Friday, April 8, 2011

Guantanamo Teen Was Tortured, Asked to Spy on Other Detainees

According to information at the Reprieve web site, "Chadian citizen, Mohammed el Gharani was the youngest prisoner in Guantánamo Bay, arrested when he was just 14. In January 2009, a federal judge ordered his release and he was returned to Chad in June 2009." (Reprieve attorneys represented Mr. el-Gharani.) At the time of his release, a Pentagon spokesman gave the Reuters the U.S. mea culpa regarding the teen's incarceration -- they thought he was 16 years old, and not 14 when he was captured and rendered to Guantánamo.

After his release, Gharani told the Miami Herald that after Barack Obama became president, his treatment did not get any better, including being beaten by a rubber baton and tear-gassed. During the years of his detention, he was subjected to solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and suspension from his wrists at least 30 times.

The U.S. government made nonsensical claims about el Gharani's supposed "terrorist status." A Washington Post story by Del Quentin Wilber noted, "The government also accused Gharani of belonging to a London-based al-Qaeda cell in 1998, an accusation that Leon questioned. Gharani was 11 at the time, living with immigrant parents in Saudi Arabia, his attorneys said." According to the article, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered Gharani's release because of the two informants the U.S. based its case on, one's credibility was "directly called into question" by government officials themselves, while the other informant's credibility could not be determined.

[For the record, Farah Stockman, in a July 2006 Boston Globe article, originally broke the story about U.S. charges that Gharani was in London and working for Al Qaeda at age 11.]

In the video below, from an interview with Al Jazeera the month he was released, the former child prisoner -- one of at least a dozen minors held over the years at Guantanamo -- describes his captivity and torture, including the fact that Guantanamo interrogators tried to get him to spy on his fellow prisoners.

Gharani's tale of coerced attempts to make him inform is an all-too-common one, repeated by many if not most of the freed detainees. The program of recruiting informants through torture and mistreatment was part of the overall policy of "exploitation of prisoners," revealed in a recent Truthout exposé by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, which showed that the program "reversed-engineered" by the CIA and the Department of Defense was specifically meant to produce false confessions, propaganda compliance and recruitment of informants, along with whatever intelligence they thought they could get via torture.

Andy Worthington wrote about Mohammed's subsequent fate in an article in December 2009:
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, El-Gharani explained that he relied on “handouts from friends” to support himself. “I’m still not free,” he said. “I have no job. I have a hard time to find somewhere to live.” He added, poignantly, “I’m innocent. I have done nothing to anyone. I should be able go to see my family"....

A week after El-Gharani’s release from Guantánamo, as I reported at the time,
Chris Chang, an investigator with Reprieve, and Ahmed Ghappour, an attorney, returned yesterday from a trip to Chad in which they had hoped to celebrate Mohammed’s freedom, but were “dismayed and disappointed” to discover that he is now a prisoner of the Chadian authorities, “sleeping on a cot in a police station while his family waits anxiously outside.” They added, “Mohammed cannot leave the main police headquarters without authorization from the Head of the Judicial Police, and even after obtaining that permission he is accompanied by a police officer wherever he goes. He has asked on several occasions to be released and reunited with his family but continues to be told, ‘Just another night, Mohammed.’” They also said that there has been no public announcement in Chad regarding his return and that he has been forbidden from speaking to the media.
Perhaps due to pressure from Reprieve, he was then released, and handed over to his uncle, but as the AP reported, without a passport or an identity card, it was impossible for him even to enroll in a class to study English. He was then mugged by a group of armed men who, ironically, thought that he had received “a multi-million dollar settlement as compensation for his imprisonment.”
Here is a PDF link to Judge Leon's unclassified opinion. And here is a short January 2010 video of Mohammed el Gharani thanking those who supported him. I could find no updates on his situation from the time of this last video to today. Another former victim of U.S. torture, a child kidnapped and sold to the Americans to be exploited for propaganda and intelligence purposes, drifts off into the misty haziness of neglect and forgetfulness that obscures the truths of our time, courtesy of a President and Congress insistent on burying U.S. crimes as deeply out of public consciousness as possible.

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