As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, and even the authorities are admitting that 84 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on hunger strike (edging ever closer to the figure of 130 cited by the prisoners themselves), it remains imperative that those of us who are committed to the closure of the prison continue to publicize the hunger strike, and to maintain pressure on the administration to resolve it — by releasing the 86 prisoners cleared for release, and by initiating objective reviews of 46 others designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial in a executive order issued by President Obama two years ago.
To maintain pressure on the Obama administration, it is crucial that the prisoners’ stories are told, as has been happening over the last few weeks with reports following phone conversations between the prisoners and their lawyers — in the cases of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (see here and here), and also with Samir Moqbel, whose testimony was presented as an op-ed in the New York Times.
These men are all represented by lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity founded by Clive Stafford Smith, and below I’m posting Clive’s account of his conversation by phone with another of Reprieve’s client, Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan whose story has long fascinated me, as he has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and has always categorically refuted all the allegations against him that relate to terrorism and military activity.
I found his testimony from Guantánamo, in the tribunals and review boards that took place under President Bush, to be both compelling and credible, and below I include the description of him that I included in a series of articles about the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo back in 2010. What I only found out from Clive’s recent conversation, however, is that Younus is a Sufi — a fact which, on its own, should have told the US authorities that he was not who they thought he was, as Sufi Muslims had no involvement with either the military activities of the Taliban or the international terrorism of al-Qaeda.
This is my commentary from 2010:
Chekhouri is accused of being a founder member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (or GICM, the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain), who had a training camp near Kabul, but he has always maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, with his Algerian wife, after six years in Pakistan, where he had first traveled in search of work and education, and has stated that they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants, and had no involvement whatsoever in the country’s conflicts. He has also repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history, and he has also expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.”
I hope you find Clive’s account enlightening, and I urge you to share it if you do. To reiterate, it is only by waking the world up to the fact that the men in Guantánamo are human beings that we will secure the necessary outrage that will force President Obama to act. On that front, I think Younus’s story, with its harrowing details, and its powerful demonstrations of Younus’s own humanity and kindness, is of great importance.
On Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at approximately 11am EST, I spent sixty minutes on an unclassified phonecall with my client Younus Chekkouri, whose Internment Serial Number is 197. We spent most of the phonecall on the subject of the hunger strike.
When I use quotes, that is my best reconstruction of what Younus reported being said, but it is clearly not verbatim. I regret that I have not, given the time constraints, been able to check my notes and my memory with my client, but I am confident that my notes are as accurate as I could reasonably manage. However, the telephone line was very bad and it was difficult to hear my client on a number of occasions.
Younus is one of the most compliant prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. He is a Sufi and as such is averse to violence. I have seen his detention record while in Guantánamo, as of the disclosures made in his habeas case, and he had (as I recall) only one disciplinary in almost a decade, and that was for something fairly frivolous where it seemed that a particularly harsh guard had it in for him. (Some of my clients have had scores of disciplinaries for a broad range of violations.)
Younus has been very, very depressed. He has been cleared for a long time and desperately misses his wife and family — but he has always preached restraint for the seven years I have known him. It is all the more surprising, and worrying, that he has taken part in this hunger strike for two months now.
Younus was on the block where the problems originally began, on February 6, 2013. Indeed, I saw him that day, since I was in Guantánamo Bay for a visit. The issue involved searching of the Qur’ans. This has been an issue over many years, though it had been essentially resolved as long as seven years ago by an agreement not to search the Qur’ans.
As Younus relayed to me, the detainees reject wholeheartedly the notion that the Qur’ans were used to hide pills. Indeed, he described the number of places where the detainees could hide pills if that was what they really wanted to do; he also described the manner in which the authorities can ensure that prisoners take their medications, checking in their mouths to ensure that the pills have been swallowed.
Younus stated that this was just a well-worn and unwise pretext for trying to impose control on the prisoners. He relayed how the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] had confirmed to him and others that this was a pretext being used by the US authorities, and that it was not based in fact. There is an Islamic advisor (he gave me the name, but I do not include it here as I have no desire to get the man in trouble by naming him in a public document) who has been telling the JTF-GTMO authorities how best to manipulate the prisoners’ beliefs (about whom, more below).
As before, the prisoners offered either to comply with the search methods that have been used before (where US officials do not handle the Qur’ans, and use metal detectors if they have any question about it being used to hide weapons) or simply give up their Qur’ans. The US authorities refuse to allow them to hand in their Qur’ans, apparently from fear that it will make them look bad that the prisoners do not have Qur’ans (it is hard to imagine a different reason for refusing such an offer).
