I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner, where it was published as “Younus Chekhouri’s Love Letter to His Wife from Guantánamo.” Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), who will be 46 in May, is one of the last two Moroccan prisoners in Guantánamo, and his story has fascinated me ever since I began researching the prisoners’ stories for my book The Guantánamo Files back in 2006.
In Guantánamo, Younus has always maintained that, in the mid-1990s, he traveled to Pakistan with his Algerian wife Abla, in search of work and education, and then spent time in Yemen and Syria. In 2001, the couple moved to Afghanistan, where they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants. After the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion, Younus sent Abla to safety in Pakistan, but was himself captured and sold to US forces.
In contrast to Younus’s own account, the US authorities accused him of running a military training camp near Kabul, even though he has repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history. The US authorities also described him as a “close associate” of Osama bin Laden, but he has repeatedly expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.”
In addition, Younus has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and, as I discovered last year, when he took part in the prison-wide hunger strike that did so much to remind the world of Guantánamo’s existence, he is a Sufi Muslim, something that makes it even more improbable that he would have been running a training camp. For further information, please read Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith’s account of a conversation with Younus during the early months of the hunger strike, and Younus’s own detailed account.
Moreover, discrediting the US authorities’ claim still further, in January 2010 he was one of 156 prisoners cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama soon after he took office in January 2009. 80 of those men have now been released from Guantánamo, but Younus is one of 76 cleared prisoners still held, awaiting a new home, and hoping, since Congress eased restrictions on releasing prisoners that had almost brought the release of prisoners to an end for three years, from October 2010 to July 2013, that he will finally be freed in the near future, to rejoin his wife Abla.
Below is a letter that Younus wrote to Abla for Valentine’s Day which was originally posted on the website Medium.
Imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay, detainee Younous Chekkouri thinks of his beloved wife Abla
Today is Valentine’s Day, 2014. I cannot believe how many days I have spent away from the most precious thing I have in this world — my wife, Abla. My heart beats day and night with the name of my beloved.
We were very young when we fell in love, after destiny decided to introduce us in Turkey. Together we have travelled all over the world. We lived the life of migrant birds, needing only each other. That was before I was kidnapped, and the years of torture began; I was left to rot here in Guantánamo Bay. Life now has no taste.
Abla and I are only able to speak once every three or four months — it’s a complicated process that involves her coordinating with the Red Cross (ICRC). I know this is not easy for her because it takes a lot of time, and I know she’s busy; she teaches in order to support herself. I wish I didn’t have to cause her all this trouble.
Life now has no taste
I remember that one time she went to the ICRC office, she picked up a poetry book of her choosing, and afterwards she told me about one of her favourite romantic poems from the book; Ibn Hazm’s “Tokens of Love”. Months later and by very happy accident, I was able to find the same book on the library cart that comes around the cell blocks for those of us who remain here in the prison. I wrote back to her with one of my favourite poems from the collection; it was only my favourite because it made me think of her smiling face.
I stare up at the ceiling of my cell. I so miss the sky, the stars and the moon. I remember once when we were together, looking up at a full moon shining like a pearl in the night sky, I turned to her and said, “Darling, you know that you are more beautiful than the moon when you smile”. “You liar!” she retorted and we both burst out laughing.
Destiny is a very strange thing
12 years of agony. I live like a frightened child or an animal waiting for the unknown. I pray from my heart that my sadness and anxiety will come to an end. I pray to see my wife again, and to be able to tell her everything that I have kept bottled up in my heart for more than a decade.
I dare not believe that I will ever see my sweetheart again. There is only one face that comes to me in my dreams. It is her face, the one who has been crying day and night, waiting for me to hug her and say, “Don’t worry my love, it was all a nightmare and now it’s over”.
In every letter I write to her, I tell her that we will never be apart again. I don’t know if she believes me or not, but I imagine her eyes shining and her lips parting in her magical smile. I do know that neither of us ever imagined we would be in this situation. Destiny is a very strange thing.
I want only to feel human again
President Obama and his wife have adorable children, whose future they guard jealously. I’m sure the President’s greatest fear is that he will be apart from his wife or children. Well, I have just the same feeling because I’m human just like them.
I do not blame President Obama though for these long years, I don’t blame anyone. I want no vengeance for the 12 years I have spent in Guantánamo, never having committed any crime. I want only to feel human again, to hug my soulmate and tell her that we will never again be apart.
