From Guantánamo, Younus Chekhouri Speaks About the Prison Clampdown: “Everyone is Traumatized by What Happened”

9.5.13

Three weeks ago, as part of my ongoing coverage of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, I published an account by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, with one of the men that Reprieve’s lawyers represent in Guantánamo — Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan, a Sufi Muslim, and one of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo as a result of the deliberations of a task force appointed by President Obama in 2009.

As I explained at the time, Younus’s 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 also explained how “I found his testimony from Guantánamo, in the tribunals and review boards that took place under President Bush, to be both compelling and credible.”

Below is the description of him that I included in a series of articles about the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo back in 2010, which I posted previously but am posting again because it explains who he is, rather than who the US authorities thought he was:

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.”

Below I’m publishing an account by one of Reprieve’s lawyers of a phone call with Younus that took place on April 18, shortly after a violent early morning raid on April 13 that was initiated by the authorities — ostensibly to break the hunger strike, but in fact to restore order in the prison with no regard for why the prisoners are on a hunger strike: not to cause trouble for its own sake, but because all of them, even the men cleared for release, despair of ever being released, having been abandoned by all three branches of the US government.

The raid took place in Camp 6, where the majority of the prisoners are held, and where they had been able to spend much of their time living communally until the raid, when they were locked up in solitary confinement — an act of enormous cruelty  given the men’s desperation.

Younus’s words shed new light on the raid, which I previously reported here, and, as Clive Stafford Smith stated when a short version of Younus’s account was made available last week, “We all should have learned the danger of a secret prison from the Soviets. Unfortunately the US military has been dissembling again. The prisoners did not start this. The US military went in there with guns literally blazing at 5.10am in the morning, as detainees prepared for morning prayer, immediately after the Red Cross left the base, so there would be no independent observers. Sad to say, torture and abuse continue in Guantánamo Bay and the US is throwing away yet more of its dwindling moral authority.”

As ever, if you appreciate Younus’s story, please publicize it as widely as possible. Despite President Obama’s fine words about the horrors of Guantánamo last week, he made no promises about what he would do to free cleared prisoners and initiate reviews for the other 80 men, or what he would do to revisit his promise to close the prison, beyond vague promises to call on Congress to work with him.

We need to keep Guantánamo in the public eye, and to remind people that the men held are human beings and not mere statistics, or “the worst of the worst” as the Bush administration called them when the prison opened.

If you have not done so, please also sign and share the petition to President Obama on Change.org, launched by Col. Morris Davis, which has secured over 185,000 signatures in just over a week!

Notes from a phone call with Younus Chekhouri, April 18, 2013

“What has happened here now is real nightmare. Nobody dreamed that what has happened would happen. After our peaceful demonstration, on Sunday morning the guards came in with guns. They used shotguns and three people were injured. Used gun with small bullets.”

“The guards came in, closed all of our cells, [removed us from our cells and] told us to get on the ground. We lay there on our belly for three hours or more. They took everything. Cells empty, nothing left. They moved us into another empty block and after a while they gave us blanket and that is all. They said it’s punishment.”

“History repeats itself, like it was seven years ago. [All we can have now are] blankets and clothes [on our backs]. [The cell I am in now] is really cold.”

Younus said he is now in pain as a result of having to sleep on the concrete floor: “Pain starts immediately when I’m on the floor. Pain in my neck, pain in my chest. No pillow. Punishment for everybody. Punishment because we hide cameras in cell and so this is what happened. They took everything, left cell empty.”

Younus is still not eating. He has Ensure and Metamucil but that is it. He said others who are worse off than him are getting nothing at all.

When asked to give a chronology of how things happened on Sunday, Younus said: “I was sleeping on Sunday. At almost 5am guards came in with shotguns. There was no confrontation that prompted it. When I woke up I heard them using guns on the detainees in the block next door. The detainees didn’t have anything. The guards used force to control some of the detainees, to force them out of the cells. Used tear gas [as well]. 5-6 ERF team would come in and throw detainees to the floor.” [Note: ERF is a reference to the Extreme Reaction Force, an armoured five-man team responsible for punishing infringements of the rules -- or perceived infringements of the rules].

“[For hours on Sunday morning the detainees were forced to lay on their stomachs]. We had no right to move, no right to go to the bathroom.”

They shackled detainees’ hands and feet and moved them into individual isolation cells. “Finally at night they gave blankets. It was very cold in the empty cells.”

