Reading list: Profiles of Guantanamo detainees - I

A reading list -- in progress - of profiles of Guantanamo detainees

Saad Iqbal Madni

Madni was the last Pakistani detainee to have been released from Guantanamo

Muhammad Sagheer

Sagheer is described in his leaked assessment file as a 'farmer and missionary' who was arrested in Kunduz - on his first trip outside the country.

Lakhdar Boumedine, who spent seven years in detention

“RECRUITERS typically scan his résumé with an air of approval, he said, until noting that it ends in 2001. He tells them that his is a “particular case,” that he spent time in prison. He avoids the word “Guantánamo,” he said, as it often stirs more fear than sympathy.”

Omar Khadr

Khadr was arrested when he was 15 years old, and released to Canada in 2012

Mohammad Jawad

Jawad was a teenager when he was arrested in Afghanistan at the site of a grenade explosion.

Guantanamo: A history of detainee writings - I

This is a list of first-hand accounts of Guantanamo detainees, published as columns. Detainees began arriving at Guantanamo Bay sixteen years ago today.

For me it is not easy to suppress the images of Guantánamo. I am haunted by my own memories, the isolation cell, the food and sleep deprivation, the beatings, the daily humiliation and the brutality. And I keep thinking about the men I met while I was in that place.
— Murat Kurnaz,

January 11, 2018

Sharqawi al Hajj: Will I Die at Guantanamo?

Sharqawi Abdu Ali al Hajj is a Yemeni citizen. He has been detained at Guantanamo since 2004.  He is accused of being a facilitator for al Qaeda.

October 13, 2017

Khalid Qassim: I am in Guantánamo Bay. The US government is starving me to death

August 24, 2016

Khalid Qassim: Hunger striking for ‘dignity’ in Guantanamo

Qassim wrote about being on hunger strike. Qassim is a Yemeni citizen born in 1976. He was accused of being an al Qaeda fighter and captured in Afghanistan in 2001. Qassim is yet to be charged.

October 17, 2017

Ahmed Rabbani: I’m a Pakistani inmate and here’s why I am on hunger strike since 2013

Rabbani wrote about being on hunger strike. He is a Pakistani citizen of Rohingya origin. He was accused of being a member of and facilitating al Qaeda in an apparent case of mistaken identity. He is yet to be charged.

January 11, 2016

Sami al-Hajj: Remembering Guantanamo

Sami al-Hajj was a Sudanese journalist working for Al Jazeera when he was detained in Pakistan and transferred to Afghanistan, and then Guantanamo. He was released after eight years, in 2008. He wrote about his detention and imprisonment. 

December 30, 2015

Murat Kurnaz: My friend was released from Guantanamo Bay – only to be locked up again

Kurnaz is a Turkish citizen who was born in Germany in 1982. He was accused of affiliations with the Tablighi Jamaat and al Qaeda. Kurnaz was released in 2006. He wrote about Younus Chekkouri, a Moroccan detainee who was detained by Morocco after his release from Guantanamo.

In 2008, my demand for a fair legal process went all the way to America’s highest court. In a decision that bears my name, the Supreme Court declared that “the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” It ruled that prisoners like me, no matter how serious the accusations, have a right to a day in court. The Supreme Court recognized a basic truth: the government makes mistakes. And the court said that because “the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore.
— Lakhdar Boumedine,

November 12, 2014

Murat Kurnaz: Former Gitmo Detainee: ‘It Is Time to Prosecute Those Responsible for My Torture

July 15, 2014

Emad Hassan: Detainees are human

Hassan is a Yemeni citizen who was detained in a raid on a suspected safe house in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He was released after thirteen years.

December 13, 2013

Shaker Aamer on why Russell Brand is banned from the Guantanamo Reading List

August 2, 2013

Shaker Aamer: Have I Lost Hope at Guantanamo?

Aamer was the last British resident to be released from Guantanamo. He spent thirteen years at Guantanamo. He wrote about his imprisonment at Guantanamo. 

April 14, 2013

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel: Gitmo is Killing Me

He is a Yemeni citizen who was accused of being a guard for OBL. He was released in 2006.

January 18, 2012

Lakhdar BoumedineMy Guantanamo Nightmare

Boumedine spent seven years in Guantanamo. He and other detainees challenged their detention in a landmark habeas corpus case. He wrote about his detention and his life after his release.

May 6, 2011

Moazzam Begg:  A former Guantanamo detainee on the death of Osama bin Laden

Begg was a British detainee held at Guantanamo for over two years.


