Guantanamo Kid is the powerful tale of a Chadian boy caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare of injustice and mistreatment at the hands of the United States in Guantanamo. Tubiana has recorded the experience of Mohammed El-Gharani, a fourteen year old at the time of his arrest, his appalling incarceration and extraordinary courage. Gharani, an innocent boy, was robbed of eight years of his early life by the blind desire of America for revenge in the wake of the awful events of 9/11. The legitimate desire to obtain justice for the victims of this appalling terrorist attack got waylaid and subverted and Gharani fell victim to this.
This graphic memoir/biography seems to me to be a great way for young people to hear a story that is relevant to their world. It personalises a debate that is often in the news/press. I know that sounds a bit preachy but I get the sense from reading Guantanamo Kid that it would be an eye opener for young adults. What Mohammed suffered was being done in their name, it was done to a young boy – who knows a teenager/young adult just like them. The book has received the endorsement of Amnesty International, which helps to authenticate this story of Gharani’s experience (one accepted in a US court). Turaina is telling a story we all need to hear.
The strength of Tubiana’s book is the calm and measured tone he uses. The horror of the imprisonment and torture of a teenager is all the more powerful because it is unembellished and simply told. This is an important story, one that gives an insight into the Guantanamo regime, the relationship with the guards, interrogators, fake lawyers and between the prisoners themselves (no doubt many of the men incarcerated were al-Qaeda). However, the years stolen from Gharani are the ones he should have been getting the education to equip himself for life.
Guantanamo is now in its eighteenth year and Trump’s has reversed some of Obama’s reforms. Nobody said democracy was easy, that’s why the reaction to terrorism should always be measured, legal and properly targeted. The people we accuse and imprison should have a right to fair treatment under the law and we should have a special concern for children who come under our care, Guantanamo failed Gharani.
Mohammed El-Gharani was a street trader in Medina, working with his friend Ali, selling water to passing cars, saving money for his education. His family had come from Chad to Saudi Arabia to earn a living, but as a ‘foreigner’ Gharani was not entitled to free schooling. He started private school at eight but, from ten years old, had to work because his father fell ill. At fourteen he dreamed of being a dentist but accepted Ali’s invitation to study computers in Pakistan. His family disapproved and, as he needed to be an adult to travel, they were confident nothing would come of this pipe dream. However, a corrupt official at the Chad consulate faked Gharani’s passport. He was suddenly eighteen with a new name. The Saudi authorities granted his visa. In Pakistan he learned English and computers, but then 9/11 happened. One day he was arrested outside the mosque as a ‘foreigner’, a Saudi. Gharani was jailed, beaten and questioned about Bin Laden. He was tortured and handed over to the Americans. He was still only fourteen when he arrives in camp X-ray and then moved to camp Delta. He was poorly fed, psychologically and physically abused and force fed. The nightmare lasted for nearly a decade.
After his release Gharani met with Tubiana to tell his story. In an extensive postscript/essay Tubiana goes into detail about Gharani’s life outside again, a man always under suspicion. To say the least, his life has never been plain sailing. Guantanamo Kid is a story of brutality but also defiance, survival and fortitude. The way Mohammed El-Gharani stands up for his rights is inspiring, in the end with the help of Clive Stafford Smith and Reprieve.
Tubiana’s account of Gharani’s fight for freedom demonstrates how American policy and practice was deeply flawed, backed by other Western nations (not least Britain). Poor intelligence led to Gharani’s detention on Cuba, but once there, there was no process for correcting the error. If ever a thing was designed to support the propaganda of al-Qaeda, ISIL etc, this sadly is it. The dignity of Gharani is inspiring. Tubiana’s storytelling is moving and the art work by Alexandre Franc, simple black and white images, sometimes little more than line drawings, compliments the material very well.
Paul Burke 4/4
Guantanamo Kid by Jerome Tubiana and Alexandre Franc
SelfMadeHero 9781910593660 pbk Mar 2019