Mar 6, 2020

The Other Latif: Episode 5

The Other Latif

Radiolab’s Latif Nasser always believed his name was unique, singular, completely his own. Until one day when he makes a bizarre and shocking discovery. He shares his name with another man: Abdul Latif Nasser, detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. government paints a terrifying picture of The Other Latif as Al-Qaeda’s top explosives expert, and one of the most important advisors to Osama bin Laden. Nasser’s lawyer claims that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he was never even in Al-Qaeda. This clash leads Radiolab’s Latif into a years-long investigation, picking apart evidence, attempting to separate fact from fiction, and trying to uncover what this man actually did or didn’t do. Along the way, Radiolab’s Latif reflects on American values and his own religious past, and wonders how his namesake, a fellow nerdy, suburban Muslim kid, may have gone down such a strikingly different path.

 

Episode 5: Cuba-ish

Latif heads to Guantanamo Bay to try to speak to his namesake.  Before he gets there, he attempts to answer a seemingly simple question: why Cuba? Why in the world did the United States pick this sleepy military base in the Caribbean to house “the worst of the worst”?  He tours the “legal equivalent of outer space,” and against all odds, manages to see his doppelgänger… maybe.

This episode was produced by Bethel Habte and Simon Adler, with Sarah Qari, Suzie Lechtenberg, and Latif Nasser. Help from W. Harry Fortuna and Neel Dhanesha. Fact checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Simon Adler, Alex Overington, and Amino Belyamani.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

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[RADIOLAB INTRO]

 

LATIF NASSER: Before we start, this episode has some graphic descriptions that may not be suitable for all listeners.

 

LATIF: Previously ...

 

SHELBY SULLIVAN BEVIS: Yeah, he was definitely indoctrinated. I mean, that would be my guess. He was indoctrinated, and -- and then sponsored to go to Sudan.

 

LATIF: Did he go to Afghanistan to fight?

 

SHELBY SULLIVAN BEVIS: Classified.

 

GARY BERNTSEN: It was easy to take a bloody bus, but for some reason he decides to go south with Bin Laden.

 

JON LEE ANDERSON: Nasir Abdul Latif stared at me directly with his pale brown eyes. We did not come here to fight Afghans, we came here to fight Americans. And we will keep fighting until we destroy them totally.

 

LATIF: I’m Latif Nasser, and this is The Other Latif.

 

LATIF'S MOM: Hi Latif.

 

LATIF: Hey.

 

DAD: Hello?

 

LATIF: Are you both on different phones?

 

DAD: Yeah.

 

MOM: Yeah, we are both on different lines. Why? What happened?

 

LATIF: So on Sunday, I'm going to Guantanamo.

 

MOM: What?

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

DAD: Wow.

 

LATIF: Yeah, this Sunday.

 

MOM: Well, you can't go. Is it safe there?

 

LATIF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it's fine. Like, I'm going as a media person. Like, I have -- I've gotten clearance. And ...

 

MOM: If we say no you still go, right?

 

DAD: No, no, no. He should go. This is a good opportunity.

 

MOM: Oh, I don't know, Latif. I don't like -- I guess I know it's your job and ...

 

DAD: Mom, he's going on official business. It's not a -- Radiolab is sending you, right?

 

LATIF: Yeah, Radiolab is sending me.

 

DAD: But you'll be -- you'll be able to see the prisoner?

 

LATIF: Maybe.

 

DAD: Okay, okay. We'll pray for your safety. We'll pray for you.

 

LATIF: Thank you, Dad.

 

LATIF: Episode five: Cuba-ish.

 

[RADIO CLIP: Good morning, Guantanamo Bay. You're listening to Radio Gitmo, we're rockin' in Fidel's backyard. So stick ...]

 

SUZIE: Hi, is the General there?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: The general is here.

 

LATIF: Hey!

 

SUZIE: My father is a marine as well. He was very excited that I was talking to you.

 

LATIF: So far, this story has been about one man: Abdul Latif Nasser, and what he may or may not have done to us.

 

SUZIE: I didn't tell him we wouldn't see each other face to face.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Well, we'll do a virtual handshake.

 

LATIF: But this episode and the next are about the reverse, what we ended up doing to him. And that's the story that brings us to this guy.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Mike Lehnert.

 

LATIF: Do you prefer I call you General Lehnert? Or how -- how do I -- how should I refer to you?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Mike is just fine.

 

LATIF: Mike is just fine. Okay.

 

LATIF: Retired General Mike is the guy who built the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Yeah. And it's pronounced Letif?

 

LATIF: Yeah, Latif. That's how I pronounce it.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: But I've had some with this long e at the end, that's why I was looking for the distinction.

 

LATIF: Right. Right.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Well, I will also assure you that all of the Latifs I've met I did not lock up.

 

LATIF: Oh okay, well that’s also very -- I’ll tell you, that’s very comforting to hear. [laughs] I think the place we should start, although we might flash backwards, is January, 2002, when you get an order.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Right. Here's -- here’s kind of what happened. I was -- had my first command as a Brigadier General. Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

 

LATIF: He's on this base in charge of lots of Marines and sailors, when ...

 

[NEWS CLIP: ... that a plane has crashed into one of the towers.]

 

LATIF: 9/11.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, George W. Bush: The United States military has begun strikes.]

 

LATIF: U.S. invades Afghanistan.

 

[NEWS CLIP: Thunderous explosions and the rattle of anti-aircraft ...]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: We're watching what's happening in Afghanistan.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Donald Rumsfeld: We continue to gather in additional people.]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: And receiving reports that they're capturing a number of prisoners.

 

LATIF: Too many.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Donald Rumsfeld: Obviously, we need space at Kandahar and we need space at Baghram and different places.]

 

LATIF: Reports start to come back that the forces don't have enough places to keep all the prisoners.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: At the same time ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Donald Rumsfeld: Within a month or so, there'll probably be heavy snow on the ground. Does that give you just a small ...]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: We have a situation where the weather is getting bad. Winter is coming to Afghanistan. So it became pretty obvious that the administration was looking for places to send them. So on the 4th of January ...

 

LATIF: 2002.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: And that was a Friday. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld sent us a deployment order. Now we always watched Fridays, because Secretary Rumsfeld generally signed deployment orders on Friday. It was just what he did. So ours came on Friday afternoon, and essentially it said that I was to form a Joint Task Force, deploy to Guantanamo and build the first 100 cells and do all of that within the first 96 hours.

 

LATIF: Oh my God!

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Yeah.

 

LATIF: He was told, "You have four days to build an entire prison.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Yes.

 

LATIF: I mean, that seems impossible.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Well, it -- it was tough, but it was pretty clear from the guidance that our job was to tell the administration how we were going to do it, not whether or not it was a good idea.

 

LATIF: Huh.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: So we left the following day.

 

LATIF: He and a team of people flew the two and a half hours to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: We landed.

 

LATIF: And what's the first thing you do when you get there?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Well, the first thing you do is you take a look at the facilities that are there.

 

LATIF: Which were definitely not ideal.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Personally, I didn't feel it was a particularly good place to send them.

 

LATIF: Guantanamo Bay at that point was 45 square miles of mostly swamp.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Think of it as a horseshoe.

 

LATIF: Okay.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: With the center of the horseshoe being the water. And mangrove swamp.

 

LATIF: The US had gotten the land in a 1903 treaty with Cuba and they'd put a small naval base at one end. The Cuban government hated the fact that this base was there, that their hands were bound by this treaty that Teddy Roosevelt had basically forced on them. And so in 1964, the Castro government basically cut the base off from all the island's utilities. So what Mike found when he landed was a naval base that could barely make enough water and electricity to support itself.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: It's a real tough position to be in, Latif.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: The real challenge, of course, was finding the materials to build a facility to incarcerate these detainees.

 

LATIF: This was, after all, an island. Not a Home Depot in sight.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: So we essentially took down every fence that wasn't absolutely needed on the naval base.

 

LATIF: And he pulled in help from wherever he could get it.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Marine engineers, Navy Seabees, some Jamaican steel workers that just happened to be down there doing a project. We were given 96 hours to build this. We did it in 87, right? But at that time, we were still calling them ...

 

[MOVIE CLIP: Prisoners of war.]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Enemy prisoners of war.

 

LATIF: That was about to change. In fact, everything in Mike's experience about how he knew something like this should be handled was about to change.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: You know, in -- with a 37-year career, you have to assume that most of the things I did I succeeded at, okay? This is the one thing I wished I'd failed at.

 

LATIF: Hmm.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: You know? Maybe if I'd screwed it up a little bit, we'd bought a little bit more time for those that make the policy to think about the policy.

 

LATIF: To put all that in context, which I think helps in order to understand just what kind of place Abdul Latif ended up being dragged into, you gotta go back.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: You know, 9/11, it's almost hard to remember 18 years later, but it's worth it.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: And there's more explosions right now. There it is. There it is. The plane went ...]

 

[NEWS CLIP: Another passenger plane hitting the World Trade Center.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: That is a very hard thing to watch.]

 

KAREN GREENBERG: 9/11 was crushing to the United States. And I mean that in a very psychological way.

 

LATIF: This is Karen Greenberg.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University.

 

DANIEL FRIED: I was in the White House that day when -- when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were hit.

 

LATIF: And this is Ambassador Daniel Fried.

 

DANIEL FRIED: We were genuinely and legitimately worried about Al Qaeda and follow-on attacks.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

DANIEL FRIED: That's not a joke. That's not -- the Bush Administration didn't make that up, they didn't exaggerate it. That's what they felt.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Remember, the Bin Laden-Al Qaeda playbook was consecutive attacks, simultaneous attacks. The idea that there would be more attacks was front and center in terms of U.S. policy.

 

DANIEL FRIED: Under those circumstances, the Bush Administration was operating according to a theory that the old rules don't apply, we're in a new world.

 

[NEWS CLIP: That there was a before 9/11 and there was an after 9/11.]

 

DANIEL FRIED: And I cannot tell you how many times I heard that phrase.

 

[NEWS CLIP: After 9/11, the gloves come off.]

 

LATIF: Now in a pre-9/11 world, when the gloves were supposedly still on, here's how things were supposed to work.

 

DANIEL FRIED: The laws of war, as I think almost every American understands, don't require you to put a captive enemy soldier in a civilian court on trial when you've picked up said soldier on the battlefield. They become a POW, a prisoner of war. That is a recognized legal, legitimate procedure. Enemy soldiers captured under the laws of war have rights.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: This film is an introduction to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: All members of the U.S. military are given basic instruction on the Geneva Conventions. It's -- it's the international law that -- that we live by.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The third convention is the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war.]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: It basically instructs us how to behave and how to treat those that we bring under our control.

 

LATIF: Reading from the Red Cross website here, "Prisoners of war must not be subjected to torture or medical experimentation. POWs must be housed in clean, adequate shelter and receive the clothing and medical care necessary to maintain good health."

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The articles guarantee humane treatment, safety, healthful conditions and personal dignity.]

 

LATIF: "When the conflict ends, all POWs shall be released and if they request, be sent home without delay.”

 

DANIEL FRIED: Well, the Bush administration decided that the old rules, in particular the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, no longer necessarily applied to terrorists.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Dick Cheney: The terrorists were not covered by the Geneva Convention. They were unlawful combatants.]

 

LATIF: Vice President Dick Cheney argued at the time that the Geneva Conventions are only there to protect people who follow the laws of war. One of the most important laws of war is keeping civilians safe. Terrorists intentionally attack civilians, so they're putting themselves outside the Geneva Conventions. And if they're not gonna follow the rules, why should we?

 

KAREN GREENBERG: The first and only priority for a number of people was, "We're not gonna have this happen to us again."

 

LATIF: And we don't care what it takes.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Right.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Dick Cheney: I have to work sort of the dark side, if you will. We have to spend time in the shadows.]

 

LATIF: So as the prisoners in Afghanistan were piling up ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Donald Rumsfeld: Obviously, we need space.]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Winter is coming.

