A Beautiful Article About Love by Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mansoor Adayfi: Please Read It and Then Donate to Support Him


Former Guantanamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi photographed in Serbia.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


While I was away on my recent family trip to the West Country (WOMAD in Wiltshire, Cornwall, Chesil Beach in Dorset and Bristol), I missed a powerful article that was published in the New York Times, written by former Guantánamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi.

A Yemeni (known by the Guantánamo authorities as Mansoor al-Dayfi or Mansoor al-Zahari), Adayfi was freed from the prison in July 2016, having had his release recommended by a Periodic Review Board, the parole-like process initiated by President Obama in his last three years in office. Because of fears about the security situation in Yemen across the US political spectrum, no prisoners approved for release were sent back to Yemen, and third countries had to be found that would take them in. Adayfi was taken in by Serbia, and as I reported last March, after a reporter from NPR visited, he was struggling to adjust to post-Guantánamo life with no other ex-prisoners for company, with no Muslim community, and with, it seemed, hostility from the authorities.

In captivity, he had become fluent in English, and had become a huge admirer of US culture, and, as I explained last March, “Had Barack Obama not backed down on plans to bring some former Guantánamo prisoners to live in the US in 2009 (one of the most important mistakes he made regarding Guantánamo), al-Dayfi would have been a perfect candidate for resettlement in the US.”

In September, Adayfi surfaced again as one of the most talented writers to have been held at the prison, when the New York Times published “In Our Prison on the Sea,” a poignant and powerful article, which I shared here, about how the sea had come to assume a huge significance for the prisoners, who, despite being held close to the Cuban shoreline, were generally prohibited from seeing it.

Adayfi’s article was picked up by the Times after being chosen as a feature in the catalog for “Ode to the Sea: Art From Guantánamo Bay,” a extraordinary exhibition of Guantánamo prisoners’ art that opened in October at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and which subsequently attracted significant media coverage after the Pentagon raised a ridiculous fuss about the artwork by former prisoners being offered for sale.

In fact, of course, many former prisoners, tainted by having been held in Guantánamo, regardless of whether or not they ever actually did anything wrong, have found it hard, after their release, to find work, and as a result there really shouldn’t have been any reason for the Pentagon to over-react to them offering their artwork for sale, as is allowed in domestic prisons. However, over-reaction by the authorities is, sadly, one of the hallmarks of the baleful Guantánamo experiment, where a sense of proportion — not to mention conventional notions of justice — were sent to be killed off in the vengeful aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

I’m cross-posting below Mansoor Adayfi’s recent article, which, I hope you’ll agree, continues to demonstrate his talent as a writer, and I’d also like to direct you to Mansoor’s own website, recently established, and also to share with you a fundraising page established for him by Erin Thompson, one of the curators of the exhibition at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

I’m often asked by people who care about the wreckage of prisoners’ lives at Guantánamo — and, often, their struggles to rebuild their lives afterwards — what they can do to help, and this is a great way in which people can be involved in helping one particular individual in need of support. Perhaps it is a model that could be replicated for other prisoners.

On the GoFundMe page Erin Thompson established for Mansoor Adayfi, she wrote about how he “was just 19 when he arrived at Guantánamo Bay,” how he “spent over 14 years there without ever even being charged with a crime,” and how, since his release he has begun to “turn his sufferings into art.”

She proceeded to explain how he is now “trying to finish his memoir,” but added, alarmingly, that “his future is uncertain,” because, next month, “his support will be cut off, and his ability to work, study, or even live in Serbia or any other country is in danger.”

As she added, pertinently, “Mansoor needs funds to write and to live.”

So again, if you can help, please make a donation here. At the time of writing, 22 people have, over the last three weeks, donated $1,135, but the target is $25,000, so any amount you can give will be very helpful.

Thompson also explained:

I met Mansoor through his pro bono attorney, who fought for his release from Guantánamo and is continuing to help him navigate life after Guantánamo. Mansoor and I have worked together on the exhibit of art made at Guantánamo that I curated; Mansoor wrote an essay for the catalog and also spoke, via video, at the opening reception. I am also working with Mansoor to help him get his other writing published. We are frequently in touch, and I love hearing his updates on his life and work. (Here’s more about me and how I met Mansoor.)

Because GoFundMe campaigns cannot be linked to Serbian bank accounts, I have created a dedicated US bank account for this fundraiser. I will transfer all the accumulated funds to Mansoor’s bank account on the first day of each month.

