Guantánamo’s Youngest Prisoner Released To Chad


Mohammed El-Gharani, photographed before his captureThe long ordeal of Mohammed El-Gharani, Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, has finally come to an end. Reprieve, the legal action charity that represents him, reports today that he has been sent back to Chad.

A Saudi resident and Chadian national, El-Gharani was just 14 years old when he was seized by Pakistani forces in a random raid on a mosque in Karachi, but was treated appallingly both by the Pakistanis who seized him, and by the US military. I provided a detailed explanation of the abuse to which he was subjected in an article last year, “Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child,” which I condensed for an article in January, when I explained:

As with all but three of the 22 confirmed juveniles who have been held at Guantánamo, the US authorities never treated him separately from the adult population, even though they are obliged, under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

Instead, El-Gharani was treated with appalling brutality. After being tortured in Pakistani custody, he was sold to US forces, who flew him to a prison at Kandahar airport, where, he said, one particular soldier “would hold my penis, with scissors, and say he’d cut it off.” His treatment did not improve in Guantánamo. Subjected relentlessly to racist abuse, because of the color of his skin, he was hung from his wrists on numerous occasions, and was also subjected to a regime of “enhanced” techniques to prepare him for interrogation — including prolonged sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation and the use of painful stress positions — that clearly constitute torture. As a result of this and other abuse, including regular beatings by the guard force responsible for quelling even the most minor infractions of the rules, El-Gharani has become deeply depressed, and has tried to commit suicide on several occasions.

In January, over seven years after his initial capture, El-Gharani finally had his case reviewed in a US court, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, in June 2008, that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to ask a court why they were being held. Judge Richard Leon, who had granted the habeas petitions of five Algerian prisoners in November, ruling that the government had failed to establish a case against them, was, if anything, even more dismissive of the claims against El-Gharani.

In his habeas petition, El-Gharani insisted, as he had throughout his detention, that he “traveled to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia at the age of 14 to escape discrimination against Chadians in that country, acquire computer and English skills, and make a better life for himself,” and that he “remained there until his arrest,” although the government claimed that he “arrived in Afghanistan at some unspecified time in 2001,” and was “part of or supporting Taliban or al-Qaeda forces,” for a variety of reasons, including claims that he received military training at an al-Qaeda-affiliated military training camp, fought against US and allied forces at the battle of Tora Bora, and was a member of an al-Qaeda cell based in London.

Noting that the government’s supposed evidence against El-Gharani consisted of statements made by two other prisoners at Guantánamo, and that, moreover, these statements were “either exclusively, or jointly, the only evidence offered by the Government to substantiate the majority of their allegations,” Judge Leon stated that “the credibility and reliability of the detainees being relied upon by the Government has either been directly called into question by Government personnel or has been characterized by Government personnel as undermined,” and dismissed all the claims, reserving particular criticism for the claim that El-Gharani had been a member of a London-based al-Qaeda cell.

As I wrote in January,

This was, indeed, the most extraordinary allegation, as El-Gharani was just 11 years old at the time, and, as his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, explained in his book The Eight O’Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantánamo Bay, “he must have been beamed over to the al-Qaeda meetings by the Starship Enterprise, since he never left Saudi Arabia by conventional means.”

Leon’s verdict was marginally less colorful, but no less devastating. “Putting aside the obvious and unanswered questions as to how a Saudi minor from a very poor family could have even become a member of a London-based cell,” he wrote, “the Government simply advances no corroborating evidence for these statements it believes to be reliable from a fellow detainee, the basis of whose knowledge is — at best — unknown.”

Despite this long-overdue court victory, El-Gharani’s suffering in Guantánamo did not come to an end. In April, he was finally allowed to call one of his relatives in Chad, but took the opportunity to call the Arabic broadcaster al-Jazeera instead, telling them, as Reuters described it, that “he had been beaten with batons and teargassed by a group of six soldiers wearing protective gear and helmets after refusing to leave his cell.” He explained, “This treatment started about 20 days before Obama came into power, and since then I’ve been subjected to it almost every day,” and added, “Since Obama took charge he has not shown us that anything will change.”

