‘Guantánamo Kid’: A Graphic Novel Telling the Harrowing Story of Child Prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc


Promotion for 'Guantanamo Kid' featuring a review by Andy Worthington.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.


On Tuesday March 12, the British publisher SelfMadeKid is releasing ‘Guantánamo Kid,’ a graphic novel by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc, which tells the harrowing story of former child prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani. It was first published last year, in French, by Dargaud.

I’m pleased to note that the publishers asked me to write a review for the book, which they have used in the promotional image at the top of this article, and in which I stated, “Mohammed El-Gharani knows all about the horrors of Guantánamo, as a child subjected to torture by the US authorities and held in the prison for eight years. And yet far too many people still don’t know about Guantánamo’s long and abusive history, and one main reason is that no footage or photos of any of the torture and abuse has ever surfaced. Overcoming this critical lack of images, Jérôme Tubiana, a journalist who spent time with Mohammed after his release in 2010, hearing his story, has worked with the talented comic artist Alexandre Franc to bring his ordeal to life in a graphic novel that deserves to be read as widely as possible, as, in page after page of harrowing memories, Mohammed tells his story with wit, endurance and unbreakable spirit.”

I covered Mohammed El-Gharani’s story extensively while he was held at Guantánamo, originally in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in September 2007, in which I explained what I had been able to piece together at the time about his story, via US military documents, and his lawyers, at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve.

As I wrote in my book:

Those who went to Pakistan in search of a new life included Mohammed El-Gharani, who was only 15 years old at the time of his capture [Note: he may actually have been just 14]. Born in Saudi Arabia to parents from Chad, he was not regarded as a Saudi citizen and his opportunities for education and employment were therefore limited. In September 2001, he set off for Karachi, hoping to learn English and to undertake computer training, but was captured a month later during a police raid on a mosque. After his capture, he was treated brutally in Pakistani custody. For 16 hours a day over a three-week period, he was ‘hung by his wrists, naked apart from his shorts, with his feet barely touching the floor,’ and his interrogators beat him if he moved. He was also blindfolded the whole time, apart from a few minutes each day when he ate, and was ‘forced to drink lots of water before his interrogators tied his penis with string so that he could not urinate.’ 

Although he was a minor, and was captured in a random operation, this brutal treatment was only the start of his problems. Transferred to Kandahar, his treatment echoed that described by other prisoners, but with a few novel touches. He was ‘stripped naked and repeatedly beaten,’ was ‘doused in freezing water and left exposed to the elements for three or four nights,’ was ‘repeatedly called “nigger” by US soldiers, a term of racist abuse he had never heard before,’ and said that a guard ‘held his penis with a pair of scissors and told him he would cut it off.’ 

In Guantánamo, as I explained in an article in April 2008, Guantánamo’s forgotten child: the sad story of Mohammed El-Gharani, his abuse continued. As I put it, “unlike three Afghan boys (released in January 2004), who were held separately from the adult population, and treated with something approaching the appropriate care of juvenile prisoners,” he “never received any preferential treatment as a juvenile,” and was, instead, “subjected to torture and abuse as severe as almost any other prisoner,” including being “hung from his wrists on 30 occasions (an experience he described as worse than in Pakistan, because his feet did not even touch the ground).” He 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 I added, “On one occasion, a heavily-armoured riot squad — the Initial Reaction Force (IRF), used to quell even the most minor infringements of the rules — slammed his head into the floor of his cell, breaking one of his teeth, and on another occasion an interrogator stubbed out a cigarette on his arm.”

In November 2008, I established that he was one of at least 22 juveniles held at Guantanamo (the Pentagon, at that time, suggested, under pressure, that it had “only” held 12 juveniles), and I continued following his story in 2009, as a US judge ordered his release in January following a habeas corpus review of his case, leading to his release in Chad in June. However, he then struggled to support himself without his parents, who were still in Saudi Arabia, where he was not allowed to travel.

In January 2011, an extensive interview with El-Gharani was published in the London Review of Books, conducted by Jérôme Tubiana, who had “reported regularly from Chad, Sudan and Rwanda.” 

In the introduction to my cross-post of this interview, I described how Mohammed was “a compelling interviewee — articulate, often funny, and sharp to comprehend the scale of the injustice to which he and the other Guantánamo prisoners were subjected.”

