The Biden administration yesterday released Abdul Latif Nasser from Guantanamo and sent him back to his family in his home country of Morocco. That torture camp once housed 800 people and still has 39 people. The 56-year old had been held without trial for 19 years and had never even been charged with any crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union celebrated Nasser’s transfer but called on the Biden administration to “urgently … negotiate and implement similar decisions for other cleared prisoners.
“Bringing an end to two decades of unjust and abusive military detention of Muslim men at Guantánamo is a human rights obligation and a national security necessity,” the ACLU said in a statement.
I wrote about his case back in April after listening to a six-part podcast by the public radio program Radiolab about his story. Here is what I wrote then.
The story explores how a nerdy, science-focused adolescent boy from a middle class Moroccan family ended up in this torture camp. In 2016 Latif had been approved for release by the board that evaluates their cases. This approval came at the end of the Obama administration but after Trump won the 2016 election, the process had to be completed before the inauguration because Trump would never allow his release. Latif’s lawyer launched a Hail Mary habeas corpus appeal and all that the Obama justice department had to do in its waning days was to not challenge the appeal and Latif would have been allowed to leave after being held for nearly two decades. But even though Latif had been cleared to leave, the Obama administration objected anyway and as a result, Trump came into office with Latif still in custody. Trump of course vowed to never release anyone and promised to even add to the number so that was the end of that.
It seems that the US authorities did not have enough evidence to charge Latif and since many prisoners had been tortured, much of the testimony would have been tainted. Although the authorities came to the conclusion that he should be released, they did not want to simply do so after holding him for so long. Latif, like many other prisoners, was told that he could be released but only if he admitted to guilt so that the US could justify his treatment. He refused to do so. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Latif’s life between the time he left home as a young man until he ended up in Guantanamo but I am glad that Biden has released Latif and hope that he takes action to close the camp.
This article describes the bizarre system in place.
Nasser, who has never been charged with a crime, has spent nearly two decades fighting for his freedom. He tried challenging the legality of his imprisonment in federal court, only to find that the courts were generally unwilling to provide basic due process rights to those detained at Guantanamo.
In 2011, the Obama administration set up the Periodic Review Board, parole-style hearings meant to determine which Guantanamo detainees could safely be released. Unlike a court hearing, the board does not have to prove that the detainee did anything wrong — only that they would be a threat if released. Each member of the interagency board has veto power and they don’t have to justify their decision, making it a long-shot pathway to freedom.
Nasser didn’t get his hearing until 2016, 14 years after he was first brought to Guantanamo… In July 2016, the board unanimously recommended Nasser be sent home to Morocco, pending security assurances from the Moroccan government.
After Trump’s surprise victory, Obama officials raced to release as many cleared men from Guantanamo as possible, knowing that whomever they left behind would likely remain for at least four more years. Congress requires the Pentagon to notify lawmakers 30 days ahead of any transfer — meaning if Nasser’s transfer arrangements weren’t finalized one month before Trump’s inauguration, it would be more difficult to get him out.
That deadline came and went with no word on Nasser’s release. Nasser’s lawyers worked through Christmas to draft an emergency motion in federal court, filed jointly with Sufyian Barhoumi, another cleared Guantanamo detainee in a similar situation. The two men urged the judge to order their release. “If Petitioners are not transferred within the next week by the outgoing administration, they will likely not be transferred from Guantanamo for at least the next four years,” lawyers for the two men wrote.
Those who followed the Obama administration’s efforts to close Guantanamo hoped the Justice Department might stand down and not fight for the right to continue to imprison two men the administration had worked to free. But DOJ under Obama fought the release request and won.
So to sum up: The US kept a person in a torture prison for 19 years without charge and then said that they would release him only if he admitted his guilt. Remember this whenever the US starts lecturing other countries about their human rights violations.