latif "went crazy" in Guantanamo after ten years. Wouldn't you go crazy? But actually, in a sickening case of life imitating art -- the novel Catch-22 -- we have allegations of "insanity" precisely backward. 

From a long list of choices, Mr. Latif's story is among the most tragic. Like most of the detainees at Guantanamo, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and sold for a bounty. He had been in Pakistan seeking medical treatment for injuries suffered in a car accident. (The populating of Guantanamo by bounty purchases in Pakistan was well documented in My Guantanamo Diary, by Mahvish Khan -- an informative and painful read.)  

Mr. Latif was found dead in 2012, so why do I bring up his story now? In one sense, we should need no reason: almost 100 hunger strikers -- 86 of whom have been cleared for release -- being unlawfully and unjustly detained in the name of the United States is perpetually newsworthy. 

But his story was called to mind again because of a report released under the Freedom of Information Act that found guards at fault in Mr. Latif's death. He had been hoarding medication and successfully committed suicide. The guards didn't do their proper rounds to check on him.

In his emptiness and futility beyond Kafka, suicide was what he wanted, as he wrote in a 2010 letter to his lawyer. And yet, his story still haunts me.

If Mr. Latif had been found by the U.S. Army on a battlefield, unarmed and in need of medical attention, I have confidence he would have received it. Instead he was found on a battlefield by Pakistanis and sold to the U.S. as a supposed terrorist. How much did we pay for his life?

It could have been saved, even redeemed.

In January 2009, I was sitting in my car outside our daughter's day care, rapt with attention to the radio announcement that newly inaugurated President Obama was going to close Guantanamo. I cried for a long time. I had just spent several months reading every ex-detainee account and interview that I could find in a language I could read. Obama's first move was noble and right.

But here we are, well into a second term. On the issue of indefinite detention in general, and Guantanamo in particular, President Obama has been a complete failure. He has shown such courage in the commands to kill, much more so than anyone thought he would have. But in the courage to show mercy, the will just isn't there. No audacity, and no hope. 

Indeed, as one reporter said of Mr. Latif last October, "he died from hopelessness." Guantanamo is where the hope of the American dream -- life, liberty, and actually that would be enough -- has gone to die. 

About the Author

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.



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MIchael - I apologize if this is a naive comment.  I recently read that one of the complexities of the Guantanamo detainees is that at least some of them, if returned to their country of origin, would be arrested or tortured or both - possibly meet even worse fates than what they are undergoing.  

In a nutshell: to where / to whom should they be released?

I have read that Congress has and continues to prevent the President from effecting the closure of Guantanamo.  Can anyone confirm/deny this?

Jim P: I don't think that justifies the way we are treating these people: "Cheer up! It could be worse back home." If sending them to their country of origin is so problematic, couldn't we find some way to help them find asylum in another land? That, too, may be a naive question, but it seems the right thing to do.

Mark - I agree, completely.  I don't know how credible the objection is that I raised - I put it in a comment in the hope that someone who knows more about it than I do can either confirm or debunk it.  I read that one of them (an Algerian national, I think?) faces 25 years in prison if he is repatriated there.  I don't know if, in general, the detainees are viewed as toxic everywhere else as apparently they are by the US populace.


It sounds like the same treatment we used with such splendid results on Vietnamese villages: we must destroy these men in order to save them.

This is disturbing news. As the saying goes: The first thing to die in war is the truth. Whether congress blocks the president or not, this is a humanitarian issue that Obama must account for. Has the press been bought on this issue. The Bush administration convinced the press to not show bodies. This sounds like more of the same. I don't think the politics of compromise can justify this. The morality of this in view of a preacher president makes his responsibility all the more compelling. One cannot talk about being Christian if one ignores Matthew 25.

If Obama had any spine at all he would, as Commnder-in Chief, order the military to bring these prisoners to the US mainland.  Once, they;re here, all of our normal US laws would kick in.  That prison was opened illegally, there is no reason it couldn't be shut down the same way. 

"....the way we are treating these people."  Yep, I agree with that statement.  The rest of this post, not so much.  Short of living in another galaxy for the last 6 years how exactly does one find the need to question whether or not Obama has been impeded in a significant way in any attempt to alter the status of those held at Guantanamo?  Unless this post is satire, I don't get it at all.  Obama and staff did their damndest to improve our options for healthcare and have not met merely impediments but rather near revolution!  The issues with Guantanamo surprise you?

Is the problem perhaps the man just ain't nearly Christ enough?  Well, if so, that ain't gonna change.

BTW, Irene, Obama is our president not our dictator.

the way we are treating these people

the way we are treating these people

Might Be:  Obama is an ineffective President; that's why Guantanamo is still open. (And why health care reform became a debacle, why we're still in Afghanistan and why we passed on meaningful bank reform. )

If he can't manage the opposition, he's not in the right job. 

First time around, Obama campaigned on closing Guanatanamo. That was the reason I voted for him. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress when Obama entered the White House, so he can't really blame the opposition for all of his problems. . He had a window of opportunity  that few Presidents get. to have. 

