Younous Chekkouri: Letter from Guantanamo Bay
For more than 11 years, Younous Chekkouri has been behind bars.
The 45-year-old Moroccan national was cleared for release in 2010 but so-far there are no signs that he will be able to leave Guantanamo Bay anytime soon.
He is one of more than 100 detainees who are on hunger strike, and he says his protest is being met with brutality.
In a letter obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera, from Reprieve, the group representing him, Chekkouri accused the United States military guards of sexually assaulting him.
And he says he is not the only one experiencing such abuse.
Read his letter to Reprieve below:
|Letter from Guantanamo Bay|
Greetings to you and everyone at Reprieve. Today is Sunday, May 12. You have just left Guantanamo, and I’m afraid it’s made me feel rather depressed and alone again, so I decided to take up my pen as a way of sharing some time with you.
Things here are getting worse. The ‘searches’, as they like to call them, are spreading fear and shame throughout the blocks – I felt this way myself after they ‘searched’ me the last time, when I spoke to my wife on a video call. I worry daily that I will die in here and never see her again, and that she will have no support after I pass. The calls are agony for both of us, but they are all we have.
My mind keeps racing back what they insisted I go through to speak to her. (It is the same, now, for calls or visits to lawyers.) What the point of the ‘search’ was, I don’t understand. As you saw, I’ve lost a great deal of weight, and felt weak, dizzy and confused. I have virtually nothing in my cell I could hide (and what would be the point?), and I try my best to get along with everyone here. Yet not only was I shackled hands, legs, and stomach to go to the call, but eight guards with the watch commander surrounded me in a room, while two of them put their hands all over me - my thighs, my privates, everything. How one is meant to speak to one’s wife after this and pretend everything is fine, I don’t know.
As it happened, we could hardly understand one another because the line was so poor - the video crackled and she could not hear me. I could just hear her cry to the ICRC: “I want to see him – I haven’t seen him in three months and I can’t hear anything, can’t you help?” Perhaps if my voice raised it would reach her, I thought, so I started to shout greetings and calming words. Technical problems like this are not mere irritants; because Gitmo allows calls once every few months, if the call fails, it may be months more before I see my wife again.
Why are they doing this? All of us want to know. Things are like this daily. We had peace in the early years of Obama – a bitter peace without freedom, but still peace. All that is gone. The system is as it was under George Bush. Normally I try to look to the future, try to forget the dark days of Gitmo and imagine the moment I might touch earth, see trees, hold my wife. But today, after all this, I wished for a heart attack to end my pain.
Younous Chekkouri, prisoner at Guantanamo Bay
After a time they resolved whatever it was, and she saw me for the first time since I have been striking. Truth is banned, and a lie unfair. So I just sat there, feeling every one of the miles between us. She wept. Of course I then did, too, wanting desperately to go somewhere peaceful, to hide from her, because I cannot bear to see her like this. But I could never hurt her by hanging up early. We tried a few more halting exchanges, the authorities ended the call.
After this heartbreak, they make you run the gauntlet to get back to your cell. First comes the ‘search’ in the camp where the call is - another gratuitous ‘massage’ to the thighs and crotch. Then they bundle you into a van so short neither you or your guards can sit up.
Finally, in Camp 6, comes the worst. I found a band waiting for me. Their faces said everything. I was forced to put my face to a wall, with all of them behind me. I tried to reason with the watch commander, but he ordered me to shut my mouth. First one guard repeated the ‘search’, as before. Then a man put his finger in my behind. Then another guard started repeating the whole process, groping me, moving to assault me again, and I cried out: ‘This is not a search, this is humiliation!’ They laughed, saying it was ‘SOP’ (standard operating procedure).
This cannot be ‘SOP’. It is sadism and sex abuse, pure and simple. Some of the men who did this to me I liked and respected. I don’t dare look in their faces now.
The next day was a dark day. In the morning I refused to go to ‘rec’ or to shower because I feared another so-called ‘SOP’ abuse. But here is the dilemma: we have to be clean for prayer, but to ‘shower’ in the sink means exposing ourselves to the cameras. It’s also cold water, and they have been running the air conditioning very, very low since the strike started. But I decided to do it anyway. I shivered, but I prayed, and for a moment I felt some peace.
Later that morning I heard yelling, and found that guards had come to demand two detainees give up their long-sleeved thermal T-shirts. Again, the guards who come to confiscate a man’s T-shirt chant ‘SOP’, but the real reason is to make striking man suffer more than they already are. The camp administration are without mercy; they will do anything to try to break this strike.
The sex assault in the ‘search’ hasn’t just happened to me; I heard the man from Kenya, Abdulmalik, cry out as he came back to the block that the guards had searched his behind too. Why are they doing this? All of us want to know.
Things are like this daily. We had peace in the early years of Obama – a bitter peace without freedom, but still peace. All that is gone. The system is as it was under George Bush. Normally I try to look to the future, try to forget the dark days of Gitmo and imagine the moment I might touch earth, see trees, hold my wife. But today, after all this, I wished for a heart attack to end my pain.
Enough; it grows dark and I must try to rest. Thanks to all of you at Reprieve, and everyone else who is challenging this injustice and calling for freedom, fraternity in love. I hope to be able to thank you myself someday, if I survive this.
Al Jazeera received this statement from the Pentagon:
“We will not be discussing this matter in the press because it is currently in active litigation and we will have nothing to add until it is decided in court. Generally speaking, however, I can tell you that those entrusted with safeguarding the detainees at JTF Guantanamo Bay are some of the most professional, most heavily scrutinized guards on the planet and absurd accusations simply do not withstand intellectual rigor.”
- Lieutenant Colonial Todd Breasseale