Widespread Breakdown of Safeguards at Gitmo

On more than a dozen occasions over the course of eight years, Adnan Latif complained to his attorney that his American captors forced him to take medications that left him feeling like “a zombie.”

The 36-year-old Guantanamo prisoner, who died there last year in a high-security cell, claimed he was injected with unknown substances while he slept and plied with pills whenever the guards deemed him to be unruly, which appeared to be often.

The military repeatedly dismissed Latif’s allegations as the paranoid ramblings of a difficult and brain-damaged terror suspect. But it turns out his story was true – and only the tip of a still-submerged iceberg.

Latif’s tale of forced drugging, and other aspects of what has emerged as a torturous decade of indefinite detention at Gitmo, is laid bare in a military report released Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by this reporter last year following the young Yemeni’s mysterious and solitary death.

The declassified 79-page report details the US military’s investigation into Latif’s reported suicide, found that Guantanamo guards contributed to his death by failing to follow numerous protocols set forth in the facility’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs); yet no one has been held accountable or faced disciplinary action in the case.

Nor does the report explain how the frail youngest son of a Yemeni merchant ended up on an autopsy table, his body laced with a mind-boggling pharmaceutical cocktail of undetermined origin.

Prophecy fulfilled?

Latif, who suffered from a traumatic brain injury incurred decades before, believed the guard force was trying to kill him. According to unclassified notes taken in May 2012 by David Remes, his Washington D.C.-based attourney, Latif said he sometimes removed psychiatric medications from his mouth “because I don’t want to […] here.” A word in Remes’ notes is missing. He said it might be “die.”

Remes also wrote that Latif was being medicated with “sedatives and psychotropics [and] painkillers,” and noted that his client said he was sometimes given the wrong dosage and the wrong medication.

After Latif was found unresponsive in his cell last September, an autopsy report concluded he committed suicide by hoarding and ingesting two-dozen doses of Invega, prescribed a month earlier to treat schizophrenia.

The report does not mention Latif by name. Rather, it refers to him by his internment number, ISN156 – identification marks that were on his body bag when he was finally returned home to Yemen last December.

US military investigation finds that Guantanamo prison guards contributed to the death of detainee Adnan Latif. [US Military]
In addition to Invega, the drug used to treat schizophrenia, a previously classified toxicology report made public last week reveals the presence of other anti-psychotics and painkillers in Latif’s system, including codeine, Percocet, Seroquel, Ativan, Celexa, morphine and Remeron – medications that can result in severe side effects if taken in combination, according to a redacted copy of the newly released report.

To top it off, Latif, who was a frequent hunger striker, also suffered from acute pneumonia that went undetected prior to his death. The report blames Latif, himself, for the institutional failures that led to his death, saying he was “an exceptionally challenging detainee.”
Remes calls the report “a whitewash,” adding that Latif’s death is an “indirect result of [President Barack] Obama’s failure to transfer Yemenis back to Yemen.”

Two presidential administrations over the course of a decade concluded Latif did not belong at Guantanamo and had cleared him for release, but he and other detainees continued to languish there, without being charged and without hope of a path to freedom.

Legal proceedings and other documentation over the years indicate Latif was seeking medical assistance for the crippling mental and physical damage sustained in a car crash when he was swept up in a post-9/11 dragnet for terrorists near the Afghan-Pakistan border. He was sold to the Northern Alliance for a $5,000 bounty and arrived at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay as one of the prison’s first detainees.

“Everyone is to blame and no one is to blame,” Remes said of the report. “They turned him into a human pharmacy and then blame him for being challenging.”

Reports confirmed

The military report, issued by United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), confirms the details contained in a series of investigative stories this reporter published between September 2012 and January of this year into the circumstances behind Latif’s death.

A separate investigation into Latif’s death by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is ongoing.

The report says Guantanamo doctors diagnosed Latif, who was “almost completely blind in his left eye,” with “Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder with antisocial traits,” and characterized one of his mental breakdowns “as manic with psychotic features, possibly affected by Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

“In layman’s terms, all of these diagnoses translate into an individual that would be unstable in mood, personality and relationships,” the report said. “The diagnosis also means that the individual would be difficult to live or work with and would be prone to impulsivity and to harm self or others, generally living life from one crisis to another.”

A footnote in the report adds that Latif’s “diagnoses evolved over the course of his detention at” Guantanamo, suggesting that his indefinite detention may have contributed to the deterioration of his mental health.

Widespread breakdown

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist who has consulted on numerous Guantanamo prisoner cases, including providing a sworn deposition in 2010 about Latif’s physical and mental condition, questioned why Latif was prescribed certain medications and not given others.

“They say he has bipolar disorder and he’s not prescribed mood stabilizers that typically are prescribed for people with bipolar disorder,” said Xenakis, who reviewed a copy of the report. “That’s missing in his medication list. I’m really surprised.”

Xenakis said the report’s conclusions undercut assertions by Guantanamo officials that prisoners are receiving quality medical care.

“Quality care means having a trained staff and having a staff that has worked in a particular setting for years,” he added. “It’s not just following algorithms or rules. It’s subtle and it has to do with the art of the medical practice and familiarity, in this case, with a particular population. And you have people who have not often worked with this kind of population under these conditions…”

The absence of qualifications extends far beyond the medical staff to the highest ranks of leadership.

Col. John Bogdan, the warden at Guantanamo, has testified in recent proceedings that he has no prior experience running a prison operation.

The report details a widespread breakdown of safeguards and procedures at the prison facility, where even prohibitions against feeding wildlife were not followed.

“Guards and medical personnel repeatedly violate various … Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs),” the report said. “In some cases, the guards and medical personnel are unfamiliar with the SOPs. In other cases, the guards and medical personnel are familiar with the requirements but for various reasons, fail to follow them.”

Moreover, with nearly 200 procedures in place at Guantanamo – 79 of which apply to medical circumstances – “guards indicated that enforcement of the SOPs is one of the biggest challenges they face.”

Following Latif’s death, military officials told this reporter that guards checked on prisoners every one to three minutes and that medical staff and corpsmen were diligent when medication was administered. The military investigation found this was not the case, according to the report.

There were also training shortcomings and violations in the way in which medications were administered by Navy corpsmen who are supposed to follow a stringent protocol to ensure prisoners swallow the drugs.

One night shift corpsman told investigators he did not recall ever having been visited by anyone in his leadership chain. “I have felt invisible, with no one seeming to even know I was working here.”

In Latif’s case, a day before his death, a corpsman simply dropped medication off in a box in his cell door and never checked to see if Latif, who was sleeping at the time, had taken it, the report said.

Medical training procedures and record-keeping were also flawed, contributing to “violations and to confusion of … personnel.” The Joint Medical Group commander and senior leadership, including the Senior Nurse Executive, “appear largely removed from several aspects of what is going on at the tactical level” at the hospital, the psychiatric unit and the detention camps.

These failures, the report states, contributed to Latif’s death. Although deviating from the SOPs is considered to be an Article 92 violation – failure to obey an order or regulation – under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, no one was held accountable for the widespread procedural breakdown that resulted in the death of Latif, the ninth detainee in 11 years to leave Guantanamo in a body bag.

Furthermore, the report noted that Guantanamo leadership failed to implement certain safeguards designed to protect prisoners following a previous suicide in May 2011, in which another prisoner who suffered from mental health problems was able to walk into the recreation yard in the dead of night with a bed sheet and, undetected, tie it to a pole and hang himself.

This reporter’s FOIA request for a copy of the commander’s inquiry into the death of that prisoner, Hajji Nassim, has not yet been received.

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