Update (11/29): A military medical examiner has ruled Latif's death a suicide. According to the New York Times, he died from an overdose of psychiatric drugs. The investigation into how Latif obtained a lethal amount of medication is still ongoing. The Times also says Latif's body is now frozen, at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany. A Yemeni official said that Latif's remains would be returned to Yemen "in the upcoming days."
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif had been at Guantanamo for nearly 11 years when he died last month, despite being recommended for release many times. But even in death, his travails aren't over. His body hasn't been sent back to his home country of Yemen, and it's no longer at Gitmo.
It's being held in an undisclosed location.
"Mr. Latif's remains are being handled with the utmost care and respect by medical professionals and are being maintained in an appropriate facility designed to best facilitate preservation," said a Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale. "His remains are no longer at JTF-Guantanamo Bay."
Lt. Col. Breasseale said the U.S. is responding to Yemen's "wishes that we maintain the remains until a time when they are prepared to receive them."
A Yemeni official said his government "will not accept the remains until we get an official autopsy and an investigation report. We just want to know what happened." The official, who declined to be named, also said that the government was in touch with Latif's family.
The Joint Task Force at Guantanamo says it has conducted an autopsy and opened an investigation into the death, but has not yet announced a cause of death. According to the military's initial statement, Latif was found unconscious in his cell on Sept. 8 and could not be revived by medical staff.
As we laid out in a timeline last week, Latif was never alleged to be a high-level terror suspect. In 2010, he successfully challenged his detention in federal court only to have the decision overturned on appeal. Latif was also recommended for transfer out of Guantanamo by the military several times, beginning as far back as 2004.
Eight other detainees have died in Guantanamo, several by apparent suicide; another Yemeni died in 2009 and according to local news reports, his body was repatriated within days. Breasseale, the Defense spokesman, said that "there have been delays before" in repatriating remains, but would not give further details.
Latif's lawyers say he was mentally unstable, and attempted suicide on several occasions. They have also said that he did not receive adequate medical attention.
Latif's father, Farhan Abdul Latif, gave an interview to the Emerati publication The National last month in which he said, "This case is far from over. We are holding US President Barack Obama responsible for the killing of my beloved son."
Latif's Guantanamo saga began in 2002, when he was among the first detainees to arrive at the prison. He had been captured along the border of Afghanistan by Pakistani police and turned over to the U.S. He said he was traveling to Pakistan in search of medical care; the U.S. says he was going for military training. A federal judge ruled in 2010 that the government could not prove his connection to Al Qaeda or the Taliban, though that decision was reversed a year later by an appeals court.
One factor complicating a potential release was his Yemeni citizenship. Following the Christmas Day bombing attempt in 2009, a plot that originated in Yemen, the Obama administration announced a moratorium on detainee transfers to the country due to security concerns.
Many of the Yemenis who remain at Guantanamo are in limbo because of that ban. The State Department recently released a list of 55 detainees approved for transfer. By human rights lawyers' counts, at least 26 of those are Yemenis. The government has previously indicated that there is a separate group of 30 Yemenis being held at Guantanamo who the government says may be released if and when the other 26 leave.
Yemen's President, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took office earlier this year, spoke about Guantanamo in a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week. Lawyers for Yemeni detainees say they have been encouraged by Hadi's apparent commitment to the issue.
Wells Dixon, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented several detainees, says that Yemen could increase pressure on the U.S., as Tunisia, Egypt, and some European nations have done. "With the State Department list, President Hadi needs to ask for the return of those men by name, and needs to do so in the context of the bilateral relationship between Yemen and the U.S.," Dixon said.