Chadian national: Mohammed el Gharani
They did not ask me my age until
I had been in Cuba for a year."
Mohammed el Gharani, a Chadian national born and brought up in Saudi Arabia,
decided to move abroad because he faced discrimination as a non-national of
African origin and felt his prospects of economic or educational advancement
He went to Pakistan, shortly before the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA
reportedly to study English and gain IT skills. In order to get a passport
that would allow him to travel unaccompanied, he needed to be over 18, so he
lied about his age.
In October 2001, when he was 15 years old, Mohamed was praying in a mosque
in Karachi when it was raided by Pakistani police. So began years of
incarceration as a result of the US-led "war on terror". Mohamed ended up in
Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, where he remains to this day. His body is
apparently covered in scars caused by the torture and beatings he has
suffered. His teeth are said to be falling out because of neglect, and his
tongue is apparently cracked as a result of dehydration. The psychological
harm his ordeal has caused is harder to gauge.
After his arrest Mohamed was taken to a prison in Pakistan where he alleges:
He was hung by his wrists, naked apart from his shorts, with his feet barely
touching the floor. If he moved his interrogators beat him. This continued
for up to 16 hours a day for three weeks.
He was blindfolded for this entire period, apart from three to five minutes
each day when he ate.
He was forced to drink lots of water before his interrogators tied his penis
with string so that he could not urinate.
When his Pakistani captors told him that he would be transferred to US
custody, Mohamed was overjoyed. He told his lawyer he thought that the USA
was "all about democracy, and they were a fair and good people" and that his
torture would end.
Mohamed's optimism was rapidly shattered. He says that when he was handed
over to US custody, he was put in blue overalls, hooded, shackled, beaten
and threatened with death. He was taken by helicopter to Kandahar,
Afghanistan, where he alleges:
He was stripped naked and repeatedly beaten.
He was doused in freezing water and left exposed to the elements for three
or four nights.
A guard held his penis with a pair of scissors and told him he would cut it
He was repeatedly called "nigger" by US soldiers, a term of racist abuse he
had never heard before.
In January 2002, Mohamed was one of the first "enemy combatants" to be
transferred to Guantánamo Bay. Sedated, shackled and hooded for the flight,
he was allegedly beaten severely on arrival and threatened with torture that
"would be worse than anything he had been through in Pakistan". He says he
has been subjected to constant racial abuse at Guantánamo Bay. He also
He was hung from hooks, with his feet not touching the ground, and then
beaten. This happened around 30 times, for up to eight hours each time.
He was placed in extremely cold rooms and subjected to loud music.
He was moved between cells every 20 minutes so that he could not sleep.
He was burned with a cigarette during an interrogation.
He was forced to look at pornographic images.
On one occasion when guards were removing him from his cell, he was
assaulted with particular brutality. He was pepper-sprayed and guards in
full riot gear slammed his head into the floor causing him to lose a tooth.
"We made this camp for people who would be here forever. You should never
think about going home. You’ll be here all your life… Don’t worry. We’ll
keep you alive so you can suffer more."
A US interrogator speaking to Mohamed in Camp V.
Contrary to claims that juveniles in Guantánamo Bay have been held in
conditions befitting their age, Mohamed has been held for over a year in
Camp V, which is modelled on the harsh "super-maximum" security prisons on
the US mainland. Mohamed is kept in a concrete isolation cell, in solitary
confinement, for up to 24 hours a day. He is supposed to be allowed to
exercise for an hour three times a week, but once a week or even once a
fortnight is the norm. There is 24-hour lighting. Large, loud fans designed
to prevent detainees from communicating between cells are kept on all the
"Before I came to Camp V,
I had hope. After this I lost all hope."
Children in Guantánamo Bay
"Look, I'm only 16, I need to do school."
Mohammed el Gharani. to a
In April 2003, the US authorities revealed that children as young as 13 were
among those held at Guantánamo Bay. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff in 2003 stated: "Despite their age these are very, very dangerous
people… they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little league team
anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team".
In 2004, the Department of Defense announced that it had released three
juveniles from Guantánamo and said that "every effort" had been made to
provide for the "special physical and emotional care" of juveniles held at
Guantánamo. It stated that juveniles were held in a separate detention camp,
Camp Iguana, that they were taught English and mathematics, could exercise
daily and were even taken on trips to the beach.
The Pentagon says that five juveniles have been released and that no others
are held at Guantánamo. The Pentagon has defined child detainees as those
aged under 16, contrary to international standards.
Mohammed el Gharani is not the only juvenile held at Guantánamo Bay. At
least four and possibly nine of the current Guantánamo detainees were under
18 when detained. Some of them were as young as 13.
In addition to the allegations of torture, there have also been reports of
attempted suicide by juvenile detainees. Their stories belie the rosy
picture painted by the US administration.
The detention, interrogation and alleged torture of unrepresented children
at Guantánamo Bay contravene international laws that apply to both adults
and children, as well as the special standards developed by the
international community to protect children.
Over a year has passed since the June 2004 US Supreme Court ruling, in Rasul
v Bush, that the federal courts had jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus
petitions from foreign nationals detained at Guantánamo Bay. Yet none of the
detainees still held there has had the lawfulness of his detention
judicially reviewed. Instead, the administration set up Combatant Status
Review Tribunals to determine if each detainee was an "enemy combatant". For
this process, the detainee had no access to secret evidence used against him
or to legal counsel. Meanwhile, the tribunals were allowed to draw on
evidence extracted under torture or other ill-treatment.
Mohammed el Gharani remembers very little of his tribunal hearing. He was
charged with entering Pakistan with a false passport, which was true. He was
also accused of being in Tora Bora, an area of Afghanistan believed to be an
al-Qa’ida hideout. To this charge he answered, "Where’s Tora Bora?" The
tribunal found that Mohamed had been properly designated as an "enemy
After the June 2004 ruling, lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees filed
habeas corpus petitions with the US District Court in Washington DC. The
first judge on the DC District Court to interpret the Rasul v Bush decision,
Judge Richard Leon, ruled in favour of the executive authority of the US
President during wartime, and said that the Guantánamo detainees had no
right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.
Two weeks later, Federal District Judge Joyce Hens Green gave a different
opinion. She rejected the government’s argument that the detainees have no
substantive rights, and said that the detainees had the US constitutional
right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law. The
government is seeking to have a higher court, the US Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia Circuit, resolve the difference of opinion in its
favour. Meanwhile, the legal limbo of the detainees continues, with none
having had the lawfulness of his detention judicially reviewed.
Whatever the Court of Appeals decides, the case is likely to be sent for appeal to the US Supreme Court. This would keep the detainees in their legal limbo and leave the lawfulness of their detention unreviewed by the courts.