Below is Mansoor’s latest article:

Taking Marriage Class at Guantánamo
By Mansoor Adayfi, New York Times, July 27, 2018

While imprisoned for 14 years, a young Yemeni man learns about love from a fellow detainee — and an iguana.

Until I was 35, the most significant relationship I’d had as an adult was with an iguana.

It wasn’t easy to meet anyone where I was for all of my 20s and nearly half of my 30s, at the prison camp at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. After I arrived, I was put in an isolation cell, where huge fans outside of each cell ran day and night, making deafening noise to prevent us from talking to each other.

Even when we went outside for recreation, we were not allowed to talk to the other detainees. But outside we did meet new friends: the cats, banana rats, tiny birds and iguanas that came through the fences, asking to share our meals.

I had a good friendship with a beautiful young lady, an iguana. She was so elegant. She used to come every day at the same time, and we would have lunch together. When I went on a hunger strike, I had no food to give her, and I was ashamed to stand there without food as she came up to me. Sometimes the guards punished us for sharing our meals with the animals, but they couldn’t stop me from talking to her.

She couldn’t talk back, but she was a good listener. As the years passed, our friendship grew into a strong bond.

Finally, after seven years of isolation, I was moved into a communal block where I could talk with my fellow detainees. I was born in a tiny village in the mountains of Yemen and was only 19 when I came to Guantánamo. I didn’t know much about the world; the world to me was my village. Now, my world was Guantánamo.

Until I was 12, I thought I had been born from my mother’s knee. I learned in school where babies really came from, but there was no dating in my society, so my knowledge remained theoretical. The same was true for most of us. Very few of us had been married or knew much about the relations between men and women.

Even so, talking about women was our favorite topic. Not in a bad way; as Muslims we are forbidden to talk about women in a bad way. But we talked about women because it relaxed us. When someone would tell a story about a woman, we all would listen. While being surrounded by men we imagined loving women.

We weren’t the only ones who missed women; the male guards did, too. There were very few female guards.

One of the older, married detainees saw that the single detainees were desperate to know about women, so he decided to teach us. We used to arrange classes and learn from each other anything that could be taught.

For example, a former chef taught a cooking class. He would say, “Now, I will add the onion to the hot oil — shhhh shhhh,” imitating the sound of frying onions because of course we had no onions or oil or stoves. He would make jokes, asking the students to please taste the dishes to test if they had enough salt or if they thought the meat was ready, even though there was no salt or meat.

I didn’t like that class. It just made me hungrier.

On our first day of marriage class, our teacher began by asking us each to say what we thought about how men should treat women. We agreed that men should have absolute respect for women, but many of the students said men always were, and always would be, superior to women.

Then the teacher asked: “If you were a woman, how would you answer my question? How would you want men to treat you?”

At first we started laughing, imagining each other as women.

“Look at Mansoor with hair all over his body,” one detainee shouted at me. “You would scare all of the men.”

“If I were a woman,” another said, “I would make you all dream, cry and spend all of your money — but none of your ugly faces would touch a single hair of mine.”

Our teacher let us joke for a while but then said, “Answer my question, ladies!”

I said that if I were going to choose someone to accompany me for the rest of my life, I would want a wife who was better than me.

One of the students tried to embarrass me by saying, “So will you let your wife be in charge? Should men just be like donkeys, serving women?”

I argued that men have been thought to be superior throughout history, but look where we are now. War follows war without end. Men never give birth to a single soul. They only take lives.

I said that all of us, guilty or innocent, were sitting around Guantánamo talking about marriage instead of experiencing it because of what men had done. I finished by pointing out that we all knew that when there was a female commander in charge of our guards, we lived more peaceful lives. When the commander was a man, we were more likely to be treated badly.

“Mansoor is biased toward women,” one detainee said with a laugh.

“If I were a woman,” another said, “I would marry you!”

As we kept meeting for marriage class, our teacher taught us about loving and being loved. He described what it would feel like when we saw and talked to the woman we loved. He told us how we would act on our engagement day.

And then we had an entire class dedicated to the biggest day in our lives, the marriage day. We pretended that one of the students was getting married, and we held a traditional Yemeni wedding celebration. We sang and danced as if it were a real marriage.

I have never been in love, but now I could feel its sweetness. Just like the cooking class, the marriage class made me hungrier. I regretted not being married before I came to Guantánamo. I felt there was a missing part of myself, and that part was a wife and family.

