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behind the bars: guantanamo bay

An Obituary for My Friend, Adnan Abdul Latif

Adnan Abdul Latif was a Yemeni citizen who died in Guantánamo in 2012. Here, he is remembered by his friend, Emad Hassan.
November 10, 2014, 10:00am

Adnan Abdul Latif (pictured above) was a Yemeni citizen who had been accused of being a member of Al Qaeda, a fighter in Tora Bora, and part of Osama bin Laden's 55th Arab Brigade. The Department of Defense believed that he had weapons training at Al Qaeda's al-Faruq training camp. He was recommended for release from Guantánamo Bay in 2006, 2008, and 2009. In 2010, a District Court judge ordered his release. In 2012, he died in Guantánamo.

Even two years on, I still catch myself thinking that Adnan is going to come around the corner any time now, shouting greetings at the top of his voice. The block would light up when he did. All the men would stand up to shout greetings in return, and for a second, the happy voices ringing through our small cells and off the steel doors allowed me to forget where I was.

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His presence always changed the atmosphere. He would talk to men who were angry, and they would suddenly laugh. He would sit down with me when I was upset, and I would end up smiling. Throughout all the difficulties he faced, he always remained sociable. We all loved him, because he always cared for us. The camp echoed with laughter wherever he went.

His was a simple approach: What he felt deep down, you saw on his face. He was not one to analyze things unendingly. It was difficult to change his opinion. If he was asked for his views on a subject, he would respond directly. It was an approach that would occasionally create a heated response—but Adnan was a fine speaker, and he would relish the chance to keep arguing his case undaunted.

Behind Adnan's public face, though, there was a quiet man who yearned to be home. He thought continually of his son, pronouncing his son's name over and over again to himself, working slowly through all the syllables of his name as if thinking hard about the word would bring him closer.

I think of the many occasions when I pretended to be asleep to give him the space to cry without worrying that he was being watched.

Then I remember another night, when he placed a photograph of his son on the wall so that he could lie and look at it. He stared at it for hours. Finally, he took the photograph back down. He whispered something under his breath that I couldn't hear, and kissed his son's face. Then, with the utmost care, he placed the photograph back in its small envelope, checking time and again that it was lodged in a safe place inside.

Adnan had been told by two different US Presidents that he was cleared to return home to his son, but that never happened. When I think of his death, as I do all the time, I realize that time is short, and is getting shorter. I have been here for 12 years now, a third of my life. I see my face getting older, and I feel a new urgency to act—but it feels like there is nothing that I can do, like I am now just the embers of a dying flame.

I miss Adnan like a brother. I remember a moment when one of the men had argued with him, and accused him of not understanding the situation we are in. He laughed, sadly, and told me that good could come of upset, and pain from friendship. From his friendship, I learned only good. And in his memory, I will keep striving to be treated justly.

About Emad Hassan: