“My Best Friend and Brother”: A Profile of Guantánamo Prisoner Khalid Qasim by Mansoor Adayfi

8.3.20

Khalid Qasim (left), who is still held at Guantánamo, and his friend Mansoor Adayfi, released in 2016, and resettled in Serbia, who has written a powerful and moving profile of him, published below.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. 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.

Today we’re delighted to be publishing a brand-new article by former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, about his friend Khalid Qasim, who is one of the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay in its latest iteration under Donald Trump — a place without hope, cruelly and pointlessly still in existence 18 years after it first opened.

To try and shine a light on the continuing injustice of Guantánamo — and the plight of the men still held — we were delighted, two weeks ago, to publicize an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork taking place at CUNY School of Law in New York, in an article entitled, Humanizing the Silenced and Maligned: Guantánamo Prisoner Art at CUNY Law School in New York. The exhibition was formally launched on February 19, and I wrote about its launch here, but my initial article focused on the work of just one prisoner, whose work had ben shown before the official launch, during my annual visit to the US in January, to call for the closure of the prison on the anniversary of its opening.

The prisoner is Khalid Qasim (also identified as Khalid Qassim or Khaled Qassim), and as I was writing my article I noticed that Mansoor Adayfi had posted a message on Facebook stating, “My best friend and brother Khalid Qassim, 18 years behind bars at Guantánamo, without any charges or trial. What is enough for Trump?”

I had followed Mansoor’s story at Guantánamo, up to and including his review, in September 2015, via a parole-type review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which approved his release, followed by his resettlement, in July 2016, in Serbia, which had been prevailed upon to offer new homes to prisoners who could not be safely repatriated, or, as in Mansoor’s case, whose home country, Yemen, was regarded as unsafe.

In 2017, I was wonderfully surprised when Mansoor, who had learned English in Guantánamo, wrote a powerful and moving article, “In Our Prison on the Sea,” about life in Guantánamo, which was published in the New York Times, and was subsequently used as the introduction to the very first exhibition of Guantánamo prisoners’ art, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which ran from October 2017 to January 2018, and included some of Khalid’s art.

Mansoor and I subsequently began communicating, and in September 2018, after he had written a Facebook post describing Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, as “a father, brother, friend, and teacher to us all,” I wrote to him to ask if he would be interested in writing more about Saifullah for “Close Guantánamo” — and was delighted when he said yes. That article, “The Kind Father, Brother, and Friend for All at Guantánamo,” was published in October 2018, and it was a great honor for us to be able to publish it.

And so, after I saw Mansoor’s recent post about Khalid Qasim, a fellow Yemeni, I asked him if he had any comments to make about Khalid for my article, and was surprised and delighted when, a day later, he sent an entire article, which is posted below, and which I have edited only slightly. Mansoor’s article clearly explains his friendship with and admiration for Khalid, as well as revealing the extent of his talents, his compassion, his leadership abilities, and the respect he is held in by prisoners and prison staff alike.

Unfortunately, while having leadership abilities — being, for example, a block leader as Khalid was — is undoubtedly appreciated on the ground by the guard force and their commanders, it tends to be looked on less favourably by those higher up the chain of command, who seem to be obsessed with regarding any kind of leadership ability as an indicator that the prisoner in question poses a threat to US security and must continue to be held.

How else are we to accept that Khalid — who was never anything more than a Taliban foot soldier in Afghanistan, and whose benevolent life force has been so impressive in Guantánamo — continues to be held, 18 years and three months since his initial capture, and 17 years and ten months since his arrival at Guantánamo?

24 years old at the time of his capture, he is now 43, and wants nothing more than to finally have his long and unjust imprisonment without charge or trial brought to an end.

If you agree — and especially after reading Mansoor’s moving tribute — please share it, and help us to continue to publicize the stories of the men still held at Guantánamo, and not even accused of any kind of involvement with terrorism whatsoever, in this election year. By 2021, we desperately need the kind of leadership in the US that will recognize the injustice of continuing to hold men like Khalid without charge or trial, and the need for Guantánamo to be closed once and for all.

Please also feel free to make a donation to the fundraiser to support Mansoor’s writing in Serbia.

Best Friend and Brother
By Mansoor Adayfi

“We like Khalid to represent all the detainees. He talks like a poet when he speaks on behalf of the detainees, and he’s an easy man to deal with.”
Navy Commander and Camp 6 officer-in-charge (OIC), 2010

“Here is our Soundcloud! I love your voice; it shifts me out of here to my own world.”
A female guard

“If you want things done in the best way, and in a creative way, Khalid is your man.”
Omar, a former detainee at Guantánamo

“Brothers, please take it easy on Khalid, don’t ask too much of him. He doesn’t know how to say no.”
Suhail, a detainee at Guantánamo

My brother and best friend, Khalid Qasim. I first met him in 2002, Camp 1, Golf Block. The situation in the camp was like hell, fear of the unknown, intensive interrogation, torture, and confusion. You need someone to assure you that you will be okay. The words “you will be okay” wasn’t enough. Khalid has his own creative way to tell you that everything is going to be okay, and you will be okay, through his beautiful voice and singing. He started singing songs in the camp, and those words, his rhythm, and his beautiful voice brought us hope and took us to another world that’s not Guantánamo. In no time he was well known as Khalid the singer.

Khalid the singer

Khalid is a caring person. He wants to make everyone feel good and happy, and always tries to make our life less miserable in the camp, either by singing, by his sense of humor, poetry, essays, or by his paintings. Besides singing in Arabic, he learned to sing in English, Russian, Pashto, Urdu, and Farsi. He makes all the nationalities (48 nationalities) who are detained at Guantánamo feel happy and to connect them to themselves. This is Khalid’s special touch.

We had one night a week when we sang and told stories and shared our culture with each other, as men from all over the world, and on that night Khalid would sing for us all, in different languages. it was so beautiful to listen to his singing, I could appreciate how he changed the situation, how detainees called him from other blocks to sing for them. I could see how those detainees loved him when he sang in their language. Even the guards liked and admired him. Some called him “The Star.” They also enjoyed listening to his singing, especially in English.

In no time Khalid was one of the most famous detainees in our Guantánamo world. The camp administration would punish him sometimes for singing, but Khalid never quit. When they moved him to solitary confinement for punishment, he would continue singing there.

In solitary confinement, we were in boxes made of steel — dark, cold, brightly lit, hot, with noise, sleeplessness, and hunger. Here Khalid’s beautiful voice would free us every day and would tell us there is hope. Some detainees would try to meet in the recreation area to ask him to sing for them. He was always busy making others happy.

His handsome face and his kindness, his beautiful voice and his creativity would attract anyone to him.

Khalid the teacher

Khalid started early with poetry, essays, short novels, depending on his memory, and started writing things down as soon as he had a chance to get a pen and paper. He also started drawing using a pen and paper. He learned English and became proficient in writing and speaking. He became a writer in Arabic in English.

Khalid is a good teacher with patience. After learning English, he started teaching. He gave me classes in English when I started learning and would always motivate me. He held classes in Arabic and English, poetry, composing, soccer ball coaching, singing, and painting. He taught both detainees and guards. A guard we nicknamed “Khalid’s student” or “Khalid’s kid” spent nine months learning Arabic with Khalid, and started talking to us in the Arabic language. He taught me how to play soccer. This is a long and funny story, but I got better in the end.

Khalid the player

After ending our hunger strike in 2010, we were moved to Camp 6 to the communal living blocks. The brothers started playing soccer, and each group was looking for a good player so they could win the match. When Khalid played his first match, he scored seven goals. Detainees and guards who were watching the match started cheering for him. Guards always bet on our matches and players. Khalid had his own team and was the team captain. He won many tournaments, and had a lot of fans amongst the detainees, the guards and the camp staff. Navy guards said, “Man! This man is a pro. When he touches the ball, his playing is like a piece of music.”

Playing soccer at Guantánamo was our “Game of Thrones,” and was very competitive between detainees. There were many teams, and good players, and each had their own fans. And there were many injuries too, but not in a bad way.

Khalid the leader

In 2010, in Camp 6, the communal camp, each block had a block leader. Khalid was ours. The Navy Commander who was in charge of Camp 6 (the officer-in-charge, or OIC) liked Khalid, and would always try to get problems solved through Khalid, because of his good English, his understanding, and the way he handles issues.

And like other detainees who speak English, Khalid always translates between detainees and guards, camp staff, and medical staff. This is not an easy job to do because it takes a lot of time and energy.

Khalid the artist

Khalid started making art early, before the art class even started. I don’t recall him going to the art class. He was already a gifted and talented artist. He started using a pen and paper, and his art is powerful and very expressive. Khalid would talk beautifully about his artwork. He gave most of his artwork to detainees, camp staff, and guards. He didn’t like to turn them down. I would always argue with him that he should keep his artwork, but this is Khalid, a kind person, who loves to make others happy.

An example of Khalid Qasim’s artwork, literally made from Guantánamo (from the gravel in the recreation yard), commemorating the three men who died at Guantánamo in June 2006.

Nevertheless, Khalid is an ambitious man, who has beautiful dreams and ideas about how to start a family, and get a degree in English literature and art. He works hard at Guantánamo to prepare himself for college and to build his life when leaves. Unfortunately, the camp administration took the little he had. They took the laptop from the class, and stopped his art from leaving Guantánamo.

I don’t know what the camp administration is trying to accomplish by depriving the men there from learning. I don’t know what kind of men they want those detainees to be when they eventually leave Guantánamo. I hope the US government will understand that it needs to help the men there to prepare themselves for the difficulties they will face after Guantánamo. From my experience, I can’t escape Guantánamo. I face difficulties and hardship every day, but learning English at Guantánamo has helped me in my daily life.

I really miss Khalid. We lived years and years together and developed a strong bond of brotherhood and friendship.

I pray to Allah to hasten Khalid’s release and the release of the other men detained there.

Mansoor Adayfi
Belgrade, Serbia
February 21, 2020

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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 six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions 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.

28 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posted from http://www.closeguantanamo.org – an exclusive profile of Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qasim by his friend Mansoor Adayfi​, who was released from Guantanamo to Serbia in 2016, and has developed considerable skills as a writer.

    I knew Khalid was a talented artist, because his artwork featured in the first exhibition of Guantanamo prisoners’ artwork, in New York in 2017, and more of his work features in a show at CUNY School of Law, which I saw in January, and have written about recently.

    I initially asked Mansoor to send me a few anecdotes about Khalid, after he posted on Facebook that he was his “best friend and brother,” but instead he wrote a whole article about him, which I’m delighted to be able to publish, as it reveals the extent of Khalid’s talents – not just as an artist, but also as a singer and footballer, and a caring person with natural leadership skills – all of which makes it even more outrageous that, after 18 years, he is still held without charge or trial, and with no end to his imprisonment in sight.

    I am honoured to be able to share with you what Mansoor has written about Khalid, and I hope that, if you find it as powerful and moving as I do, you’ll share to as widely as possible. Donald Trump has sealed Guantanamo shut, but it is up to us – those who are appalled that Guantanamo is still open – to prise it back open again, and to expose to the world stories like Khalid’s, to make it clear how unconscionable it is that Donald Trump revels in keeping this disgusting facility open, and delights in holding men forever without charge or trial who shouldn’t be imprisoned at all.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor Adayfi wrote:

    Thank you Andy.
    I’m sure that Khaled will appreciate your work. You are the voice of the men who are still there.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Mansoor. I can think of no higher honor, although I think it may be you who is the voice of the men still there 😉

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Fauzy-Ackroyd wrote:

    Truly moving. What a testament to the beauty and grace of the human spirit, that is Khaled Quasim, shining even in the darkest of places. With thanks to Mansoor Adayfi for writing so compassionately and with such respect for his dear friend. May he be free.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for your response to the article, Anna. I’m sure Mansoor will be delighted, and I’m really hoping to get more stories out there to demonstrate how sickening and unacceptable it is for Guantanamo still to be open, and for men to be treated this way – not only held indefinitely without charge or trial, but with the truth about who they are almost entirely hidden.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Fauzy-Ackroyd wrote:

