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Investigators said to question how detainee died of overdose

New York Times
by Charlie Savage
November 28, 2012

WASHINGTON — A Yemeni detainee who was found dead in September at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, died from an overdose of psychiatric medication, according to several people briefed on a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry.

But while a military medical examiner labeled the man’s death a suicide, how the prisoner obtained excess drugs remains under investigation, according to American and Yemeni officials. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The circumstances of the death of the prisoner, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, have been murky since the military announced more than two months ago that a guard had found him “unconscious and unresponsive” in his cell and that attempts to revive him had failed.

Yemeni officials refused to accept Mr. Latif’s remains until they got answers about what had happened to him. This month, the Pentagon’s top detainee policy official, William K. Lietzau, delivered an autopsy report to the Yemeni ambassador in Washington. It concluded that Mr. Latif’s death was a suicide, which the Web site Truth-out.org first reported this week and several officials confirmed.

Mr. Latif’s body has been taken to Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It was not embalmed, in accordance with Muslim custom, but had been frozen, one official said. In recent days, Yemeni and American officials have discussed arrangements to transport the body to Yemen, probably in the next week or so, according to several officials.

Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military would not make a public statement about the matter before the government of Yemen and Mr. Latif’s family did so. A spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy also declined to comment. Mr. Lietzau also declined to do so, saying he “does not comment on ongoing diplomatic discussions with other governments.”

David Remes, a lawyer who represented Mr. Latif in a habeas corpus lawsuit, said there was reason to be suspicious about how his client was overmedicated, voicing skepticism that he could have hoarded his daily dosages without detection. He noted that Mr. Latif was under “intense scrutiny” — including regular monitoring by guards and cameras — and that another detainee had said Mr. Latif had been taken from a medical cell to a disciplinary cell shortly before his death.

Mr. Remes, who has not seen the autopsy report, suggested that Mr. Latif instead may have negligently been given too many pills that day, which the lawyer doubted, or that the authorities might have deliberately given him access to too much medication hoping he would kill himself.

Colonel Breasseale declined to comment on Mr. Remes’s suspicions because the investigation was continuing. One official, however, discounted the lawyer’s theories, saying investigators were working from the premise that Mr. Latif pretended to swallow his drugs for a period and hid the growing stash on his body. Prison monitoring policies — including how closely guards inspect detainees’ mouths after giving any medication and search their private areas — are now facing review.

Mr. Latif had regularly gone on hunger strikes and been sedated or placed on suicide watch. The military said he had been placed in a disciplinary cell because he threw bodily fluids on a guard. He also once cut himself during a meeting with Mr. Remes and threw blood on the lawyer, an act that Mr. Remes characterized as a sign of his desperation and despair.

Mr. Remes said some of his notes from discussions with other detainees — including one, Shakar Aamar, who he said was in the same cellblock as Mr. Latif when he died — were deemed classified by military censors. But, he said, his notes that were deemed unclassified showed that several detainees had told him that Mr. Latif had been housed in a psychiatric ward and a hospital cell days before his death because of unruly behavior.

Shortly before Mr. Latif’s death, Mr. Remes said, the other detainees claimed guards had told Mr. Latif he would be taken to a disciplinary cellblock, which he resisted, and he was then placed in a particular cell that he hated because of droning noise from an adjacent electric generator.

“Adnan was a thorn in their sides,” Mr. Remes said. “The guards would ask other prisoners how to handle him. He refused to submit. He wouldn’t allow them to set the terms of his imprisonment. He was a constant problem.”

Mr. Latif traveled from Yemen to Pakistan in August 2001, and later made his way into Afghanistan. He was captured while trying to flee after the war began, and was among the first detainees taken to Guantánamo after it opened in January 2002.

Mr. Latif maintained that he was not a jihadist and had traveled to the region to seek medical treatment from a charity for lingering problems from a head injury he had sustained in a car accident. But the military said he had confessed during an interrogation to having been sent there by a Qaeda figure to help the Taliban fight the Northern Alliance.

In 2010, a federal judge ordered the Obama administration to free Mr. Latif, saying that the evidence against him was too thin. But last year, an appeals court panel reversed that ruling.

Executive branch panels under the Bush and Obama administrations had repeatedly cleared Mr. Latif for repatriation. But he remained at Guantánamo because both administrations were reluctant to send detainees to Yemen amid an Islamist insurgency.

Robert F. Worth contributed reporting.

 
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