 

LATIF: And there's this question of where we're gonna put them. Cheney and the administration went searching for the shadows.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Okay, where are we gonna move these people to? I think the most obvious place would have been the U.S. base in Germany, because it was often a place of transport and transit to the Middle East, to Afghanistan. But there was a very early recognition that to keep detainees in custody in the way they were thinking about keeping them would have too many eyes from not just Germany, but the European Union, and invoke the European Court of Human Rights. And so there was a decision very early on that that was not gonna be the answer.

 

LATIF: Am I remembering this right from your book that there was, like, a thought, and however seriously I'm not sure, but that like -- like, it's like, "What if we put them on a boat in the middle of the ocean?"

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Yeah. Yes.

 

LATIF: There was another very serious candidate.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Guam was a possibility.

 

LATIF: It was in U.S. control. It was far away.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: And -- and not within the United States.

 

LATIF: Why not the United States?

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Yeah. It's a very good question, why not the United States? And you know what? It's one that very few people ask.

 

LATIF: Hmm.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: One of the reasons was that there would be an ability to challenge the detention, for one thing.

 

LATIF: See, as soon as prisoners stepped foot on American soil, they’d fall under criminal law. Which meant they’d have habeas rights, Ie. the ability to challenge their detention. They’d have the right to a lawyer, a fair and speedy trial. And the administration didn’t want them to have those rights.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: Finally, somebody in the room said, "What about Cuba? What about Guantanamo Bay? We have a naval facility there." Once Cuba is mentioned, my understanding of the situation is that the minute it was mentioned everybody was like, "Yes, that's obvious."

 

LATIF: Cuba, Cuba, Cuba, Cuba.

 

KAREN GREENBERG: That's just gonna work.

 

DANIEL FRIED: I remember people saying at the very beginning that it was designed to be outside the reach of law, because the legal status of Guantanamo was unusual.

 

LATIF: Guantanamo had the weird distinction of being a U.S. territory not on U.S. soil. And many people argue that meant U.S. law shouldn't apply there, that technically, Cuban law should govern Guantanamo. But since the Cuban government wanted nothing to do with Guantanamo and were sort of absentee landlords, that left Guantanamo Bay sort of outside any set of laws.

 

DANIEL FRIED: And it was felt that this would give us more flexibility.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: In the minds of the administration, they looked at this, at Guantanamo, as a convenient place because it essentially is a legal limbo.

 

LATIF: So after the 87 hours, that first plane that landed at Guantanamo Bay ...

 

LATIF: Can you set the scene a little bit more for me? Like, what -- what was the day of the week? Where were you, exactly?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Well, it was the 11th of January.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: January 11, 2002.

 

LATIF: This is Carol Rosenberg. She’s a reporter for the New York Times now, but on the day of the landing, she was there reporting for the Miami Herald.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: So what had happened was there was a pool of reporters there.

 

LATIF: She found herself sitting.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: We sat on, like, a little rise, a little mound of dirt, on -- next to the tarmac.

 

LATIF: With binoculars pressed up to her eyes, staring out at Guantanamo Bay.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: And we watched gunboats off the water. Helicopters with gunners hanging off the side.

 

LATIF: On the ground ...

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: Humvees and armor ...

 

LATIF: ... this flurry of military vehicles.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: And we waited and waited and waited until this flight came.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: We were on the -- the strip.

 

LATIF: Mike was standing about 50 feet away.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: When the C-17 came in. They taxied up to the location that we'd identified.

 

LATIF: And as it stopped, it was surrounded by people.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: There was this tremendous sort of ring of security. It was four months to the day after September 11th. And supposedly coming off that plane was, like ...

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: ... were what had been referred to by the administration as ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The worst ...]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The worst of the worst.]

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: ... of the worst.]

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: ... the worst of the worst.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: The worst of the worst of the terrorists of Al Qaeda, the compatriots or something of the 9/11 hijackers.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: I mean, these are people that would gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17.]

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: The base of Gitmo was, like, on high alert.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: These are very, very dangerous people and that's how they're being treated.]

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: People were told not to leave their homes or go out. And I think there was a lot of fear of them. I know there was a lot of fear of them.

 

LATIF: The plane taxied, then it came to a stop. A door in the back of the plane opened, a ramp descended, and then men in jumpsuits were escorted out.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: They had the goggles on, they had gloves on. The intent on their trip across, and I'm not entirely certain who made that decision, was to provide sensory deprivation.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: When they walked down the ramp from this air-conditioned hold plane, and they'd come from winter in Afghanistan, they hit the heat, and they crumpled.

 

FAROUZ ALI ABASI: I just -- I just remember the hot sun.

 

LATIF: Farouz Ali Abasi was on that plane. He was picked up fleeing the violence in Kandahar. And in an oral history, he described what it was like stepping off that plane blindfolded, no idea where he was.

 

FAROUZ ALI ABASI: I didn't know it was Guantanamo Bay.

 

LATIF: And then hitting that wall of heat.

 

FAROUZ ALI ABASI: Obviously, this is by sound. There's no images to these memories. You can hear people screaming. Both, you know, saying, "F this and F that, F this, F that," and detainees screaming as well. There's a face mask, you know, these surgical masks on your face. The sweat is going into the surgical mask, you can't breathe. There's the dog barking, there's the soldier barking orders, and -- and the bad translation of Arabic. And I'm just hearing other detainees drop like flies and then they get dragged away and you can hear the chains.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Most of them were severely dehydrated. They had not been allowed to use the bathroom. They were wearing diapers. They were all clean-shaven. I suspect that they -- that was not voluntary, that they were shaven at the other end.

 

LATIF: Other end. You mean Afghanistan?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Yeah.

 

LATIF: Carol Rosenberg said that they were shaved, like, head to toe. Like, they were -- they were fully shaved.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Yeah. They were.

 

LATIF: Do you remember anything else about those first few moments?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Well, first off, what did the detainees look like? They looked tired and scared.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: In terms of what I was feeling, you know, I -- I think that the one thing I was feeling is I want this to go right.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: I want it to go professionally.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: I want it to be done with security, and I want it to be done humanely.

 

LATIF: When you say that, are you thinking about the Geneva Conventions?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: Definitely. Definitely.

