Fourteen-year-old Ezzuddin has never met his father, but on the morning of Sunday, 16 December, his uncles and other family members pushed him to go to the neighboring mosque to have a first and last look at his father’s remains.
A day earlier, a special American military plane delivered the remains in a box to the Yemeni Air Base, Al-Dailami, in the capital Sana’a. This was more than three months after the 36-year-old Yemeni national, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, died in his Guantanamo detention cell, where he was held for nearly eleven years—since the prison camp first opened.
Before his detention, Abdul Latif had been seriously injured in a car accident in Yemen. He claimed that he had been in search of free medical treatment in Afghanistan when he was handed over to the Americans after being captured by the Pakistani authorities on the Afghanistan–Pakistan border in 2001.
“You told me in your last letter, you’re coming to me, and you will never leave me again, father,” said Ezzuddin while looking at the box of his father’s remains, crying loudly in the Shawlak mosque in the middle of the Yemeni city of Taiz, where hundreds of people gathered to pray for Abdul Latif on Sunday afternoon.
According to Abdul Latif’s family, in his last letter earlier this year he told his only son and the twelve-member extended family that the Americans had ordered his release and he would come back home soon. However, his son would never see him alive. Abdul Latif died on 8 September 2012.
When still alive, Abdul Latif had been recommended for transfer back to his homeland, Yemen, several times by executive branch panels under both the Bush and Obama administrations. However, the possibility that he might join Al-Qaeda and fight America in Yemen or elsewhere was likely the reason behind the recantation of his promised freedom.
At the funeral I attended, a stream of cars carrying the mourners drove through Taiz down to Revolution’s Martyrs cemetery in the Kalaba neighborhood, where Abdul Latif’s remains would be buried. “He is a martyr, like any one of those martyred in our revolution,” said Abdul Latif’s brother, Mohammed, who in 2011 was a leading protester against Saleh’s regime. “My brother was detained alive and dead by the state of terrorism, America, so his martyrdom degree should be higher in the eyes of Allah,” said Mohammed, who has been following up his brother’s case with American and Yemeni lawyers and journalists.
Abdul Latif’s mother, a woman in her sixties, did not come to see her son’s remains in the mosque or attend the burial, although she did insist that his remains be buried in Taiz, refusing the suggestion from some family members to bury him in Sana’a. “After I saw the remains in the hospital in Sana’a, I told my mother over the phone that she would not be able to bear the sight,” said Mohammed. “Now that we are here in Taiz she has completely broken down in bed. . . She refuses to talk to anyone.”
Abdul Latif’s father is at the funeral; he talks effusively to other mourners about what he considers to be America’s crimes. “We are patient, and we are waiting for Allah’s justice and punishments for America’s crimes,” said the father, Farhan Abdul Latif, who lives in a small house with his remaining five sons and their wives in the Azzahra neighborhood.
His son Mohammed had said he would never accept the remains without a Yemeni autopsy report. But after a meeting with Interior Minister Abdul Qader Qahtan and an autopsy doctor, as well as a representative from the US embassy, he changed his mind about the matter. The meeting was held at the minister’s house only four hours before the remains arrived. “The doctor told me it is too late to perform an autopsy now, and that they do not have the technology to check remains months after the death,” said Mohammed Abdul Latif after he returned from the Police Hospital in Sana’a.
In a letter sent to his American lawyer on 28 May 2012, Abdul Latif said, “I am being pushed toward death every moment.” Some reports suggested that Abdul Latif overdosed on his psychiatric medication. According to his lawyer, David Remes, he had attempted suicide several times.
Abdul Latif is the second Yemeni to have died whilst imprisoned at Guantanamo, of the approximately twenty Yemenis who have been released over a period of seven years. The first Yemeni detainee, Waleed Al-Qadasi, was released in 2005. I was allowed access to see Al-Qadasi in the intelligence prison of Taiz; he said that Yemeni intelligence are suspicious of his terms of release. “They were asking me why the Americans released me in particular,” Al-Qadasi said.
Approximately sixty Yemeni nationals are still held in Guantanamo Bay. Despite his earlier promises, US President Barack Obama has failed to close down the ill-reputed detention centre. On their part, the Yemeni government has been unsuccessful in controlling ex-Guantanamo detainees. One of the Yemenis released from Guantanamo blew himself up in a suicide bombing aimed at the American-trained counter-terrorism forces north of Sana’a in 2009. According to one ex-jihadist who attended the funeral of Abdul Latif, more than ten of those released are now fighting with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The US-backed Yemeni government is at war with AQAP. The organization exploited the unrest of 2011, recruiting fighters and further consolidating its influence in Yemen. AQAP is returning to the southern province of Abyan after they were driven out earlier this year by troops and tribesmen loyal to the government. AQAP’s number-one man, Nasser Al-Wahayshi, was spotted last week with approximately one hundred and thirty fighters in the mountainous region of Al-Mahfad between Abyan and Shabwah provinces. It is therefore hardly surprising that the US has hesitated over the transfer of detainees, fearing they will be handing over recruits to the enemy.