EXCLUSIVE: An open letter from Guantanamo Bay
Earlier this year, we ran a story of two men called Latif Nasser. One was a journalist on a quest to track down his namesake, only to find him being held indefinitely without trial within the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay—the world’s most infamous prison.
Following the creation of Nasser’s podcast ‘The Other Latif’, a spotlight was cast on the case of inmate 244. Here he speaks for the first time.
The following is an open letter from ISN 244, Abdul Latif Nasser, written exclusively for Esquire Middle East.
My lawyer tells me people know my name now. I suppose it beats being a number. For the last 18 years at Guantánamo Bay I have been ISN 244. Now there is a podcast about my life, The Other Latif. Of course, they had to make it without me. I am not even allowed to hear my own story.
Three years ago, I was unanimously cleared for release by the six federal intelligence agencies charged with keeping the USA safe. They concluded
I was “no threat to the U.S. or its coalition allies”—as I have said all along. But then, before I could be sent home to Morocco, Donald Trump was elected with a promise that there would be “no further releases from Gitmo”.
The time since I was cleared has been the hardest. Before, I experienced the profound isolation of being held in solitary confinement for years, the fear of dying on hunger strike and the helplessness of being force-fed. But there is something uniquely painful about knowing your freedom lies in the hands of one man who will not let you go.
After Trump became president, I lost my desire for sleeping, eating or doing anything except locking myself inside my cell and crying bitterly. For the first time in my life I hated myself, detested everything in this world, and could not stand talking to anyone. I was on the verge of losing my mind.
For three months, I lay awake every night. I only learned how to sleep again after reading a book about Napoleon. When he was exiled to Elba, he too suffered from insomnia, so he took a plot of earth and turned it into a garden. He worked the soil every day, until he was so tired that he needed to sleep.
I started to do something similar. I exercise, read and practice my vocabulary, until I am exhausted.
This is also my way of resisting: I can do nothing about my captivity, but I can stay busy and try to stay healthy. There are many small, pointless cruelties here that seem designed to maintain hostility between prisoners and guards. Many detainees don’t take care of themselves because it will just prolong their suffering. I refuse to give in.
Reading has helped me. I have learned so much about other cultures in the last few years. When you read a story, you immerse yourself in different minds, and start anew. There is a saying I enjoy: you cannot put your hand in a pot of glue without some of it sticking. It’s the same when you start learning about the world.
Books also help me experience those things I have lost. I enjoy books about love, relationships and morals. There are so many things I cannot experience, but in books, you have infinite possibilities. I miss my family terribly, and wish I had the opportunity to start a family of my own. At least I can experience some of this through stories.
I try to make the most of my relationships with the other prisoners, as we only have each other. I especially enjoy my conversations with Saifullah Paracha, the oldest detainee at Guantánamo Bay. We spend our weekends talking in the recreation yard over cups of instant coffee.
One morning, he pointed out that no-one else was awake yet. “The yard is completely empty, except for two crazy people,” he said. What else can we do but laugh?
What must my life look like, from the outside? What do the people listening to my story on the radio make of it? Even President Trump thinks it is “crazy” that the US spends $13 million each year to keep me here—one guy from Morocco, long since cleared by the military and intelligence services. So what is stopping him from taking his own advice and sending me home?
To strip someone of his freedom, to deny him a trial, to reduce him to utter despair—these are violations of basic rights as a human being. I hope readers remember that when they think of me here, trapped in a story I cannot read, hear or control, waiting for a happy ending that never comes.
Abdul Latif Nasser
DISCLAIMER - The opinions and views contained in the letter above are not necessarily those of Esquire Middle East or its publisher.
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