So I’ll spend another Valentine’s Day away from the only thing that matters to me, my Abla. I wish you all a very happy day with your loved ones. For me, it is just another day. I’ll wait until the night when I can hold my sweetheart once again, if only in my dreams.
Note: See here for a letter from Younus to Cori Crider of Reprieve that he wrote last May, during the prison-wide hunger strike.
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, and “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.
When I posted the link to the first publication of this article on “Close Guantanamo” yesterday, I wrote:
Here’s a Valentine’s Day love letter that Younus Chekhouri, a Moroccan prisoner in Guantanamo – and one of 76 men cleared for release four years ago – wrote to his wife, who he hasn’t seen for 12 years. My thanks to his lawyers at Reprieve for publicizing it, and helping us to see Younus as a human being, and not a faceless prisoner.
Saadia Z Yunus wrote:
Thanks, Saadia. Yes, and what has always impressed me about Younus is how he has never responded with anger to his predicament, and, throughout his 12 years of imprisonment, has been an extremely well-behaved prisoner.
Juan Abdulla wrote:
Exactly, I don’t understand how this is even possible. And thank you for your hard work and spreading things that is needed to be heard!
Thanks, Juan, for the wonderfully supportive words. And yes, it is incomprehensible, isn’t it? Imagine if American citizens were being treated like this by some other country …
Jay Becker wrote:
Just finished reading “12 Years A Slave,” set in the 1840s. That story and Younus’ valentine to his wife in 2014, who he has not seen in more than 12 years, evoke a modern-day version of Solomon Northup’s captivity, the modern one at the hands of an empire that would not exist if it were not for that earlier foundation of unpaid labor and untold suffering. Thank you, Andy Worthington, for bringing us this moving story. Now it’s up to us to act to Close Guantanamo NOW!
Thanks, Jay, for the supportive comments and for the pertinent analogy between slavery in the 1840s and the Muslim victims of the “war on terror” at Guantanamo.
Emine Dilek wrote:
Oh God, so unbelievably heart-wrenching
Thanks, Emine. Yes, and it’s made all the more poignant by Younus’s refusal to personally blame anyone for his 12 lost years and his long separation from his beloved wife.
Sun Beams wrote:
“I want only to feel human again, to hug my soulmate and tell her that we will never again be apart.”
Oh my God, that is beautiful and heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing it.
Thanks, Sun Beams, for your empathy.
Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:
I do not believe sham on Obama …the system is so corrupt every level =every issue+ topic. It sham on US. I see posting on Face book of dates, sex clothes, children having fun, nice trips, expensive cars, beautiful homes…game playing….there is no time for anyone to give to make social change..in the 60’s demos would of taken place to get something to happen committment and ethics to a better good….? the quakers would of been there and not left till things changed
Vikki G. Hufnagel wrote:
where have all the minds gone…if you let money and power controll everything ..this is what you get…people are not powerless they just want money and power..not compassion not caring…not love ….the issue is the loss of self and ethics replaced by brands marketing celebrity
Thanks, Vikki. I do believe that, as president, Barack Obama bears the greatest responsibility for the failure to release prisoners and to close Guantanamo. However, your criticism of how people have abdicated their responsibilities is sadly accurate. I particularly like your description of how “the issue is the loss of self and ethics replaced by brands marketing celebrity.” And of course, the failure of people to care has enabled politicians not to have to deal with issues they should have to deal with.
After my friend Akkas shared this, I wrote:
Thanks for sharing, Akkas. I hope all is well with you – apart from the horrendous state of politics, obviously.
Hi Andy. Thanks for posting this!
You are most welcome, Akkas. I’m just glad it has received so much attention.
It’s such a beautiful letter. So raw.
Yacine Chérifi wrote:
Those politicians have no shame, they don’t hesitate to kill people just for money interests. They have created “terrorism” just to control more people, “patriot act” and to justify the financing of war weapons and to continue their secret intentions that harm the interests of humanity.
Yes, although there are certain people who mean harm to the citizens of western countries, Yacine, the real threat is massively amplified by our warmongering governments, and by the machinery of state that loves keeping people fearful, and that uses it to make money. Disgraceful.
Juan Abdulla wrote:
At the end of the day, I don’t even believe they care about their own citizens. They are all about deceiving people. The worst part is, some people are easily fooled.
Thanks, Juan. Yes, I no longer believe that our governments care about us – only about banks and corporations, and many of those of course, are heavily invested in the machinery of war and surveillance. We need governments of the people for the people!
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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