    Yes, let’s hope this is read far and wide opening people’s eyes, through such heartfelt testimony, to the horror that remains Guantanamo.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It will hopefully get some momentum when I send it to the “Close Guantanamo”email list, and now that I’ve also posted it here on my site, Anna, but it would really help if the mainstream media took an interest.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    Thanks for for this, I will share this.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Malcolm. Thanks very much for your interest.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, a little known fact is, for the majority of those freed from the Guantanamo torture camp, there is no security and no work (try explaining the gap in your CV, or the fact you haven’t been able to get any employment experience because you were kidnapped age 14-21). There is no passport, no citizenship.
    They are deliberately seperated from their families, unable to return to their homelands. It’s all part of the ongoing mental torture inflicted on innocent men left to fend for themselves with no support. It’s appalling.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Asiya, and one day, I hope, the US will be compelled to formally repudiate its actions in the “war on terror”, as it did, for example, with the internment of Japanese Americans In WWII. Unfortunately, that day, if it ever comes, is some way off, and in the meantime, as you note, former prisoners – and especially those sent to third countries – fundamentally have no rights.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Julia Davidson wrote:

    Khalid Qasim – what a talented chap and what a good friend he has in Mansoor, whose writing portrays so eloquently the tragedy of Khalid’s unreasonable continuing incarceration!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Well said, Julia. Lovely to hear from you!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, it makes life so very difficult. Never feel safe, can’t just pick up and move on, even going for a weekend break or a holiday, with a travel document rather than an actual passport, pulled at the airport everytime, left for hours, questioned, the fear of wondering if they will be disappeared again never leaves. When you are left stateless, you can never feel safe in the world. That’s a terrible feeling.

    There seems to be a very deliberate programme to prevent families from seeing each other. Wives, mothers fathers, are refused even a holiday visa to visit Guantanamo survivors and they in turn are refused visitation to their parents.

    One man I know was never able to see his father again, he wanted to go to him to see him when he became ill, he wasn’t allowed a visa and his father died. He will also never be able to see his mother again either for the same reason, visa for holiday denied. Can you imagine the anguish of a parent when your child is taken and tortured and then released, but you still can’t hold them in your arms 😑 It’s an abomination that innocents are treated this way, after all that was already done to them. It breaks my heart everyday.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I hope that some people who don’t know about this intimidation and cruelty will read your words, Asiya. It’s absolutely disgraceful the way former prisoners – and their families – are treated, and it’s why I would genuinely like to find people to start working with to formulate plans for one day holding the US accountable.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor Adayfi wrote:

    Andy, yes, we are still being punished for being at Guantánamo. I’m tracking all the brothers in most other countries.
    I hope I could put together a book about life after Guantánamo.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, I hope and pray something can change for the better, and those still held will one day be free. Thank you for all you do to keep the world informed. One man i know recently spoke with a well known international law firm, in the hope of bringing those responsible to account, only to be told “no one’s really interested in this anymore.” He’s been told the same thing for over a decade. It’s mentally devastating.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    International law firms are probably to be avoided, Asiya, but I’m sure there are some human rights lawyers who’d be interested. Perhaps we should start putting together a dossier, Mansoor.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor Adayfi wrote:

    Asiya, I’m told the same thing.
    I have been trying to contact some lawyers to help bring attention to the Yemeni detainees who were sent to UAE from Guantánamo but no one is interested in the case any more. The men are being held in UAE jail for over three years, they were tortured and mistreated, they don’t know for how long they are going to live like this. I have contacted some families, they told me that some of the men totally lost their minds. Also, four Afghanis were released two months ago from UAE jail, they say “the situation in the UAE jail is worse than Guantánamo and Bagram detentions.”
    I really want to help the brothers there but don’t know how.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor Adayfi wrote:

