Witness to Guantanamo project

  • October 4, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter Jan Honigsberg a professor of law at the University of San Francisco and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project. He is also the author of Our Nation Unhinged, the Human Consequences of the War on Terror (University of California Press).

    Adnan Latif, a Yemeni citizen, died at Guantanamo in early September. The military has not revealed how Adnan Latif died, but only that he was found unconscious in his cell.  However, like the detainee described below, Adnan Latif had lost hope, attempting suicide several times at Guantanamo. He was the ninth man to have died in Guantanamo, six reportedly had committed suicide. 

    Adnan Latif had been held in the detention center since early 2002, although he had never been charged with a crime. Both the Bush and Obama administrations recommended his transfer out of Guantanamo. In addition, in 2010 a federal district court granted Adnan Latif’s habeas petition for release. That decision, however, was overturned by the federal court of appeals last year, and the Supreme Court would not hear his further appeal. After Adnan Latif’s death, I decided to write the following piece about another tragic incident at the naval base. 

    A young man barely out of his teens had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in a Guantanamo prison cell.  Although the prison guards were required to walk by the cells every 5-10 minutes, the guards did not discover him in time. When the guards cut him down and carried him to the clinic, he was brain dead. Prison guards, hospital corpsmen and other military staff who passed by him in the clinic saw the inert young man with his head slumped on his chest and his body shackled to his bed. 

    The military staff nicknamed him “Timmy,” after the disabled character in the animated show “South Park.” He was fed through feeding tubes pushed up through his nostrils and down into his stomach. Ensure and similar liquids were poured into the tubes at mealtimes.

    The Witness to Guantanamo project has interviewed 97 people in 14 countries including former detainees, as well as people who had lived or worked at the naval base or who had worked on Guantanamo issues, such as prison guards, interpreters, chaplains, medical personnel, psychologists, prosecutors, JAG attorneys, habeas attorneys, interrogators, FBI agents, NCIS agents, high-ranking government officials, high-ranking military officials and parents and wives of former detainees. Recently, the project interviewed the hospital corpsman who told us about “Timmy.” We asked him for his thoughts on “Timmy” and why he thought the young detainee had tried to commit suicide.