 

LATIF: Mike had planned to implement the Geneva Conventions more or less across the board.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: And I would have young Marines and soldiers say, "You know, General, why are we treating them so well? You know that they wouldn't treat us this way." And I'd have to answer them honestly, and I said, "You know, it's very likely they wouldn't treat us this way, but if we treat them as they would treat us we become them."

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

LATIF: Right around the time that first flight landed ...

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: We got a -- a direction from the Pentagon that said they're now called detainees.

 

LATIF: He was told he was no longer supposed to call the prisoners of war prisoners of war.

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: I'm not an attorney. I'm certain that this was part of the effort though to distance them from the protections that would be afforded in the Geneva Conventions.

 

LATIF: How did that ring to you?

 

MICHAEL LEHNERT: It -- it was disconcerting to be quite candid, Latif. You know, the simple set fact was that, you know, we'd -- we had built up a body of law over the years based upon other conflicts, and we essentially walked away from them. The one thing that made me extraordinarily uncomfortable was the absence of Article Five hearings. An Article Five hearing is essentially a -- a hearing that is supposed to take place as close to the point of capture as possible to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to hold the person. I went back a couple of times, twice as a matter of fact, recommending that Article Five hearings be held. On both occasions I was told no.

 

LATIF: General Mike Lehnert left Guantanamo Bay in April of 2002. One month later, another planeload of detainees arrived. Among them, Abdul Latif Nasser. He arrived in the same way as the other prisoners: sensory deprivation, diapers, overheating, dehydration. He basically steps into the legal equivalent of outer space. This is the part of the story where it's really hard to know what happens next. It's like reading a book where whole chapters have just been razor-bladed out. Chapters that cover years of his life. 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006. One of the reasons we're so in the dark is that Abdul Latif and the other people detained in Guantanamo weren't allowed lawyers. That was one of the consequences of not being in the U.S. But of course, lawyers sued almost immediately after Guantanamo was opened.

 

CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH: We sued to just establish basic legal rights for people. It wasn't until 2006, you know, four years later that we finally got a list of the prisoners who were in Guantanamo.

 

LATIF: This is Clive.

 

CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH: Clive Stafford-Smith. I'm a human rights lawyer and the founder of Reprieve. And notwithstanding my patent British accent, I'm American.

 

LATIF: Do you -- do you know if Abdul Latif Nasser was tortured?

 

CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH: Oh, yes. Of course he was. Abdul Latif was in Baghram for a long time, and then he was in Kandahar, and then he was in Guantanamo. And in each of those places, we as America did what we refer to as "enhanced interrogation techniques," but in any reasonable world is -- is defined as torture. We beat him. We hung him up by his wrists in something called strappado, something the Spanish Inquisition used to do where you gradually dislocate your shoulders in a way that is excruciatingly painful. We subjected him to noise, lights and sleep deprivation. What would you say if I asked you, "Would you rather have a razor blade taken to your genitals or would you rather have ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barney: I love you, you love me, we're a happy family. With a ...]

 

CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH: Barney the purple dinosaur played at you at loud volume for two weeks. What do you reckon?

 

LATIF: Yeah, I would -- I would -- I would choose -- I would choose Barney. Barney the purple dinosaur.

 

CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH: Yeah. Well, you're wrong. Physical torture is one thing, you know? You know it's gonna start, you know it's gonna end. Its horrible, but that's what it is. The problem with psychological torture is you feel your sanity slipping away.

 

LATIF: We heard reports of how interrogators would play noise machines for the detainees at ear-splitting volumes. And the noise was so loud and would go on for so long that the detainees would begin to hear voices in the noise, voices that were talking to them. According to Shelby, Abdul Latif for one suffered permanent hearing loss from this kind of thing. And I kept thinking of that. When I was in high school one of the bands that I loved, and especially when I first moved away from home, I would, like, be in my dorm room and I would, like, blast super loud was -- I would listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers all the time. I really liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And -- and then I found out that they used some Red Hot Chili Peppers songs to torture detainees at Guantanamo. They would play them super, super loud. So it's, like, conceivable that there might have been a moment in the early 2000s when I was in my dorm room blasting a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, annoying my -- my roommates and stuff, but that he was in Guantanamo and that was being blasted at him. That same song. And that's just, like, spooky to me. It's just spooky. It's like, what are these -- like, the world is connected in these subtle ways that it's like, oh that's -- that's just so strange.

 

LATIF: Getting back to Abdul Latif. After five years in this sort of darkness, where we know virtually nothing about his life, we get a tiny pinprick of light.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: [clears throat] Sorry. Got a bit of a cold. Remind me, how -- did Shelby suggest you get in touch with me?

 

LATIF: No. No, so I -- the person who actually weirdly told us to get in touch with you was Carol Rosenberg.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Hmm.

 

LATIF: She was like, "This is the guy you gotta talk to you, because he has a good memory and he's a nice guy."

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: [laughs]

 

LATIF: This is Zachary Katznelson.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: I'm an attorney and I represented Abdul Latif Nasser for about four and a half years in Guantanamo Bay. I was the first lawyer to sit down and meet with him.

 

LATIF: It was 2006. At the time, Zachary was working at Reprieve, same law firm as Shelby. For years, lawyers at Reprieve and human rights lawyers in general had been arguing that detainees should be granted basic legal rights, like the right to have a lawyer. And eventually, the Supreme Court weighed in and agreed.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: At that point almost everybody wanted representation, and so Abdul Latif was one of the people that asked for a lawyer.

 

LATIF: And so in late-2006, early-2007, Zachary flew down to Guantanamo Bay.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Took a ferry across to the main side of the base. It was quite beautiful. And then we were picked up by kind of our military handlers who took us to the prison itself. This compound, a place called Camp Echo.

 

LATIF: Okay.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Which was primarily an interrogation facility that they let lawyers come into.

 

LATIF: Huh.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And then I was ushered into this windowless ten-by-ten, twelve-by-twelve, wooden shack.