The post-Guantanamo future

I've been reading through the statements made by personal representatives and private counsel of detainees at Guantanamo during their periodic review boards. In some cases, there are mentions of rehabilitation programs in their home countries. There is also Reprieve's Life After Guantanamo program. In their statements, the representatives and counsel mention what the men they're representing want to do for work after their release. These range from opening a laundromat to running a honey bee farm and opening a pizza place. Here are some excerpts from statements made by the lawyers and representatives in the unclassified documents released in the review process.

Muhammad al Ansi, whose work was displayed at the Art from Guantanamo exhibit, wanted to find a construction job. [Al Ansi has been released]

Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammad Uthman: "He has put a lot of thought into a business plan that can be conducted in any country as everyone loves ice cream."

Omar Muhammad Ali al Rammah: "His goal is to gain the skills and raise the necessary capital to open a cafe. He plans to work part time, while attending university to raise capital. His cafe will offer several types of coffee, a game room and perhaps a hookah bar. This type of venture is very popular in Saudi Arabia, where Zakaria hopes to be sent; however, he feels that this type of establishment would thrive anywhere in the world."

Haroon al Afghani has developed a business plan and wants to run a honey bee farm.  

Saifullah Paracha wants to retire.

Guantanamo: The Shepherd

This description of an Afghan shepherd detained at Guantanamo was in the leaked detainee files in 2011. 

Detainee did not receive any military or extremist training. Detainee and his family are nomadic and follow opportunities to find the best grazing grounds. Detainee was harvesting grain for seven days and was away from his home that entire time. He returned from harvesting grain and went to visit his neighbor for some tea before going home. Shortly after this, he was captured.
During an interview at JTF-GTMO on 13 June 2004, the interpreter stated the detainee, “uses tribal dialect and appears to be very uneducated.” Detainee went on to explain in detail how he shepherded. Explaining that he had 300 goats, five sheep, eight camels and two baby camels and how he migrated to other various areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan for grazing purposes. He also explained how he and his brothers shared and lived in tents as they moved. (Analyst note: This detainee’s knowledge of herding animals, which he readily talks about, and his inability to discuss simple military and political concepts, tend to support the detainee’s contention that he indeed is just a simple shepherd.)

Guantanamo Library: Bollywood, and Bakra Qiston Pe

Last year, the U.S. government released a list of video/film and book titles available at Guantanamo, in response to an FOIA request. The entire list is on GovernmentAttic here. I hadn’t looked at the entire list until now, and I did a double take when I saw Bakra Qiston Pe is available.

Carol Rosenberg’s incredibly invaluable reporting on Guantanamo includes updates on the library: Rosenberg reported that the library added Moana last July. In 2013,  she reported on how censors did not approve a book by Noam Chomsky.

Last month, The Independent reported that Pakistani detainee Saifullah Paracha was refused permission to read a book about non-violence authored by family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks.

There’s also a tumblr of images at books at Guantanamo:

For consumers of South Asian popular culture, here are some of the titles available at Guantanamo:

Bakra Qiston Pe – one of the standouts of Pakistan’s comedy theatre productions, the stage play is a classic, rife with sketches of a Genghis Khan-like character, a lot of Michael Jackson music and moonwalking and references to America, and some bawdy and stereotyped humor.

Fifty Fifty – An Urdu satire/sketch show, probably considered among the best shows produced in Pakistan

Taleem-e-Balighan – A classic Urdu play on school education

Bollywood Zero Hour Mashup – If this is the same mashup I’ve heard at workout studios, it’s not very good.

Something called Shahid vs Ranbir, which is what? A Bollywood face-off?

Desi Boyz (A really, really average Bollywood film)

Veer Zaara – A soppy, sappy film about an Indian man who languishes, forgotten, in a Pakistani prison for years, torn from the woman he loves, and is only saved when a lawyer takes up his case

Dhoom and Dhoom 2 and Dhoom 3

(and Chennai Express.)

Dil Se – a Mani Ratnam film about nationalism, insurgency, and love in India. (This piece by Daisy Rockwell on the film is great.)

Tremors – Every Pakistani saw this film in the 1990s.

In the library, along with works by Murakami, Nietzsche, Marquez, Mahfouz, Rowling are works by Saadat Hasan Manto (written as Minto in the list – one wonders if the letters to Uncle Sam are included?), Mustansar Hussain Tarar, and Khadija Mastoor.