Free man in a cage

by Matthew Leidecker, Head of Campaigns

Guantánamo Bay was supposed to be America’s answer to global terrorism, the end of the line for the ‘worst of the worst’. But Abdul Latif is there because of something much more mundane – bureaucratic delay.

What got Abdul Latif, and many others, to Guantánamo in the first place was also less sensational than Guantánamo’s mission or Trump’s tweets might suggest. It was money. Abdul Latif was not captured on any kind of battlefield. He was sold to the US for a price – $5,000. That money made someone rich and made little difference to America’s purse, but condemned Abdul Latif to an ordeal that is ongoing 14 years after it began in May 2002.

Abdul Latif’s Reprieve attorney describes him as kind hearted and intelligent. He’s introspective. He likes to think and learn. He spoke no English when he arrived at Guantánamo, but is now fluent. He became famous across the prison base for writing his own 2,000-word English-to-Arabic dictionary.

In July 2016 Abdul Latif had a Periodic Review Board hearing – his chance for freedom. He told the Board he wished to return to Morocco, to be with his family and begin a new life. He wanted to pursue a career in computer science. His family said they would financially support him and Reprieve’s Life After Guantánamo team would be there to help.

The decision was unanimous – Abdul Latif was approved for transfer on July 11th, 2016.

By January 18, 2017, this free man was still in his cage. The Moroccan government had agreed to the transfer but took too long to respond with the official paperwork. Two days to go until Trump took office. Everyone knew what that meant.

Abdul Latif’s attorneys filed emergency legal action. Congress needed 30 days’ notice for transfers out of Guantánamo, but that could be waved for this kind of emergency. On January 19, the court ruled that Abdul Latif has no legal right to be released, because a win at the Periodic Review Board is merely ‘advisory’.

Later that day, Reprieve wrote an urgent letter to President Obama, asking him to withdraw opposition and to transfer Abdul Latif home to Morocco immediately. The White House never responded.