 

LATIF: Inside he saw a tall thin man sitting at a table.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Shackled to the floor, waiting. He was pretty much bald. Had a -- you know, a reasonably long beard that was just starting to get salt and peppery. I remember there was a camera watching us on the wall that you could hear moving. If you moved around, you could hear it swivel to follow you. And so, you know, I remember shaking hands, and then we sat down and started talking together. So in the beginning, he was incredibly skeptical of me just because I was coming in, you know, saying I was a lawyer, knowing I was American, and that's all he knew about me.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And when lawyers first started going in, interrogators started pretending to be lawyers.

 

LATIF: Oh no.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Posing as lawyers during the interrogation sessions. And so you can imagine he was wary.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Understandably. I felt like Abdul Latif was -- was deciding whether or not -- who -- who I was. Was I someone who could be trusted? Was I somebody that he wanted to work with? And, you know, he'd indicated that he wanted a lawyer but had been a while ago. And there were a couple people we'd met who had changed their minds. That they kind of lost faith in the U.S. justice system, in the U.S. courts. And so, you know, I didn't know what to expect when I went into it.

 

LATIF: Sitting across from Abdul Latif, Zachary decided just to be totally honest.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: So I told him first of all, I'm Jewish. And I -- I always ...

 

LATIF: I imagine that's probably like the last thing in the world he would have expected you to say at that moment. [laughs]

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: [laughs] You know, there were people that reacted in lots of different ways to my being there initially, at least. But I -- I wanted him to know that very early on in our relationship, because I didn't want for him to think I was holding something back.

 

LATIF: Hmm.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And also because it's really important to who I am.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: I practice my faith. I believe in God. And it's important to why I do the work that I do. And for -- for Abdul Latif, that meant something. I was another person of the book, a person of faith. He felt like they were in a godless place. That if the American soldiers who were torturing and abusing them really believed in God they wouldn't do what they were doing. And so for me, it was actually really powerful personally, and also it happened to bond us. And so he decided it was worth trying. That he wanted to give it a shot.

 

LATIF: And so over the next three years, Zachary worked as Abdul Latif's lawyer. Over that period of time, he may have been the only person not stationed at Guantanamo who saw him.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And I would see him every month or two during that time.

 

LATIF: Wow.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: For at least several hours, sometimes for full days.

 

LATIF: And the thing is, at the time there wasn't really any legal work that could be done. He hadn't been charged with anything. There was no brief they could even file.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And so definitely, like, one of the goals was to try and just -- just have some time when we could just be, right? Just two people talking.

 

LATIF: Like, what kinds of things would you talk about that were not the case?

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Well, I would try and bring news from home, from Morocco, about his family, about his loved ones. Try and give him some kind of connection to them. And so he could know what was happening. Unfortunately, there were a number of people who had deaths.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: That I had to deliver the news.

 

LATIF: Oh, man.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And part of it was about family, part of it was about growing up, part of it was about just different experiences we'd had in life. [laughs] Sometimes there were funny stories of things that happened in Guantanamo. One of the guys, Mohammed El Gharani, who was a young guy, he was 14 when he was picked up, he was like a comedian. And they were housed next to each other for a while. And so he would tell me jokes that Mohammed El Gharani had made up, the way he had kind of, I don't know, made up some story to tease the guards or something like that, that Mohammed had. And it was -- it's not always easy, right? He's not got some, like, positive life experience he's been having in there he can share with me. And so when he would laugh or smile, it felt almost like it was precious, because it was really rare that that happened in Guantanamo. And he always -- he always said he wanted to go home. He wanted -- he wanted to get married, he wanted to have kids. He just wanted to go home. You know, he was somebody that -- he's somebody I enjoyed, I looked forward to seeing every time I met him.

 

LATIF: But then after three years of this, Zachary decided he needed to move on.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: You know, I moved -- I moved back to New York. So I left London, I left England and moved back to New York. And I had just gotten married. And my wife and I decided we were gonna move to the United States.

 

LATIF: Zachary says he decided he wouldn’t be able to make those trips to Gitmo anymore, and that it would be better for Abdul Latif if he handed off his case to another lawyer.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And -- and so I explained to him what was happening. And he was excited for me I was getting married, excited for me I was gonna have a new adventure, some disappointment that I was leaving. But he also trusted Reprieve and he trusted us.

 

LATIF: And also at that moment, things were looking more hopeful.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: You know, at that time it didn't look like there would be another seven years, or now 10 years.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: This first executive order that we are signing by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America ...]

 

LATIF: Because as Zachary was moving on ...

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: It was the first year of the Obama Administration.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers.]

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And Obama had pledged to close Guantanamo within the year.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: There we go.]

 

LATIF: You had George W. Bush agreeing, John McCain agreeing. It looked like it was gonna close for real. As we know that didn’t happen.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: As I was leaving, we were trying to find lawyers to take on all the cases, and we asked one of them to take on Abdul Latif.

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: This guy seemed like he'd be a really great lawyer for him. And he agreed. And he did a lot of work from the United States. He worked on the case, he -- he tried to do as best he could, but he wasn't able to go visit, and just never made it down to the base. So I -- I last saw him in 2009, and I know that at least between then and 2016, he wasn't visited by anybody.

 

LATIF: So long ago, but like so little has changed, it feels like.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: Yeah. He wanted to get married, he wanted to have kids. I now have three kids.

 

LATIF: Oh wow.

 

ZACHARY KATZNELSON: And my oldest is seven, about to turn eight. Life keeps going, but it's kind of frozen in time when you're in Guantanamo. It staggers me that he's still there.

 

LATIF: After Obama’s initial pledge to close Gitmo, Congress balked, priorities changed, Gitmo fell out of the news, and Abdul Latif fell back again into that dark void where again, can’t tell you much about his life. Literally one of the few things I can tell you is his weight at different points while he was at Guantanamo Bay. So, for example on November 28, 2006, he weighed 159 pounds. We know this from a leaked document that lists his weight over time. We also know that over time, his weight fluctuated 30 to 40 pounds, from the 120s to nearly 160. And I’d find out later, he was on hunger strike.

 

MANSOOR ADAYFI: We -- we all of us went on mass hunger strike.

 

LATIF: What went into that decision?

MANSOOR ADAYFI: You have no choice. That’s it. That’s what it is.

 

LATIF: This is Mansoor Adayfi. He took English classes at Guantanamo with Abdul Latif. He says they went on hunger strikes together to protest all kinds of things: The way the guards treated them, the way the interrogators tortured them, to protest the fact that no detainees were being released.

