On September 2001, in a cafe in London, Ahmed Errachidi watched as the twin towers collapsed. He was appalled by the loss of innocent life. But he couldn’t possibly have predicted how much of his own life he too would lose because of that day.
Ahmed Errachidi originates from Tangier and has spent the last 15 years as a cook in London. Upon hearing his son Imran is sick, he decided to go to Pakistan to find his way to buy silverware and use his cooking skills for the refugee.
In a series of terrible events that follows, Ahmed was sold by the Pakistanis to the Americans in the diplomatic lounge at Islamabad airport and spent five and a half years in Guantánamo. There, he as beaten, tortured, humiliated, very nearly destroyed.
I agree with Tim Adam‘s review in Guardian that first part of Errachidi’s account of his personal decision to go to Pakistan and then Afghanistan appears dubious. He said he want to go to Pakistan to buy some silverware. Next he said he wanted to go to Afghanistan to help feed the refugees. I scrutinised Errachidi’s narration again and wonder why he chose to use the most dangerous crossing at Torkham to get into Afghanistan when the route is blocked by the Pakistani police. After being stopped in his European clothes, he tried again to cross the border in his Pakistani clothes. Errachidi didn’t cross on his own but was packed together in a truck load of Muslims of different nationalities: Arabs, Azerbaijanis and Turks. What are they doing travelling in a group? And why would he smart enough to suspect then the Pakistani would sold them out, unless he was ridden with a guilty conscience and instructed his fellow travellers to jump off the truck when they are about to stop at the next checkpoint?
Errachidi American captors most likely want him to fill in the gaps as to what he is doing there in Afghanistan in the first place. Despite mysteries that shrouded his intention, it doesn’t justify the atrocities that happened to him in Guantanamo Bay prison next.
The following chapters were full of prison guards tactics to break and abuse the prisoners. Besides beating and torture in cold chambers for 8 hours without clothes, being gassed with a chemical gas that cause vomiting and tearing, being bombarded by noise that could break the eardrums; the guards also use underhand tactics to humiliate the dignity of prisoners, but stripping them naked, being groped and seduced by shameless female soldiers; but also deprive the prisoners of water for ablution for prayers.
But Ahmed did not give in. This very ordinary, Moroccan-born London chef became a leader of men, by virtue that he could speak English. Ahmed garnered the support of his inmate friends and stage mass protest. For example, distracting and dispersing ERF (the Emergency Reaction Force) resources by creating havoc in all camps or give up the Koran for safekeeping in a prison library so that the guards can find no means of demeaning the Koran etc. Both physical and psychological war was waged between the prisoners and the guards. The more Ahmed staged his protest the more he was punished. He had spent as long as 7 months in a dark solitary confinement, a camp called “Echo”. His perseverance and sufferance earned him the nickname “The General”. He persevered until it bore fruits; the authority is willing to offer to give in to Errachidi’s requests if he persuaded his friends to back down. A small victory but nevertheless a victory.
It was hard to digest the series of abuse Errachidi and his fellow inmates have to endure, at one point I thought this treatment is not going to end. As you don’t already know, the prisoners do not have a definite date nor sentence. Murderers and criminals have a term and sentence judged upon them, but the Guantanamo prisoners could be held indefinitely.
I do not think anyone who had gone through that ordeal is fit enough to go back to the society and live a normal life. It shows up in Errachidi’s narration that at some points he admitted to knowing Osama Bin Laden or said things that the guards want to hear under duress, that he was losing his mind and going down the road of a mental breakdown. Through a deepening faith, Errachidi filled his days by memorising half of the Koran, let his mind take flight and remember all his country’s beautiful landscape and protecting the ants that seems to persevere in the face of hardship.
His case was eventually moved forward by lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, and his Reprieve organisation, who presented evidence that backed up Errachidi’s innocent employment history in London at the time he was alleged to have been in an Al-Qaeda training camp. So he was sent back home to Morocco to reunite with his family after 5.5 years.
This book is a memoir and an important one. It is appalling to read about a modern day gulag still in operation. US President Barack Obama is heckled during a counter-terrorism speech in Washington on Thursday by a protester demanding he close Guantánamo. Out of 166 men kept in Guantánamo, 86 have been cleared to leave, but US officials have cited security concerns in effectively suspending any releases. The US president cannot close Guantanamo without support from Congress.
The book gives you a first-hand experience of what it is like inside Guantanamo. Shocking, surreal and brutal, the story needs to be told and I suspect more stories will be told in the future.
Hardback. Publisher: Chatto and Windus 2012 Printed Length: 168 pages; Setting: Guantanamo Bay.Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 24 May 2013, Friday.
For Guardian review about the book see here.
For Ahmed Errachidi’s case read this at the Reprieve website.
Ahmed Rashidi (also known as Ahmed Errachidi) is a citizen of Morocco who was held in extrajudicial detention in the United States Guantanamo Bay detainment camps, in Cuba. Rashidi’s Guantanamo ISN was 590. The Department of Defense reports that he was born on March 16, 1966, in Tangiers, Morocco.
Rashidi’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, wrote an article in The Guardian on June 14, 2006, commenting on the American reaction to the three Guantanamo detainees who committed suicide on June 10, 2006. Smith comments focussed on what he characterized as the camp authority’s leaders plans to prevent future suicides by increasing their brutality. In particular he commented on Colonel Michael Bumgarner’s announcement that he would send a five-man riot squad in to conduct a Forcible Cell Entry to forcibly strip Rashidi of his brown coveralls.
The book was co-written by Gillian Slovo, the South African writer and film-maker.