In terms of the number of guards that “invaded” the block: “More than 50 came in on my block and there were only 13 detainees on my block. Nobody [no detainees] thought to fight. What do we have to fight with? [Plus] we were outnumbered. Guards were scary, they were ready to use guns, use force. It was very scary.”

More about how Younus was awoken on Sunday: “Sunday I was sleeping. I heard people yelling outside, so I came outside of cell. Then I saw guards closing outside doors and the guards with guns. They used tear gas to keep detainees away. Heard sound of gun next door. Said three were injured: one on belly, one on hand, one on body. They were taken to hospital. Not sure how they are doing. Everyone is traumatized by what happened.”

“To be treated this way after 11 years is not right. They are using the same rules as first day of opening Gitmo.”

“Water now is privilege. There is no right to have water and they tell you that they can cut it at any time. I suffer all day. We don’t know when this will end. They said this is just the beginning. We were calling for things to get better, but things are worse.”

Younus is still in Camp 6, but in isolation.

“Nightmare has started again. I feel distress, anxiety, disease, anger. In the future no one knows what could happen, what to expect now that this has happened. Camp 6 now isolation. Everyone in his cell. Only 2 detainees can have rec at a time. Same rules as when Camp 6 was opened for first time in 2007. It’s like we are starting again from the beginning, like a game.”

Younus would like to “thank everyone who can save me from this hell. I have German connection. I would be grateful for them to help me be free. I am in a helpless place, I have lost hope in the democracy of the United States. I thought my torture had ended, but what is happening now is horrible. I feel like a slave in Gitmo. Thank anyone who can do anything to help people in Gitmo. I really need your help. My wish is that nice people around the world can help.”

On conditions now in camp 6: Younus is sleeping on “concrete, hard floor, very cold. Knees, head, body hurts. No pillows, hard to sleep. My shoes are my pillows. Pains in back. Cannot move, cannot pray, cannot get to toilet because I am in pain.”

“My dream is one day I will leave this place.” Younus seemed very anxious because of what happened Sunday and said that he’s “afraid that I will be punished and they will take everything I have now.” A blanket is all he has.

They have gone “back to 2002-2003.” Younus believes they did this so that detainees would “stop complaining or requesting things to be better.” He said they said: “You have no right to ask for your release and better treatment.”

Younus knew they were using the detainees blocking the cameras as a so-called justification for the raid because “when they invaded the block, they told us get on floor, lay on belly, don’t cover camera. Now using old rules, start practicing old rules. When you ask why, they say it’s because people were hiding cameras. They say they don’t know when things will get better.”

“No one [guards] will give answers why this [Sunday’s raid and loss of everything] has happened. Will it stay forever, or short time? No one says anything, just that this is punishment for hiding cameras. No way to negotiate now, we just have to obey.”

“People are old, sick and they cannot deal with this.” He said in many ways it’s worse now than when these same tactics were used 11 years ago because the men have aged and have been through hell in Gitmo all these years. “Unfair that they are back to treating us like animals.”

Younus has “now lost 35 lbs. Going down. Taking Ensure but weight is still going down.” He will continue to take Ensure himself because he “doesn’t want tubes in nose.”

Again, before the call ended, Younus wanted to “please say thank you to everyone out there.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Sara SN wrote:

    Thank you as ever for writing this and sharing with the world.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Cortney Busch wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Andy. Younous is such a lovely guy – so full of love and laughter despite his circumstances.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sara, for the support, and thanks, Cortney, for your additional insights into Younus’s character. Good to hear from you both.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Mathew Rogue Element Sandoval wrote:

    this is amazing! thanks for getting it out there.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Mathew. I asked Reprieve for the full transcript and was delighted when they made it available to me yesterday evening.

  6. Tom says...

    Do you realize that everyone who’s working here to close Guantanamo down is performing a valuable public service? Unpaid, yes. Will we get the Nobel Peace Prize? I have no idea. Then again, keeping your self respect by doing the right thing is one of the most powerful weapons you have.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks you, Tom, for the reminder that telling the truth is a valuable public service. Well put.

  8. No r says...

    Thank you for everything

    Merci from France

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you. You’re welcome.

  10. » Shaker Aamer’s Letters from Guantánamo Mutiny Radio says...

    [...] it appears that, as part of the clampdown on the prisoners that occurred after a pre-dawn raid on Saturday April 13, when the authorities violently removed [...]

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