 

MANSOOR ADAYFI: I spent 57 days only on water. Some detainees reached 62, 65 days, and it’s like the brink of death.

 

LATIF: He says the guards would have to force feed them with tubes through their nose.

 

MANSOOR ADAYFI: And the feeding itself, it was worse than torture.

 

LATIF: Do you know if Abdul Latif was ever force fed?

 

MANSOOR ADAYFI: Yes, yes. Abdul Latif?

 

LATIF: Yeah.

 

MANSOOR ADAYFI: He was very skinny.

 

ADBEL MALIK AL RAHABI: Me and him we were there together.

 

LATIF: This is Abdel Malik al Rahabi. He was on the same cell block as Abdul Latif during one particular hunger strike in 2013 that lasted for at least six months and made national and international news.

 

ADBEL MALIK AL RAHABI: After that you know, Obama ...

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: Look at the current situation.]

 

ADBEL MALIK AL RAHABI: ... talked about our case.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: Where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike.]

 

ADBEL MALIK AL RAHABI: And after that, the PRBs working. Before that, there was no PRBs.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo.]

 

LATIF: It was that hunger strike that led President Obama to recommit to the PRB hearings, the ones that we described in episode one that would ultimately clear Abdul Latif Nasser and dozens of others for transfer out of Gitmo.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP, Barack Obama: Imagine a future 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country. Is this who we are? Is that the America we want to leave our children?]

 

LATIF: Even though you and Abdul Latif and the others were on hunger strike, did it feel good to see that happen?

 

ADBEL MALIK AL RAHABI: Yes, yes, yes. That gives us something hope and power, you know? To demand for our right.

 

LATIF: When we come back, finally we see him. Maybe.

 

[SHAUN: Hello. My name is Shaun Samuel. I'm calling from Hillsboro, New Jersey. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.]

 

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LATIF: Like, I really think this place we’re going, like you'd -- it’s literally every single Muslim American’s worst nightmare.

 

LATIF: This is The Other Latif, I’m Latif Nasser.

 

LATIF: Here we are.

 

GITMO HANDLER: All right, everybody. Welcome to Guantanamo Bay. I'd like to get everybody to remain in their seats when we come to a stop.

 

LATIF: Welcome to Guantanamo Bay.

 

LATIF: Okay, so I had written a few months before to the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay to request an interview with Abdul Latif Nasser. And they'd sent me a boilerplate letter back saying no. Which makes sense. No journalist has ever interviewed a Guantanamo detainee before. But what they seemed not to be taking into consideration here, was that this guy had been cleared. The government had already decided he didn't belong there anymore. I figured the only solution was for Suzie and I to go to Guantanamo ourselves and see if there was some way we could make the case that they should let us talk to him. And so we landed at this tiny airport in what surprised me is like a Caribbean resort paradise.

 

SUZIE: Do you mind carrying the backpack?

 

LATIF: Yeah. No, not at all.

 

LATIF: And we went as part of one of these regularly-scheduled media tours. So we weren't alone.

 

MARIN: I'm Marin. Hi.

 

SUZIE: Hi.

 

LATIF: Marin.

 

MARIN: Nice to meet you.

 

LATIF: Like, there were six of us journalists.

 

SYLVIE: Sylvie.

 

SUZIE: Sylvie. Nice to meet you.

 

SYLVIE: Yes.

 

LATIF: Three European reporters, Suzie and I, and ...

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: First thing we're doing is going to lunch, right?

 

SUZIE: We are.

 

LATIF: Carol Rosenberg.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: So you gotta get out five dollars and 85 or 65 cents.

 

LATIF: Oh. Huh.

 

LATIF: You might recognize her voice from earlier in the episode.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: I've gotta change at some point into my ...

 

LATIF: She's been covering Guantanamo longer than anyone. Since the day it opened. She was right there on the ground with General Mike Lehnert when that first plane of detainees arrived. And she told us back in those early days ...

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: General Lehnert was willing to take the questions unscripted, and coverage was welcome in ways that it's hard to even imagine. So at one point, I remember talking to the Lieutenant Colonel who was in charge and he said like, "What else should we be showing people?" I said, "Can we talk to the medical staff about the kind of injuries that are coming in? Can we talk to them about the kind of treatment they're getting?" And they set it up. So I think that there was a real interest by a number of people that they wanted coverage. They didn't want to be left responsible for this policy that remember, was the policy of politicians.

 

LATIF: And so in those first few months, it was easy to get people to talk.

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: I mean, I assumed at some point we might be able to talk to prisoners. I assumed we'd know their names. But very fast there were ground rules.

 

LATIF: In 2002, pictures emerged of detainees in orange jumpsuits, masks covering their faces, kneeling inside what looked like metal cages.

 

[NEWS CLIP: These pictures of shackled and hooded men shocked the world.]

 

LATIF: These photos caused a public uproar. Soon thereafter, the detainees were moved indoors to a different, more opaque facility. And then Carol says ...

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: You didn't get to talk to as many people, you didn't get to talk to the head of the guard force. You didn't talk to as many soldiers. You couldn't know their names, and if you found out their names you couldn't report it because of privacy slash Geneva Convention slash there was a secret operation slash who knows.

 

LATIF: And this tension between showing and hiding ...

 

GITMO HANDLER: Welcome, Carol.

 

LATIF: It was present from the very first moment we stepped off that plane. One of the first things they had us do ...

 

ANNE LEANOS: All right. If you all want to join us at the table we can get started with the brief.

 

LATIF: ... was circle up in this kind of gazebo and go through all the ground rules.

 

ANNE LEANOS: I'm Commander Anne Leanos. I’m the chief spokesperson for the Joint Task Force. So our goal and the tone that we want to set is that we're as transparent as possible. So what not to photograph would be locks, the guards, power, water desalination plants, surveillance cameras, satellite dishes, panoramic views ...

 

LATIF: The list went on for, like, 20 minutes.

 

ANNE LEANOS: Fuel generation equipment.

 

LATIF: And it was not enough to tell us like, don't take pictures of that. It was like, "Okay ..."