El-Gharani’s return to Chad is not without its problems. He is currently being held by the security services, although they have stressed to his lawyers that it is just a formality and that they fully understand the horrors he has been through. More troubling is the fact that, although he has extended family in Chad who will take care of him, he cannot be reunited with his parents, because they live in Saudi Arabia. Representatives of Reprieve are expected to fly out to Chad this weekend, to help with his rehabilitation, but in the meantime El-Gharani himself has said only that he is, of course, delighted to be free, and is looking forward to undertaking an education, to make up for the lost years and lost opportunities while he was held in Guantánamo.

As Zachary Katznelson, Reprieve’s legal director, explained to me in a telephone conversation this evening, “Reprieve is delighted that, after seven long years of unjust, illegal incarceration, Mohammed is finally out of Guantánamo Bay. A federal judge looked at his case in January, and found that there were never any valid grounds to hold him. He should have been released long ago, but we’re glad that justice has finally been served.”

Note: For another article about prisoners released today, see: Who Are The Four Guantánamo Uighurs Sent To Bermuda?

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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on CounterPunch and After Downing Street. Also featured on the Brad Blog, and cross-posted on RINF.

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

9 Responses

  1. The BRAD BLOG : 'Worst of the Worst'?: Gitmo's Youngest Prisoner, the 'Forgotten Child,' Released Without Charges says...

    […] Worthington, the man who literally wrote the book on the Guantanamo travesties, offers the sad background on the breaking news of the release of “Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child,” including details of […]

  2. the talking dog says...

    Let’s keep score; adding the four Uighurs to Bermuda, Boumediene to France and Binyam to Britain… this takes us to seven released in nearly 5 months of the Obama Admin.- a dramatic increase in rate (to just over one a month!) that will empty GTMO in… around 12 years… I suppose if we count the one man dead on O’s watch and assume we’ll get some more of those as the injustice grinds on, we can lower the rate to 10 years or so… still well behind that “one year to close GTMO”.

    Any release is a welcome one, but what we are seeing, alas, is the more publicly obvious ones, (and the “easier” ones, as Gharani, like the Uighurs, has won a habeas case) and in particular, cases that have some public pressure associated with them (and indeed, cases that have been featured prominently by none other than Mr. Worthington.)

    It would appear that some level of public pressure works on the Obama Administration; we’ll just have to keep it up relentlessly.

  3. The Last Iraqi In Guantánamo, Cleared Six Years Ago, Returns Home by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] and while a few other commentators, myself included, noted that Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, Mohammed El-Gharani, had been released to his family’s home country of Chad — only one journalist, James Warren of […]

  4. Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] four months of the new administration, and a spate of releases this week — a Chadian who was just 14 years old when he was seized, an Iraqi, three Saudis and four Uighurs who were sent to Bermuda — seems to […]

  5. The Stories Of The Two Somalis Freed From Guantánamo « says...

    […] resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 […]

  6. Who Is the Palestinian Released from Guantánamo in Spain? « says...

    […] resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 […]

  7. AWorthington: Guantanamo Habeas Results, Prisoners 34 – Government 13 « On Now says...

    […] 23 WON: Mohammed El-Gharani (Chad, ISN 269) Released June 2009. For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child. For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here. For El-Gharani’s release, see: Guantánamo’s Youngest Prisoner Released To Chad. […]

  8. Author of Ama Records Impressions of President Obama’s Visit to Door of No Return | Publishing In the 21st Century says...

    […] of anything at all, he was flown to Chad, the country of origin of his parents and released there. Throughout the 20-hour flight he remained shackled. “Cruelty wherever it […]

  9. WikiLeaks And The 22 Children Of Guantanamo says...

    […] Mohammed El-Gharani (ISN 269, Chad) Born 1986, seized October 2001 (aged 14/15), released June 2009. Seized in a raid on mosque in Karachi, he was treated brutally at Guantánamo, but was finally […]

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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