And what about those drones? I hear we're expanding their use in other countries. 

In 2009 President Obama announced that we would close Guantanamo, and he ordered a federal prison in Illinois to prepare to receive the prisoners. Congress promptly voted to block him from getting any money to move them to the land of the free. The Senate vote was 96-4. I suppose he could have held bake sales.

Mr. Obama has been rather supine about Gitmo ever since. What I would do is ask myself some prior questions, starting with: Why was Thomas Gates moved intact from the Bush administration to Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration? The smart guys say it is because Obama needed "credibility" on national defense. He had just been elected president. He had credibility with the voters. So whose doubts, superseding the voters' judgment, had to be calmed by Mr. Gates? Answer that question, and you begin to answer why one of Obama's main campaign promises of 2008 fizzled out.

Tom: Even with Congress refusing to fund it, I find it really incomprensible that the President & Commander-in-Chief couldn't have found a way to transport these prisoners on military aircraft from Guantanamo to  an American military prison. Planes do go back and forth from there, I assume. 

There are things it might be really hard for the President to accomplish, but this isn't on the list. 

I would like to think his profound respect for the rule of law is what has stopped him.  But I'm also skeptical about that being the reason, based on what I read in the paper about some of this Adminstration's various activities done in the name of "national security".

I think most of us really want to like Obama, so we give him a pass he doesn't deserve. 

I am with Irene. Closing Guantanamo was my #1 priority when Obama was elected the first time around. 

I also think that this will cause great damage to the US, not just now but for a long time to come, like the Inquisition for the Catholic church. It goes against precisely what makes the US a great country.


I am with Claire and Irene. One of the major reasons I voted for Obama in 2008 was Guantanamo. One of the major reasons I voted for someone else in 2012 was Guantanamo. It was probably the tipping weight both times. Nevertheless, I think he, and other presidents, are constrained by people who don't feel comfortable without Tim Geithners and Tom Gateses watching the most powerful leader on the face of the Earth so they can continue to have what they want.

Stories like his and the others need to be told. We need to rehumanize these men and not continue to "other" them. Until there is a groundswell of moral movements to propel the issue, the political leaders will not act.

In my view, the time for lobbying or screaming at the gates of congress and Washington has long since passed. They are all deaf and indifferent. I think it is Maya Angelou who said, when people show you who they are- believe them!

The best thing to do is to publish stories and poems like this. Let these words speak for themselves. Create spaces to let their words and lives speak.


Obama, like Bill Clinton, looks at the polls. Political realities they would say. Barack seems to be so conscious to not be seen as soft on terrorism that he lets things like this happen. 

Bill - it's kind of a headscratcher.  I can think of a number of issues and causes on which the President has been willing to expend political capital despite conservative and popular opposition: healthcare reform (of course), gun control, nuclear disarmament, the environment.  He has shown that he's willing to lose a political battle in order to try to further a cause that he perceives to be right (cf gun control, the environment).  And in other instances (nuclear disarmament, healthcare reform), he's succeeded.  Why won't he put forth this effort for the Guantanamo detainees?

I'm really impressed that a number of commenters here voted for the President specifically because of his promises regarding the Guantanamo prisoners.  That tells me that, for the liberal base, this issue looms large - larger than I would have guessed.   Also, if he is thinking of his legacy, I'd think that doing the right thing by these detainees is  clear case of "being on the right side of history".

Jim Pauwels, Guantanamo should loom large for everyone, not just Obama's "liberal base." I don't think this is a left-right issue. In fact, once upon a time I would have expected conservatives to be the first to see the harm the country's turn embrace of brutality is doing to the country. Of course, we don't have conservatives anymore. When I grew up, other countries launched sneak attacks. Other countries tortured prisoners. Other countries "disappeared" people. Other countries ordered mass arrests and justified them with legal paperwork." The KGB sent out assassins. We didn't do those things. We lived by the rule of law.

Now, as the Obama regime blasts the Egyptian generals for rounding up the usual Moslem Brotherhood suspects, the rest of the world laughs at his effrontery. We don't hear the laughter because we are smug in the virtues we used to have.

But we don't have then anymore. Yes, there were atrocities by our side in World War II. And yes, some were not punished. But it was not national policy to sink to the level of our enemies. Now our enemies's standard are our excuse.

When the Bush administration decided we were more threatened by a bunch of fly-bitten guerrillas than we had been by Hitler and Tojo or later by the powerful Soviet Union, so-called liberals (we don't have many of them anymore, either) felt free to criticize the torture, the renditions and the incarceration without charges or trial. But then we had a change to the audacity of hope, and everyone can see (if they don't care which "side" they are  on)  that the bulllying and brutality we used to shun is bipartisan. Some of us are in mourning. And if there were any conservatives left, they would be in mourning with us for the country this used to be and will never be again until we understand why the world is laughing at the tut-tuts we sanctimoniously aim at the Egyptian generals.

Hear, herar: Tom B.

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