For a while I had in my cell a photo from a friend’s 10-year-old daughter. I made a frame out of scraps of cardboard with flowers surrounding it and hung the photo on the wall. Whenever visitors came into my cell, I would tell them she was my daughter.

When they looked surprised that I had a blond daughter and started asking more questions about the mother, I would say I had never met her, but still, I had a daughter just the same. I gave her an Arabic name, Amel, which means Hope.

One night the guards came in and pepper sprayed us and tore down everything in our cells. They threw away my Hope.

I could have stopped going to the marriage classes. I could have stopped dreaming about love. But the only thing harder than living a life without love is living a life without pain. Pain tells us we are alive. That we can still feel. Sometimes, pain is like love. Because I could imagine love, even without my photo, I still had hope.

When, after many years of not being able to speak to my family, I was allowed phone calls with them, there was talk of perhaps trying to arrange a marriage for me, and I was tempted to accept this hope. But in marriage class, we had discussed the problem of forced marriage in some countries. The idea of girls being sold like sheep hurt me. And so I declined the possibility of such an arrangement.

On the last day of marriage class, our teacher told us to always remember how we had answered his first question about how men should treat women. We all had different answers now. He had made his point. He wished us happy marriages and good lives with love in them.

In 2016, after being detained for more than 14 years, I was released from Guantánamo. But I wasn’t allowed to go home to Yemen. Instead, I live in Serbia. I am lonely. I haven’t yet found a woman to be my friend and my wife and teach me the art of love. I don’t even have an iguana anymore.

But thanks to my friend, the beautiful iguana, I learned how to take care of others. She reminded me how to connect with life while I was behind the fences of prison. And thanks to my marriage class, I know I will one day be a good husband and loving father.

My hope is still alive. It helps me face the hardships of my daily life. I wish hope and love could help us with the hardships we face as nations too.

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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six 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 a new 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.

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.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, cross-posting, with my own introduction, an article by former Guantanamo prisoner Mansoor Adayfi, as published in the New York Times. Mansoor is one of the most talented writers to emerge from Guantanamo, as was revealed in an article he wrote last year about the prisoners’ relationship to the sea, which featured prominently in an exhibition of artwork by prisoners and ex-prisoners in New York. Here are his poignant reflections on love and marriage, and, in addition, I include a link to a fundraising page for Mansoor established by Erin Thompson, who curated the New York exhibition.
    Mansoor was released from Guantanamo in 2016, but resettled in Serbia, where, understandably, he has struggled to adapt, and next month, alarmingly, as Erin describes it, “his support will be cut off, and his ability to work, study, or even live in Serbia or any other country is in danger.” As she adds, pertinently, “Mansoor needs funds to write and to live.”
    I know many of you have asked me over the years about how you can help ex-prisoners, so here’s a great opportunity if you want to help: https://www.gofundme.com/support-mansoor039s-guantanamo-memoir

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Mansoor’s on Facebook, and on his page I found this extraordinary post by Sarah Geis, who met him for a Canadian radio show in which he discussed the themes he wrote about in the New York Times article. As she notes, “this story almost didn’t exist. Immediately after our interview, Mansoor and our recordist were detained by Serbian police – who didn’t want him talking with the press – and the audio was confiscated. Eventually, it was returned to us, and Mansoor wants his story told. Listen through for an update about Mansoor’s precarious living situation – he has recently learned that he will no longer be allowed to live in Serbia as of Sep. 1 of this year, and fears that he will be deported to a country where his life will be in danger”: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.geis.714/posts/10157560675534045
    The link for the show is here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/loveme/how-one-man-learned-about-love-and-marriage-while-detained-in-guantanamo-1.4786093

  3. Tom says...

    Sadly corporate media no longer allows Guantanemo to be publically mentioned. Only things that are considered “entertainment” (ex. Omarosa and her tapes) are allowed.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, most of the media is certainly caught up in ‘The Trump Show’, Tom, although in general, I’d say, the broadcast media have never been very interested in Guantanamo, and, with the exception of the Miami Herald’s relentless coverage via Carol Rosenberg, we’ve had to accept sporadic but often worthwhile coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post as America’s main contribution to self-analysis on the age of Guantanamo.

  5. Lisa says...

    Hi, I just learned about Mansoor story on Love Me. What happened to him?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Lisa. He’s still living in Serbia, and he has a book published this year! https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/mansoor-adayfi/dont-forget-us-here/9780306923876/

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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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