The following is reposted with permission from Andy Worthington’s blog. They represent notes from an attorney for the UK charity Reprieve, taken while on the telephone approximately three weeks ago with Younus Abdurrahman Chekhouri, a Moroccan detainee held without charges at Guantanamo since 2002.
In a previous article, Worthington described Chekhouri’s background:
Chekhouri is accused of being a founder member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (or GICM, the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain), who had a training camp near Kabul, but he has always maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, with his Algerian wife, after six years in Pakistan, where he had first traveled in search of work and education, and has stated that they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants, and had no involvement whatsoever in the country’s conflicts. He has also repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history, and he has also expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.”
Chekhouri has with 84 others been cleared for release from Guantanamo, yet he remains incarcerated indefinitely due to current U.S. policy that appears stuck on maintaining the status quo at the U.S. military prison, which has long been associated with abuse and torture of prisoners. A hunger strike against conditions at the camp has been going on for months now, with over 100 of the 166 detainees participating, and dozens being force-fed. The force-feeding continues even though the AMA and world medical associations condemn this action as unethical.
Indeed, the World Medical Association states, “Forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable. Even if intended to benefit, feeding accompanied by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints is a form of inhuman and degrading treatment. Equally unacceptable is the forced feeding of some detainees in order to intimidate or coerce other hunger strikers to stop fasting.”
In his phone call with the Reprieve attorney, Chekhouri describes what happened on April 13 when Guantanamo guards raided the prison’s Camp 6, where many prisoners had been living communally, to force them into isolation cells as punishment for the hunger strike. Guantanamo authorities have said they had to do this because of acts of resistance from prisoners, such as covering up the omnipresent video cameras. Pentagon officials stated there were “clashes” with prisoners.
The following notes present a voice from within Guantanamo itself, so that the world can hear what is happening. Meanwhile, Andy Worthington reminds us, “If you have not done so, please also sign and share the petition to President Obama on Change.org, launched by Col. Morris Davis, which has secured over 185,000 signatures in just over a week!”
Notes from a phone call with Younus Chekhouri, April 18, 2013
“What has happened here now is real nightmare. Nobody dreamed that what has happened would happen. After our peaceful demonstration, on Sunday morning the guards came in with guns. They used shotguns and three people were injured. Used gun with small bullets.”
“The guards came in, closed all of our cells, [removed us from our cells and] told us to get on the ground. We lay there on our belly for three hours or more. They took everything. Cells empty, nothing left. They moved us into another empty block and after a while they gave us blanket and that is all. They said it’s punishment.”
“History repeats itself, like it was seven years ago. [All we can have now are] blankets and clothes [on our backs]. [The cell I am in now] is really cold.”
Younus said he is now in pain as a result of having to sleep on the concrete floor: “Pain starts immediately when I’m on the floor. Pain in my neck, pain in my chest. No pillow. Punishment for everybody. Punishment because we hide cameras in cell and so this is what happened. They took everything, left cell empty.”
Younus is still not eating. He has Ensure and Metamucil but that is it. He said others who are worse off than him are getting nothing at all.
When asked to give a chronology of how things happened on Sunday, Younus said: “I was sleeping on Sunday. At almost 5am guards came in with shotguns. There was no confrontation that prompted it. When I woke up I heard them using guns on the detainees in the block next door. The detainees didn’t have anything. The guards used force to control some of the detainees, to force them out of the cells. Used tear gas [as well]. 5-6 ERF team would come in and throw detainees to the floor.” [Note: ERF is a reference to the Extreme Reaction Force, an armoured five-man team responsible for punishing infringements of the rules -- or perceived infringements of the rules].
“[For hours on Sunday morning the detainees were forced to lay on their stomachs]. We had no right to move, no right to go to the bathroom.”
They shackled detainees’ hands and feet and moved them into individual isolation cells. “Finally at night they gave blankets. It was very cold in the empty cells.”
In terms of the number of guards that “invaded” the block: “More than 50 came in on my block and there were only 13 detainees on my block. Nobody [no detainees] thought to fight. What do we have to fight with? [Plus] we were outnumbered. Guards were scary, they were ready to use guns, use force. It was very scary.”
More about how Younus was awoken on Sunday: “Sunday I was sleeping. I heard people yelling outside, so I came outside of cell. Then I saw guards closing outside doors and the guards with guns. They used tear gas to keep detainees away. Heard sound of gun next door. Said three were injured: one on belly, one on hand, one on body. They were taken to hospital. Not sure how they are doing. Everyone is traumatized by what happened.”
“To be treated this way after 11 years is not right. They are using the same rules as first day of opening Gitmo.”
“Water now is privilege. There is no right to have water and they tell you that they can cut it at any time. I suffer all day. We don’t know when this will end. They said this is just the beginning. We were calling for things to get better, but things are worse.”
Younus is still in Camp 6, but in isolation.
“Nightmare has started again. I feel distress, anxiety, disease, anger. In the future no one knows what could happen, what to expect now that this has happened. Camp 6 now isolation. Everyone in his cell. Only 2 detainees can have rec at a time. Same rules as when Camp 6 was opened for first time in 2007. It’s like we are starting again from the beginning, like a game.”
Younus would like to “thank everyone who can save me from this hell. I have German connection. I would be grateful for them to help me be free. I am in a helpless place, I have lost hope in the democracy of the United States. I thought my torture had ended, but what is happening now is horrible. I feel like a slave in Gitmo. Thank anyone who can do anything to help people in Gitmo. I really need your help. My wish is that nice people around the world can help.”
On conditions now in camp 6: Younus is sleeping on “concrete, hard floor, very cold. Knees, head, body hurts. No pillows, hard to sleep. My shoes are my pillows. Pains in back. Cannot move, cannot pray, cannot get to toilet because I am in pain.”
“My dream is one day I will leave this place.” Younus seemed very anxious because of what happened Sunday and said that he’s “afraid that I will be punished and they will take everything I have now.” A blanket is all he has.
They have gone “back to 2002-2003.” Younus believes they did this so that detainees would “stop complaining or requesting things to be better.” He said they said: “You have no right to ask for your release and better treatment.”
Younus knew they were using the detainees blocking the cameras as a so-called justification for the raid because “when they invaded the block, they told us get on floor, lay on belly, don’t cover camera. Now using old rules, start practicing old rules. When you ask why, they say it’s because people were hiding cameras. They say they don’t know when things will get better.”
“No one [guards] will give answers why this [Sunday’s raid and loss of everything] has happened. Will it stay forever, or short time? No one says anything, just that this is punishment for hiding cameras. No way to negotiate now, we just have to obey.”
“People are old, sick and they cannot deal with this.” He said in many ways it’s worse now than when these same tactics were used 11 years ago because the men have aged and have been through hell in Gitmo all these years. “Unfair that they are back to treating us like animals.”
Younus has “now lost 35 lbs. Going down. Taking Ensure but weight is still going down.” He will continue to take Ensure himself because he “doesn’t want tubes in nose.”
Again, before the call ended, Younus wanted to “please say thank you to everyone out there.”