However, unfortunately the original complaint about the desecration or disrespect of the Qur’an has now exploded into something far broader, seemingly in response to the aggressive reaction by the US authorities to the original complaints. Younus reported that he had been one of the prisoners originally seeking to avoid a confrontation, and to resolve the issues. But the response was harsh and immediate.
Younus came back to his cell after a search to find that it “looked like Hurricane Katrina had just been through.” The soldiers had taken most of Younus’ ‘comfort items’, including his books, as well a large number of his legal papers. They had been silly as well: they took only one of his shoes, leaving him just one. He had nothing that he had not been legally given, and taking it away seemed very wrong and very unfair.
The prisoners on the block started their hunger strike soon after, though they continued for a few days to eat things that they already had. The hunger strike proper did not begin for a few days, when all of that had run out, and they had even finished eating the food that had long since expired (some was two years out of date, some of it had been hoarded for feeding to the banana rats).
Younus has lost about 30 lbs.
He may not be listed as an official hunger striker as he has been accepting liquid nutrient, Ensure. But he is not taking that, it is for another striker, who is a fellow prisoner who he holds in very high regard. His friend (who he did not name, as we were not meant to discuss the names of other prisoners on the call) had dropped to 120 lbs, and almost died. The man’s face changed from red to blue. He refused to go to the clinic. Younus worried so much about him that he (Younus) requested Ensure and made his friend drink it, in order to make him a bit better. This is just one example of many ways in which the authorities have their figures wrong about prisoners, and who is or is not on strike.
Younus estimated that eighty percent of the prisoners in Camp VI are on hunger strike. The people who are not doing it are primarily the infirm prisoners — he was allowed to mention the name of Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094), another prisoner who I have met in Guantánamo. Saifullah is 65 years old and in bad health, with a heart condition. [also see here and here for other articles about him].
Younus reported that in the early days of the hunger strike, those who were recognized as strikers were taken to Camp V, so many people are there. But even of those who remain in Camp VI, he said, eighty percent are involved in the strike. While he cannot say for sure how many in Camp V are on strike, he estimated that overall well over 100 prisoners are taking part.
Younus is drinking water but there have been problems. The water was severely restricted and his block (which is, again, perhaps the most compliant) only got it back because one of the prisoners’ lawyers made a fuss about it in the media. Younus understands that other blocks (and Camp V) are treated differently, and some still have very little access to water.
Younus is eating only Metamucil at the moment, only periodically, as he has been given it as a putative cure for his cholesterol problems. “When I eat it, it feels like the best food in the entire world. I am addicted to the small pieces of Metamucil,” he reported. (This concerns me, although I am not a doctor, since I understand that taking a fiber supplement can decrease the absorption of minerals by decreasing the transit time, lowering the concentration of minerals by accumulating more fecal matter, and can also cause the minerals to become trapped in the feces, leaving the body without absorption. This could affect individuals who may not be meeting, or barely attaining, their body’s mineral or nutrient needs. See Kies, Purified Psyllium Seed Fiber, Human Gastrointestinal Tract Function, and Nutritional status of Humans, Unconventional Sources of Dietary Fiber, ACS Symposium Series 214, at 61–70 (1983).)
He has taken some powdered juice, but is having problems making tea as the guards do not let them have cups any more — so they have to do with plastic containers to heat up water in the microwave for tea. Younus is concerned that the long term use of the same plastic containers in this way will cause cancer.
Younus reported all the same physical problems that I have documented over several years — pain in the feet, the knee, the back, his testicles, and his throat. But he says that all of this is subsumed by the fact that he has pain everywhere since he is starving the whole time. “Really, now it is just pain everywhere. I don’t want to die in Guantánamo.”
Younus said that he now wakes up in the middle of the night, starving, and he remembers his dreams, where he has imagined that he is faced with large piles of wonderful food. It is torture.
Younus wrote a sign on the window of his block: “Dial 911 — I’m starving.” He wrote another that simply said SOS. But nobody paid attention.
As the treatment spiraled down, for the first time, Younus seriously thought about harming himself.
Younus states that he has a message for President Obama: “The nightmare has started again. For some time, things had got a bit better here, some of the guards were acting like human beings. Even if we were treated like sheep, at least we were not always mistreated. But now it has changed again. And now 86 of us have been cleared for release and we are still here. Let us leave Guantánamo with clear hearts, and without hatred. Hatred is evil, and it harms the person who is hating as well as the person who is hated.”
