London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Mohammed al Gharani, born in Medina, Saudi Arabia, and currently held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, dreamt of one day becoming a doctor but could never have imagined that a fortuitous encounter would propelled him into the legal limbo he now finds himself in.
In a letter to his British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, which Asharq al Awsat has obtained a copy of; the Chadian citizen revealed that he started working aged 9, when he was still living with his family in Medina. Mohammed met a Pakistani boy during the Hajj season, who advised him to travel to Pakistan and learn how to use computers; aged only 15, he was working more than 10 hours a day and was attracted to the promises of riches to come. “I used to dream of becoming a doctor, and specializing in pediatrics, but fate decided otherwise. My Pakistani friend made it all sound like a dream. I was convinced I would learn how to fix computers in 5 months and return to Saudi Arabia where I would start my own business. I thought my friend had a big heart…”
Working in the Souk of Medina, Mohammed said he was drawn to a computer shop which, he noted, was not offering customers any after-sales service or repairs. He thought about being “in a room with air conditioning, fixing computers and drinking coffee, instead of sweating in the noonday sun.” His mind was set. He counted all the money he had in the world, 7000 SR, obtained a passport, bought a ticket and left to Pakistan in September 2001.
When asked by a US interrogator in Guantanamo Bay about why he chose to go to Pakistan after the September 11 attacks, and not Egypt or Syria or Sudan, for example, Mohammed replied, “Simply, because my Pakistani friend advised me to go there. If he had been Egyptian and told me, “Go to Egypt ”, I would have ended up in Egypt . This was the only reason I went to Pakistan .”
His timing could not have been worse. Within days, he was seized by the Pakistani authorities, whilst praying in a mosque in Karachi . Mohammed recalls that day, 21 October 2001 , very clearly. “The army arrived and surrounded the building. They told us not to move and not to resist. They were speaking in Arabic. We went out. They took us to prison where we were interrogated and tortured.”
Mohammed was hung by his wrists in a Karachi prison, so high that the tips of his toes were only just touching the ground. A bag was placed over his head. He was naked, save for his shorts. He was forced to stay in the same position for ten to 16 hours a day. If he moved he would be hit with a metal rod. This went on for 20 days and the beatings seemed to be random.
In prison, Mohammed discovered he would be sold to the US authorities for $5000. “This kind Pakistani sergeant who spoke Arabic told me. One night, he came with a camera. He wanted my photo. He wanted to tell the world about my story and tell my family.”
He was handed over to the Americans towards the end of November 2001, when he was just 15. “The first word I learned in English was ‘nigger’. They kept calling me that and I didn’t know what it meant. [Other detainees] would not tell me. Finally, one said it was an ugly word about me being black.” The Americans took Mohammed to Kandahar . It was the first time he’d been to Afghanistan .
Mohammed’s suffering was compounded as he was lost in translation on more than one occasion during his interrogation. One Yemeni translator mistakenly reported that he was an al Qaeda financier. Another Egyptian translator stubbed his cigarette in the young man’s arm and hit him with a sharp object.
In detention, Mohammed wrote his first poem about his ordeal in Pakistan and how he was flown to Cuba .
Be careful, my brother, when in Pakistan :
They understand money – the price of a man.
I came here to study, I learned just deceit:
The Mosque was a war zone, surrounded. Police
Were shouting for silence: “Hands up!
Come in peace!”
They took us by truckloads, thrown, bound hand and feet;
Then marched us eight hours, then eight hours more —
We cried for relief, but we suffered, footsore.
They kicked us, they beat us, they told us – their guests —
They’d sell us for money, and Yankees paid best.
We’re slaves of our century, the slave ship a plane
To humiliation, abuse and disdain.
Respect was abandoned, the Holy Quran
Downtrodden there with us.
Their madness, a plan
To torture us, beat us, encouraged by drink —
Send priests with their crosses to save us, they think.
They take us to Cuba , pursue without qualm
Crusades of injustice, their war on Islam.
Conditions in Guantanamo Bay are very bad, the young Chadian told his lawyer. He has been bitten twice by poisonous spiders and received no medical care. For over a year, Mohammed has been held in an isolation cell in Camp V. The lights are on 24hours a day and al Gharani’s eyes hurt very badly. He is locked for 24 hours a day only gets out once a week for recreation and a shower. “I am in a cell 24 hours a day. The cell measures 2mx4m. I do not have any books, any newspapers or magazines, not even TV. The only belongings in my cell are a blanket, a prayer mat and the Quran. I recite the Quran daily between breakfast and lunch.”
Guards have taken away his toothbrush and toothpaste as punishment. As a result, Mohammed suffers from bad dental problems for someone his age. When he asked to see a doctor because of a sharp pain in his tooth, the American interpreter of Hispanic origin, who had just learned Arabic, misunderstood his request. Instead of having his tooth filled, Mohammed’s tooth was removed.
“Every morning I wake up at 6 am . I get up and pray. Then, I wait for breakfast to be served. Breakfast consists of eggs which seem, to have been cooked in a strange way. There is also harissa without sugar. I sometimes find mosquitoes in my [cup! Lunch consists of food not fit for an animal. The same can be said of dinner. I only eat because I need to survive.”
Mohammed revealed that his worst experience whilst in US custody occurred when he was transferred to Camp V during the night. “I was very sad. On the first day, I was taken to Reservation. The interrogator explained why I was in Camp V : “We made this camp for people who would be here forever. You will be here all your life. Maybe one day my son will come to see you as you get old. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you alive so you can suffer more.”
Without any contact from his family in Saudi Arabia and after four years in detention, with no hope of a fair trial and no knowledge if or when he will be released, Mohammed has become very depressed and tried to commit suicide twice this year. A request by his lawyer to meet with his client was never answered by the US authorities.