    Andy, I agree with you.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Mansoor, yes, the same. Tried to get help for two brothers who were taken to Senegal, and then suddenly deported to Libya, they were in the airport terrified and desperate, felt so helpless, they were taken to prison in Libya and disappeared. Innocent men!! Freed, suddenly taken again, and no type of lawyers, not even the human rights lawyers are interested. Maybe there’s nothing they can do. maybe it’s because there’s no money to pay them. I don’t know. But how can you heal when you don’t have justice and accountability. Or maybe that’s the plan, an ongoing programme of mental and psychological torture.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    The problem with Libya wasn’t a lack of interest from human rights lawyers and NGOs, Asiya. The problem was that there was no diplomatic channel whatsoever, and that was because Donald Trump had shut down the office of the Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. Under Trump, there isn’t anyone in the US government with any responsibility for keeping an eye on what happens to prisoners after their release – not even for obvious US national security purposes, and certainly not for any humanitarian reasons.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    Andy, the general problem everyone is having is that no one is interested anymore. People can disappear no one will look for them. There is no justice, it’s all old news. Meanwhile these are people’s actual lives. It was the same before Trump. Its been that way for over a decade.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Asiya Muhammad wrote:

    We’ve had this conversation before Andy, and of course you can say what you want ☺️ but I’ll say it again, because the narrative that people need to be watched by America for “obvious National security reasons“, as you just said, is an awful one that again implies some kind of criminality on the part of men declared innocent upon their release.
    How can people move on when they are always in some way implied to be “terrorist suspects.” Put yourself in those shoes, kidnapped, tortured in the most horrific ways, Black site prisons, Guantanamo, camp 5, camp x Ray … and then you come out finally free and an innocent man, and even the people who are supporting you, suggest the US not having a task force to watch you, in case you are a threat, is a bad thing.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m not supporting the US national security rationale, Asiya, but it exists, and without someone in the State Department dealing with former prisoners it devolves to the military and the intelligence services, who feed their unsubstantiated assessments to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which issues twice-yearly recidivism reports containing unverifiable claims that vast numbers of former prisoners have “returned to the battlefield.” When the Libyans were repatriated from Senegal, there was literally no one in the Trump administration that lawyers and NGOs could speak to.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

  27. Anna says...

    This thread is the GWOT-Guantanamo drama and conundrum in a nutshell. Most of the people held not only innocent but whenever a glimpse of who and what they are filters through the various communication barriers, we discover lovely characters from whom we – on the outside – can actually learn a lot. Were it only empathy, compassion and forgiveness. Not to mention artistic talents in virtually every field. But indeed, few are interested.

    The big orange-coloured button with Close Guantanamo Now which I always wear, regularly attracts attention on an elderly person with grey hair & wrinkles. But most people have no idea what it means, even the word Guantanamo does not ring a bell anymore. Few ask.

    As for lawyers, unfortunately the recent attempts to get war crimes committed in Afghanistan judged by the ICC showed once more, that the US refuses to cooperate with anything resembling accountability for their crimes.

    So lawyers know they stand no chance…

    Someone we both know, once told me that such war crimes (as Guantanamo) need several decades before they get the proper attention. Usually when those responsible are dead.

    I wonder whether the refusal of ‘host’ countries to issue travel documents could be brought before the ICC ? Forget about the US, but maybe some of the other countries, signatories to the ICC or even EU members, could be held accountable ? Maybe even in the Strasburg EU court ? They also take a long time to proceed, but at least there would be some hope.

    Here we are, perfectly willing to host ex-prisoners and their families, but they’re not alloowed to leave their current ‘open-air’ prisons …

    As for a book with essays, letters, poems and drawings of Guantanamo (ex)prisoners, I think it is a wonderful idea and I’ll be happy to support that. Bless Messrs Khalid and Mansoor for sharing the fruit of their talents and their moving stories with us, and bless you, Andy, for transmitting them to us.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna. I must admit that my heart sank when I read your comment that, when you wear your ‘Close Guantanamo’ badge, “most people have no idea what it means, even the word Guantanamo does not ring a bell anymore.”

    As for the ICC, I hope they will be able to persuade other countries to cooperate, but who knows the extent to which the US will lean on them like the gangsters they are.

    However, when it comes to addressing the treatment of former prisoners – involving, amongst other things, “the refusal of ‘host’ countries to issue travel documents” – I do think there’s a need for concerned people, including lawyers, to get together to start establishing an organisation aimed at, eventually, holding the US to account for its actions, and, specifically, removing the stigma of former prisoners being “enemy combatants”, fundamentally without rights, forever.

    And finally, let’s hope that a book of art and writing does come together eventually. That really would be wonderful wouldn’t it?

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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 (The State of London).
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