When I asked why this change of treatment had taken place, Younus opined that it seemed to be advice that was coming from the supposed Islamic expert on how to break Muslims. “There is one man who is giving Islamic advice, who pretends he is a Muslim, and thinks he understands our minds, our diverse culture, our souls, everything.” Apparently the leadership in Guantánamo is back to trying to break them, as they might break an animal or abuse a child, thinking that this is the way to treat prisoners, even people who have long since been cleared for release.
Younus does not want to be on this hunger strike, but he feels that he has no choice. He asks only that he be treated with respect, and that the prisoners who are cleared be allowed to leave — to go back to their families, to have hope, and to live their dreams.
Younus did not want to finish without thanking the people around the world, including those in America, who have shown support for their human rights. He asked that I express his gratitude to those who had not forgotten him and the other prisoners.
While I would obviously prefer that Younus should be permitted to testify to the facts that he related to me himself, the foregoing is as accurate an account as I am able to produce from my notes of my conversation with him about the current state of the hunger strike in Guantánamo Bay, and the unfortunate response by the authorities to it.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Umm Ghazi wrote:
there is no “good muslim” ” bad muslim” this is pure CIA rhetoric. sufis are no different to any other muslim except in what they beleive about who is Allah and where is Allah, and some addidtions they have in the religion in mixing some medidation type practices, chanting and dancing etc with islam.
I didn’t mean to make any good Muslim/bad Muslim associations, Umm Ghazi. I meant only that those who have been associated with al-Qaeda and international terrorism are Sunnis, not Sufis. I don’t regard those people as genuine Sunnis, just as I don’t regard gun-toting homicidal lunatics who call themselves Christians as actual Christians.
Umm Ghazi wrote:
sufis are sunnis.
sunni means they follow the sunnah or way of Muhammad peace be upon him, we use this only to distinguish between the shia who have a different religion to the sunnii. sufis are 100% sunni.
just to clarify as some people dont understand the arabic terminologies ^
Thanks, Umm Ghazi, although I understood that there are different orders in Sufism, and that some are Sunni and some are Shi’a.
Umm Ghazi wrote:
there are many various sects of sufis, the vast majority of which are sunni. The majority of the muslims of afgahanistan and pakistan including many of the taliban are sufi in belief, from the deobandi (which are called ashari in beleif/aqeedah) and then some to a more extreme degree, like for example the brelwi and the naqshbandi sufi.
Thanks, Umm Ghazi, for the clarification.
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
How reliable is infowars.com, Andy? They´ve been publishing pictures of what seems to be Craft/Blackwater agents at the spots where the bombs went off in Boston. I mention it here because the hysteria in the USA is the same- if not worse than- right after 9-11.
I have a problem with media devoted to conspiracies, Toia, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t sometimes right. I always think it’s best to analyze what’s going on as though it is what it appears to be, though, so with Boston, let’s say this is an attack by legal US residents, originally form Chechnya, who are Muslims. There’s no reason to panic as though terrorism is the apocalypse (in London, we carried on as normal after the 2005 bombings), and there’s no reason to extrapolate anything from it that supports Islamophobia, or that supports keeping Guantanamo open forever, just as there’s no justification for saying that they should be held as “enemy combatants.” No one – ever – should be held as an “enemy combatant” again. What troubles me the most is the argument that there should be cases in which prisoners don’t get their Miranda rights. Why not? So you can torture them, or beat them savagely? It’s a dangerous form of hysteria, and we’ve been seeing for the last 11 years (since 9/11) what happens when hysteria is allowed to subvert the law.
Umm Ghazi wrote:
theres a lot more than conspiracy theories to this boston tragedy though, such an awful lot of unanswered facts, and questions need to be answered.
Agreed, Umm Ghazi. There is no clarity to the official story.
Let us all work together for nonviolent revolution and an end to hatred and violence. Human rights are universal. The United States has isolated itself from the world community and America’s reputation as a champion of human rights has sunk to very low depths. Let’s change that. Power to the Peaceful!
If the 9/11 terrorists had been Jewish instead of Muslim, would America have locked hundreds of mainly innocent Jewish people and tortured them for years?
Thank you, Mike. Good to hear from you. Admirable sentiments!
I’m trying to imagine such a scenario, Thomas, and — no, of course not. It’s not even possible to conceive of it happening.
I read a rumor, maybe here, that the captives believe that if this hunger strike results in three captives dying, then Obama will have to start transferring men from Guantanamo again.
I think the hunger strike was starting to restore some sympathy for the captive — until the Boston Marathon attack. For some people the Boston tragedy has outcompeted Guantanamo for mind-space. But I am afraid for some other people any terrorist act justifies a crackdown at Guantanamo, even if there is doubt as to whether the captives are actually guilty.