 

ANNE LEANOS: At the end of every day, we'll do a review of your imagery.

 

LATIF: We're gonna go through your camera, through the pictures one by one. And the things that have those things that we told you not to take photos of, we're gonna delete them. And strangely, one of the justifications for these rules was ...

 

ANNE LEANOS: And it's important to remember that our current mission of safe, humane and legal care and custody of detainees that's consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

 

[ARCHIVE CLIP: The Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, of August 12, 1949.]

 

LATIF: The very thing that this place was designed to avoid was now being used as a shield.

 

GITMO HANDLER: So if you will all follow me. We got everybody? Good afternoon. Gonna kind of start this off for you. We're out here at the super rec yard.

 

LATIF: So our first stop, our handlers were like, "Okay. The first thing we're gonna show you is this super rec area where detainees like Abdul Latif can get some fresh air, hang out."

 

GITMO HANDLER: The purpose of the super rec was for them have a larger outer area where they could spend time.

 

LATIF: It's like basically just like a dirt soccer field.

 

GITMO HANDLER: You see the goals, and the ...

 

LATIF: With two goalposts, right?

 

LATIF: Right.

 

LATIF: And when I ask how they use the field ...

 

LATIF: They get to -- they get to have games.

 

GITMO HANDLER: That's an operational question.

 

LATIF: Okay.

 

GITMO HANDLER: That's really gonna come down to the camp leadership to say how many at one time and when.

 

LATIF: Okay.

 

LATIF: He's like, "I can't tell you."

 

GITMO HANDLER: I couldn't say that ...

 

ANNE LEANOS: The Camp Six OIC is gonna brief us.

 

LATIF: Okay. Okay, great.

 

LATIF: And I'm like, what? You can show me the soccer field, but not tell me what they do on it? Right after that, right -- right at the edge of the super rec area ...

 

ANNE LEANOS: It also has part of the horticulture program.

 

LATIF: There was a little garden.

 

GITMO HANDLER: And everything we do here is consistent with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and part of that is that intellectual stimulation.

 

LATIF: What kind of -- what kinds of plants do they grow?

 

GITMO HANDLER: We have a bunch of different plants. I can't tell you what's in there right now, but it's what they do.

 

LATIF: Again, here's a garden, here's some plants, but the names of those plants? Off limits.

 

GITMO HANDLER: Please keep your voices down, it is an active facility. All right, follow me.

 

LATIF: After the plants, they took us inside the detention facility and showed us an unoccupied cell.

 

LATIF: Okay, I'm inside one of the -- one of the things. I cannot spread my arms.

 

LATIF: It was about the size of a biggish closet.

 

LATIF: Okay, I'm going lengthwise. One pace, two paces, three paces, four paces, five paces. From side to side, one paces, two paces, three paces.

 

LATIF: Yellow walls. Garish fluorescent light.

 

LATIF: And then there's a sink, two mirrors. There's a toilet with no seat. Yeah, this is definitely not, not, not a room I would want to live in.

 

ANNE LEANOS: Is anybody ready for a one-on-one with the Admiral right now? Okay.

 

LATIF: Ultimately, we had our chance to plead our case directly to the Rear Admiral who ran the place at the time, a guy by the name of John Ring.

 

LATIF: Have you ever met Abdul Latif Nasser, Detainee 244?

 

JOHN RING: So I have not met any of them.

 

LATIF: You've not met any of them?

 

JOHN RING: Nope. So I do that on purpose. You know, I care about and I read about every issue these guys have, but I don't have time to sit and try to solve them all individually. That's what we -- that's why we have the chain of command.

 

LATIF: So even if you haven't met him, do you -- do you know anything about him?

 

JOHN RING: So I -- knowing that you were coming, I looked him up a little bit. But he's -- he's been completely off my radar. He's, as far as I can tell, a very compliant guy, and the file I had wasn't that thick, which is a good thing.

 

LATIF: So we -- I put in a petition to try to talk to him.

 

JOHN RING: Yup.

 

LATIF: And I wasn't allowed to talk to him.

 

JOHN RING: Right.

 

LATIF: Can you just tell me -- tell me why, or ...?

 

JOHN RING: So -- so the Geneva Convention is pretty clear on that. You know, the detainees should not be made objects of public -- I forget what the word is.

 

SUZIE: Curiosity?

 

JOHN RING: Curiosity.

 

LATIF: Side note, so that rule about public curiosity came about because of cases like this one about a German field marshal in World War Two who took a bunch of British and American soldiers, shackled them and then paraded through the streets of Rome to boost the morale of the Italian citizenry who showed up and threw stones at the prisoners. So Geneva was like, "No, no. Don't do that." But now that same rule about public curiosity is being used to deny detainee interviews.

 

JOHN RING: The detainees should not be made objects of public curiosity.

 

SUZIE: Curiosity.

 

JOHN RING: So -- so -- and then our ground rules state that we can't let you interview a detainee. So -- and then the biggest thing for me though, is -- would be the precedent. So I -- I totally understand why you want to talk to him, and I totally get the human interest side of the story. It would be a good story. But as soon as I let do that, then someone else at the table is gonna say, "Oh, I want to talk to KSM." Khalid Shiekh-Muhammad, you know, of 9/11 fame. I just -- that's a precedent that I can't afford to set.

 

LATIF: But the fact that he has been cleared, it felt like maybe that could be a privilege that he could have, that -- and also given that he -- he himself signed away his privacy rights.

 

JOHN RING: Right. Right, right. So I under -- I can -- I respect the fact that it's logical to think that folks have been cleared to go maybe would get some additional stuff.

 

LATIF: Sure.

 

JOHN RING: But remember, where the process stopped he wasn't at the point of getting different privileges. He was sent down here on an order from the Secretary of Defense and he'll leave here on an order from the Secretary of Defense. And until I get that order, I'm -- my hands are sort of tied as to what I can do.

 

ANNE LEANOS: And I -- it's been about 10 minutes here, and I think there are some other people that ...

 

SUZIE: Thank you.

 

LATIF: Thank you very much.