This interview provided the basis for the graphic novel telling El-Gharani’s story, ably illustrated by Alexandre Franc. As I explained in my review of the book, when it comes to Guantánamo — and the US prisons in Afghanistan where prisoners were processed before their flight to Guantánamo — no photos or film footage has ever been leaked to the media, and so a graphic novel provides an extremely powerful way in which the horrors of the US’s post-9/11 “war on terror” can be told.

For the launch on March 12, Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc will be at the London Review Bookshop, where they will discuss Guantánamo, the book and Mohammed El-Gharani with Jeremy Harding, a contributing editor at the LRB. You can book a ticket here.

* * * * *

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. 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, 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.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting the imminent release (on March 12) of ‘Guantanamo Kid’, an excellent graphic novel by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc, about Mohammed El-Gharani, one of at least 23 juveniles held at Guantanamo, who was just 14 when he was seized in Pakistan, where he had traveled to study. Subjected to torture and abuse, he was held for eight years until he was eventually released.

    I was asked by the publishers, SelfMadeKid, to write a review, in which I explained how Mohammed “tells his story with wit, endurance and unbreakable spirit,” and commended the book’s creators for their work. As I put it, “Far too many people still don’t know about Guantanamo’s long and abusive history, and one main reason is that no footage or photos of any of the torture and abuse has ever surfaced. Overcoming this critical lack of images, [Tubiana and Franc] bring his ordeal to life in a graphic novel that deserves to be read as widely as possible.”

    For London readers, there’s a launch, featuring the book’s creators, at the London Review Bookshop on Tuesday: https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/events/2019/3/guant-namo-kid-j-r-me-tubiana-alexandre-franc-and-jeremy-harding

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone taking an interest in this. Check out SelfMadeHero on Facebook, and to buy the book in the UK check out the retailers listed on the publisher’s website. For US readers the best deal looks like it’s via Amazon’s US site:

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:


  4. Andy Worthington says...

    It looks like Amazon’s your best bet for buying a copy, Natalia: https://www.amazon.com/Guantánamo-Kid-Story-Mohammed-El-Gharani/dp/1910593664

  5. Anna says...

    Thank you Andy. I remember reading about his ordeal when dumped in Chad – not exactly the most auspicious country even for its own permanent inhabitants – all alone, in poor health and without any means to support himself. Seem to also remember a similar story about an older Egyptian who was released back ‘home’ in that period as a physical (and no doubt psychological) invalid. Wonder how the Uruguay guys are doing?
    Will try to get the book but not via Amazon – which I boycott for the way they treat their employees and for now being about to provide crucial surveillance support to US military & intelligence establishment. But we have two English language bookstores in town which might be willing to order it and maybe the Guardian’s book service would take it on?
    The guard on the picture looks like someone from Peanuts, which further suggests an intelligent take on this dreadful subject.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna.
    Yes, those of us who care about the Guantanamo prisoners have had to develop long memories, haven’t we? Mohammed was represented by Reprieve, so they were very hands-on, but they could lt do anything about who poor Chad was, and how Mohammed was essentially alone. I recall a Dickensian-type set-up, where he was supposed to be in the care of relatives, but with no basis for presuming that those relatives would actually fulfil that role.
    I’m not sure who the Egyptian you’re thinking of was. Perhaps Adel Fattough Ali al-Gazzar, who had lost both his legs, and was sent first to Slovakia, where he and two other men had to go on a hunger strike to get the authorities to treat them as human beings. After the Arab Spring, he returned to Egypt, hoping to be reunited with his family, but was then arrested and imprisoned based on a Mubarak-era trial in absentia. I think he was freed in 2012, but haven’t seen any further news about him except for a mention in an Al-Jazeera report about the US’s untested recidivism claims by Jenifer Fenton in 2015. Fenton quoted his lawyers saying, “He was an easy target for the military court, and with no legal defense, the charges against him stuck,” and she wondered, aptly, “Does the U.S. count people like this as recidivists? It’s impossible to know because the names or specific details are not disclosed.”
    See: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/2/5/who-are-the-guantanamo-recidivists.html
    As for Amazon, good for you. I don’t buy from them directly, but I do occasionally buy books from sellers who operate through their website, and I list them on my site as somewhere people can buy my books. Sadly, my general refusal to deal with them is a drop in the ocean. Everyone seems to use them for everything without realising that their convenience only adds, incrementally, to Amazon’s unchecked growth, and their abusive work practices, their global contempt for paying taxes, and, as you note, their cooperation with our oppressors in military and intelligence circles.

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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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