Andy, I hope you don’t mind if I also weigh in on the Boston Marathon attack, and what it suggests about the general mistakes the USA makes in its counter-terrorism efforts.
Oops — breaking news. Canadian and US officials are asserting raids today have thwarted a major terror plot here in Canada…
Beverly Hendricks wrote:
Excellent, and very moving. Thanks, Andy.
You’re welcome, Beverly. Good to hear from you.
I share your concerns about the impact of the Boston bombings on the men at Guantanamo, arcticredriver.
Now I, like you, need to look at the substance of the story about the foiled Canadian attack …
Jueri Svjagintsev wrote:
In James Bacque’s book he describes how the US created a new category of prisoner to avoid Red Cross visits. WWII.
Interesting, Jueri. I didn’t know about that.
Jueri Svjagintsev wrote:
Bacque has been slandered for his work, I’d advise taking a close look at the charges which I think are bogus. I have a WWII diary which confirms, for me, the essence of his work.
Thanks again, Jueri.
Returning to the general weakness in US counter-terrorism efforts. Counter-terrorism efforts always has a cost.
Leaving aside costs to society of the loss of freedoms, etc, there are costs to the limited personhours, and limited tools like xray machines, and bomb-sniffing dogs. When resources are squandered on wild goose chases they are available to use against more realistic, if less high profile threats.
Everyone in Boston’s metropolitan area — something like 4 million people — were asked to “shelter in place”. Well, the homeowner who noticed the disrupted cover to the boat where the surviving bomber was found? He had complied with that “shelter in place” instruction for the previous 24 or 30 hours. And since he was complying with the shelter in place order he wasn’t able to check his backyard. I think it is likely that if no “shelter in place” order had been issued the bomber would have been found 24 hours earlier.
Here in Toronto we have a well publicized emergency vet clinic. They see a different population of patients than other vet clinics, with a disproportionate fraction of hopeless cases, and practically no return business. I learned they routinely offer an expensive “faint hope” procedure to the disraught pet owners. In my case, when one of my cats woke up with paralyzed hind-limbs they offered to conduct a $4000 exploratory operation — which I declined.
After I got home, and did a little research, I concluded that the paralysis was most likely due to a stroke.
A friend however, whose cat was hit by a car, agreed to pay for a $2000 exploratory operation, only to learn the cat’s case was hopeless.
I suspect the vets rationalized soaking their customers, because some customers genuinely wanted to try anything, no matter what the cost. I suspect they rationalized that some pet owners would genuinely feel better if they could say to themselves, “I may have lost my beloved pet, but at least I tried everything.”
Shutting down Boston, and its 4 million residents, struck me as “We have got to try everything, no matter what the cost” approach. Paralyzing Boston may have cost a billion dollars in lost productivity. Maybe it cost billions.
Boston called on police and military from around the region. It was reported that 9,000 extra cops were on hand. What does it cost to mobilize 9,000 extra cops? Well, in 2012, when Toronto hosted the G8 and G20, 20,000 extra cops were brought in, and that cost close to a billion dollars. Unlike Boston, the extra cops weren’t brought in on an emergency basis, it was all planned and budgeted for six months in advance.
So it wouldn’t surprise me if the extra cops sent to Boston cost a billion dollars. I wonder, was there anything authorities could have done with 9,000 extra cops they couldn’t have done with 2,000 extra cops?
What are the other costs of shutting down a city? Do you shut down services for the elderly, like “meals on wheels”?
If the desperate criminals, armed and dangerous, were bank robbers who killed some of the people in a bank robbery that had gone wrong — not terrorists — there is no way the entire city would have been shut down.
By shutting down the entire city, and bringing in 9,000 extra cops, I suggest those running the show in Boston showed they were only looking at one side of the ledger.
And, in Guantanamo, those in charge have only looked at one side of the ledger. They don’t look at the cost of continuing to detain men who were almost certainly innocent. They only think how it would ruin their career if they released someone who really looked innocent, but turned out to be guilty, after all.
Back during the Bush administration there were a bunch of incidents where light planes strayed into the restricted Washington airspace. The reaction was that whoever was in charge ordered that all Government workers in Central Washington should be sent home early.
What a crazy decision!
The result was a huge crush at the Metro stations, with all those workers on the surface. If the target plane was a crop duster, loaded up with nerve gas, or deadly microbes — and no one had been sent home — only casual strollers would be at risk. But sending the workers home put them right at the surface, in the most vulnerable place, at the key moment the errant plane would be flying over.
If one watched the news, on those days, the news coverage on CNN and the other news channels would be wall-to-wall about the plane. And no one challenged the wisdom of sending those workers outside and putting them right in the target zone.