 

LATIF: Needless to say, this was maddening. The Department of Defense was one of the agencies that voted to clear this guy, to send him home, and now they're acting like that doesn't even matter. And now, even though I was all the way out here, I felt like the only hope I had at learning something more about him was -- I couldn't talk to him, maybe I could just see him, get a glimpse of him.

 

ANNE LEANOS: So we're gonna follow this Army captain.

 

LATIF: The final part of the tour, they took us to a building called Camp Six. Camp Six is actually where these guys live.

 

ANNE LEANOS: I’ll go first. The guard force is gonna look into your bags. You show them your bags. Put your arms out.

 

LATIF: And after walking through security checkpoints and ring after ring of razor wire, we were ushered into this, like, rotunda. The whole thing is modeled on a federal medium-security prison, and the rotunda's in the middle. And it was super dark. And they told us we were gonna be allowed to look through one-way glass at the detainees, almost like an interrogation scene on Law & Order or something. And they told us that the detainees, like, they're not supposed to know that we're there.

 

ANNE LEANOS: Do we need to cover red lights at this time?

 

GITMO HANDLER: Yes.

 

ANNE LEANOS: Okay. So if anybody has a red light on any of their equipment, we do have tape to cover that.

 

LATIF: What they asked us to do was put tape over our recorders, over the little red lights on our recorders.

 

GITMO HANDLER: Sure. All right, follow me.

 

LATIF: And the reason they gave for that, again, Geneva Conventions. And I'm like, okay. Years of reporting have come to this. This is my only chance. Like, I'm gonna have, like, a few minutes in front of this plate glass window, and then if he -- like, he might be in one of those cells right now. So they ushered us down this hallway, which sort of went around the edge of this rotunda and ...

 

ANNE LEANOS: You're welcome to look through the windows, just please don't block the doorway.

 

LATIF: Every once in a while, there would be a window, and each of these windows opened up onto a different cellblock. I mean, it was very zoo-like.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Yeah, I don't see him. There's a guy, he's just drinking something. And he's sitting and drinking. But yeah, that's not our guy.

 

LATIF: Didn't appear to be Abdul Latif.

 

ANNE LEANOS: [whispering] We're gonna move on in about 60 seconds.

 

LATIF: Okay.

 

LATIF: So then we would move to the next one.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Ah, it's so frustrating. Oh man, he's just reading through a bunch of stuff. Like ...

 

LATIF: Another guy, I think he was reading a magazine. But again, not my guy. Next window was E Block.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Yeah, it's not him.

 

LATIF: And I still -- I still didn't see him.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Oh, man. It's so frustrating.

 

LATIF: And then we went to F Block, the final block with detainees inside.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Oh, maybe he's here.

 

LATIF: There was a guy -- there was a guy standing in the middle and I looked at him.

 

LATIF: [whispering] He's -- he's got a big, black beard.

 

LATIF: And that was not the guy. And I could tell because Abdul Latif's beard by this point is totally gray.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Yeah, that's not our guy. That's not our guy. Hold on. Let me go to this side. Oh, wait!

 

LATIF: But then ...

 

LATIF: [whispering] Is that him? Is that him?

 

SUZIE: [whispering] I don't know.

 

LATIF: [whispering] I can't see.

 

LATIF: At the back of the block, there was, like, this tiny, like, corner, like, underneath the stairs. There's, like, a TV there and there's, like, a little couch there. And there was somebody there. There was somebody sitting in the corner.

 

LATIF: [whispering] [inaudible] He has a big, gray beard.

 

SUZIE: [whispering] He has a big, gray beard.

 

LATIF: He's wearing, like, baggy pants. He's sitting on a couch.

 

LATIF: So I was like, "Oh my God, that's -- I think that's the guy. I think that's our guy."

 

LATIF: [whispering] Oh my God! He's, like, sitting in the shadow.

 

LATIF: But his face was in shadow. The shadow was, like, diagonally, like, slicing across him, so I couldn't -- like, I couldn't see his face.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Oh, come on. Come on. Come on. Come on. Just stand up or something. What are you doing? He's eating -- he's watching something and eating something. He's watching TV.

 

SUZIE: [whispering] He's eating something and watching TV.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Yeah, he has headphones on, so he's watching TV. And he's, like, in a little cubby with some -- on a couch. I think that's him.

 

LATIF: Like, if he had moved, like, just a hair to the side, like, I would've been able to see his face.

 

LATIF: I just wanna scream, scream out my name and his name. But I feel like there are, like, 13 people in camo who are just gonna like jump me if I do.

 

LATIF: But he didn't -- he didn't move.

 

ANNE LEANOS: So ladies and gentlemen, we're gonna move to the right.

 

LATIF: [whispering] Okay. And now we're going -- we're going out.

 

LATIF: And then they just, like, were like, "Shoo, shoo, shoo." And then they shooed us out. And as we were walking out, Carol Rosenberg told us ...

 

CAROL ROSENBERG: Well, that was it. You'll never see it again. That's the whole thing.

 

LATIF: That was it. We'll never see it again. And she was right. In the last year, there have been no more media visits to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. So Abdul Latif remains stuck in that black hole, even though he had been cleared to leave almost four years ago. And a question I hadn't been able to answer was why hadn't he been allowed to leave after he was cleared? Shelby had told us in the first episode that there was some kind of paperwork mix-up or something, she wasn't quite sure. Next episode, I uncover the answer. And spoiler, it goes all the way to the top.

 

LATIF: This episode was produced by Bethel Habte and Simon Adler, with Sarah Qari, Suzie Lechtenberg and me, Latif Nasser. We had help from W. Harry Fortuna and Neel Dhanesha. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Simon Adler, Alex Overington and Amino Belyamani. Archival tape in this episode was used with permission from the Columbia Center for Oral History's Rule of Law Oral History Project. Very soon, final episode.

 

[STEPHANIE: Hi. I'm Stephanie Boyd calling from Williamstown, Massachusetts. Radiolab is created by Jad Abumrad with Robert Krulwich, and produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our Director of Sound Design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our Executive Producer. Our staff includes: Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, W. Harry Fortuna, Sarah Sandbach, Malissa O’Donnell, Tad Davis, and Russell Gragg. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.]

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