Abdul Latif Nasser has been held without charge for nearly 19 years. He comments on injustice in the US and his continuous imprisonment despite being cleared for release in 2016.
Rabat – Abdul Latif Nasser is the last Moroccan detainee at the American army base and prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has endured imprisonment without charges for nearly 19 years. Six US security agencies cleared him for release in 2016, but a presidential decision to keep all detainees in Guantanamo rendered the Periodic Review Board’s decision ineffective. No stranger to injustice and a supporter of US police protestors, Nasser shared his experience and hopes with Morocco World News through his lawyers at NGO Reprieve.
Imprisoned without charges
Afghani fighters with the US-aligned Northern Alliance captured Nasser and sold him for a bounty in Afghanistan in 2002. His Afghani captors had told the US army he was a high level operative in Al Qaeda. The US claimed he was a personal friend of Osama Bin Laden – working for him at his sunflower farm in Sudan before traveling to Afghanistan.
Those accusations unraveled slowly. The US transferred the Moroccan to Guantanamo Bay within months of his capture in Afghanistan and he became prisoner 244 at the maximum-security facility in Cuba. There he faced the torture and coercion that was common during the administration of George W. Bush. In its “war on terror,” the US left no methods unused.
Nasser was subjected to sleep deprivation, years of solitary confinement, and regular beatings and mistreatment. Guards kept bright lights on in his cell at all times and woke him randomly or played loud music. He faced psychological torture and threats against his family in Casablanca.
Yet as the years progressed, the US never charged Nasser with any crimes. His incarceration and mistreatment continued without any charges for him to disprove. After a decade-and-a-half in the detention center, his parole board decided that he posed no threat to the United States and set him for release. Nasser cried as he heard the verdict and hoped to soon see his family again.
In Casablanca his family was ready to welcome him home. They had remodeled their house so Nasser would have a room with a window, a luxury of which Guantanamo deprived him for so long. His brother had a job waiting for him at his business cleaning pools in Casablanca. But his new room and job would remain unfilled as bureaucratic delays saw his release coincide with the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.
“No more detainees at Guantanamo should be released,” Trump tweeted in the weeks ahead of his inauguration. On the day Trump became President, Nasser received news he would stay in prison “forever.” The Periodic Review Board had cleared him for release and deemed him not to be a threat, yet the unfortunate Moroccan has since spent another four years at Guantanamo Bay with no hope for liberty.
His lawyers at Reprieve stated that Nasser has become “subject to the whims of the president.” They consider the continued detention of Nasser an explicit approval of indefinite detention without trial. For Nasser’s family in Casablanca, the news was as devastating as it was incomprehensible.
George Floyd: Witnessing the US’ civil injustice system from military detention
The innocent Moroccan citizen remains locked up in Guantanamo Bay, without charges and without any prospect of release. There he has become deeply familiar with the injustices of the US legal system and felt a close connection with US protests that emerged after the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers.
“To hear George Floyd ask ‘please sir, please.’ Honestly, I was so shocked when I saw that video,” Nasser told Morocco World News through his lawyers. “To put your knee on another human’s neck, it is so brutal.” Despite the injustices Nasser had experienced at the hands of US intelligence and military authorities, the event jarred him. “What really shocked me was the other police, just waiting and watching, as Mr. Floyd was under the knee of that policeman,” he said.
Locked up away from public scrutiny, Nasser understands the importance of people speaking up about injustice. “Thank God there was someone there to document the crime!”
“Imagine if there was no one there to document it,” he posed. “We are lucky for the brave men and women who make these incidents public,” he said, referring to those who had recorded and shared footage of Floyd’s tragic death.
Shared injustices and respect for American civilians demanding progress
Nasser believes the American protests for justice will turn into real systemic change. “What will happen now?” he wondered. “It will not be like it was before. Something will happen.” Nasser hopes that the renewed focus on the broken justice system will help shed light on the mistreatment he has endured.
All he hopes for himself is recognition, and validation as a human being suffering immense injustice. “We have been here for 19 years without charge or trial,” he told MWN. “The people here, we are held without reason,” he said, speaking of himself and four others that also received clearance for release yet remain imprisoned. “We hope that people will recognize this injustice too.”
Nasser sees a close link between US police action and his experiences with the US military. “When we are in contact with guards, it is like being with those people who put their knees on your neck,” he said, describing them as “people who do not care about your humanity.”
The Moroccan detainee is all too familiar with the daily threat of violence that many in the US’ Black community fear. “You can’t imagine what it is like to have six people on you,” he said. Nasser said guards simply did not care at all about his well-being. “Imagine people push you on the ground and step on your back,” he said, adding that “honestly, it’s something that is hard to describe.”
Nasser relates to those protesting systemic racism and injustice in the streets of the United States. “If I was in a US city, I would participate in the peaceful protests.” Despite years of imprisonment and torture he holds no grudge against Americans. “The American people are an example for a lot of people in this world,” he told MWN.
His experiences in Guantanamo Bay appear not to have left the 54-year-old Moroccan in despair. “I hope that this incident [US protests for justice] will bring positivity because I like America and the American people, and they deserve peace and justice.”
Nasser now hopes that the 2020 election and further diplomacy will allow him to regain his freedom in the near future. He appears to understand the diplomatic relations between the US and Morocco and hopes diplomacy will eventually allow him to return to his family in Casablanca.
“It makes no sense that they are keeping me here, four years after I was cleared to leave,” he lamented. “I understand that everyone is focused on COVID-19 at the moment, but I hope that soon powerful people in Morocco and the US will realize that it is foolish to keep me here.”
Nasser says that to release him would be “a powerful gesture of goodwill between our countries.” However, the history of his case suggests the presidential elections could strongly influence his fate, despite conclusions by military and intelligence officials.
US radio station WNYC recently released an award-winning investigation of how Abdul Latif Nasser ended up in Guantanamo. You can listen to The Other Latif here.