I don’t know whether we no longer hear of those incidents because the DC no fly zone rules were quietly rescinded; or authorities are somehow avoiding allowing planes to take off without flight plans or with broken transponders; or whether they stopped publicizing when they noticed errant planes — but we don’t hear of plane approaching Washington incidents like this, any more.
The reckless rush to pour resources into Boston, no matter what the cost, concerns me. I am concerned that, if the USA did face a conspiracy of attackers with deep thinkers, with a big plan, their big plan would try to exploit this weakness.
WRT pulling in elite cops from everywhere — I am reminded of that poor Brazilian electrician, who was shot on London’s underground not long after it was bombed.
He was a brown-skinned man, who lived in the same building as some brown-skinned muslim terrorism suspects.
The surveillance team observing the building entrance noticed his departure, and somehow this triggered a mobile surveillance team to follow him as if he had been positively identified as a terrorism suspect.
The electrician headed towards the underground, entered a train. By this point the undercover officers following him were authorized to shoot him as if it had been positively confirmed to have been a terrorism suspect confirmed to be carrying a suicide bomb, that he could trigger with a switch.
So they shot him, without any warning. No, “Freeze! Hands Up! Police!”
If I remember corrrectly, there was a UK inquiry, and it did not identify any individual or individuals as responsible for escalating the alarm over someone who might have been a suspected terrorist, to someone who was not only confirmed to be a dangerous suspected terrorist, but one who was confirmed to be carrying a suicide bomb.
That was a huge disappointment.
Bringing in the SWAT teams from all the cities in the region, getting them all keyed up, left me concerned that Boston might see innocent people killed in error, just as that Brazilian electrician in London was killed.
Andy, did it turn out the suspects the surveillance team was actually supposed to be observing were genuine suspects? It would be even more disturbing if after the surveillance of those men it was concluded that they too were innocent.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be charged with a serious crime that could get him the death penalty if convicted. He won’t be sent to Guantanemo because he’s a naturalized citizen. On the other hand, many want him questioned w/no Miranda rights protection beforehand. Many in the MSM can’t be bothered to actually say his name on air. Maybe because it’s one of those “foreign sounding names”. So why bother actually doing your research and job? If you follow much of the coverage here, the “get the ______ing Muslim” message continues to be put out. The govt. knows that in a high-profile case like this, much of the public will scream if there’s anything less than a death penalty conviction.
Meanwhile at Guantanemo, innocent people continue to waste away.
Brilliant. Thanks, arcticredriver, for a striking analysis of the folly of the disproportionate response to the Boston bombings, and the lessons that can also be applied to Guantanamo. The continued existence of the centerpiece of the “war on terror” continues to poison rational thought.
Your fears strike me as well-grounded, arcticredriver. Thanks again for the thoughtful comments.
I don’t know the answer to your question, arcticredriver. Sorry. I would doubt it, however. there are very few genuine terrorist suspects. Many are ending up imprisoned on the basis of plots that don’t appear to have been anywhere near fruition, if indeed they had developed at all beyond being talked about.
The DeMenezes case in London ought to be a permanent warning to the authorities everywhere to check very carefully what they’re doing, however highly charged the atmosphere. It was horrendous. They didn’t just shoot him; they assassinated him, at point blank range, on a packed train.
Yes, that’s exactly right, Tom, and it’s a depressing situation. I’m encouraged, however, that coverage of the hunger strike in Guantanamo continues. It’s important that some key elements of the mainstream media (both print and broadcast) continue to focus on it.
Well, we know now that he was not advised of his Miranda rights, for almost 48 hours. Some commentators were angry that this interrogation without a lawyer didn’t go on longer.
One really odd thing is that it is my understanding that he was entitled to remain silent, and request he only be questioned with a lawyer present — whether he was advised of these rights or not.
Yes, I suppose that’s true, arcticredriver,that you can choose to remain silent, and request to be questioned with a lawyer present, without being told of your Miranda rights. What are the going to do? Torture you?
[…] men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a […]
I feel so sorry for the detainees. After reading their depressing stories and how brutally they’re tortured for nothing, I have lost faith in humanity, how can they sleep peacefully at night after torturing their own fellow beings. I wish the Gitmo Prison does not get to its 13th anniversary and is closed ASAP. My heart cries out for all my Muslim Brothers treated inhumanely in these Prisons. I hope all of the innocent people get justice, if not in this world, then in the Hereafter! I’ll continue to remember them in all of my prayers<3
Thanks, Rabah. Very good to hear from you, and thank you for caring about the prisoners. I wish more people shared your concerns.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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