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behind the bars: guantanamo bay

Younous Chekkouri: My Road to Guantánamo

I guess my tragedy starts from that first day when I was captured by bounty hunters.
November 13, 2014, 12:00pm

Hi! I'm not an alien. My name is 197. I'm serious. I have a name, but sometimes I almost forget it. No one here calls me by my name, because my world is Gitmo.

I guess my tragedy starts from that first day when I was captured by bounty hunters. I was so, so scared. I thought I had only a slim chance of surviving. But I also thought, maybe this is just a bad dream, like you see in Hollywood movies. Movies don't last long. I thought it would all be over in a couple of days or months or maybe even years, but a decade? No way. There are no montages in life. A decade doesn't flash by in a rush of images and music. You live every single second.

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When they handed me over to the American soldiers at the airbase I thought they looked like ninjas, and I was frightened. They dragged me around like a sack of potatoes. Then they shipped me off in a cargo plane like a parcel. I had been working for a charity in Afghanistan. When war broke out, I fled to Pakistan. The funny thing is that I was returned back to Afghanistan by US airplanes. On the cargo plane I found they had stuck a number on my chest. It felt mad then, but now I have gotten used to numbers. In Kandahar, at the US military airbase, I was Mr. 189, if I'm not mistaken. I can't describe my days in that camp without crying. It hurts so much to live and have memories that you want to bury forever.

When they put me on a plane a guard said to me: "You're going to hell." And when we got to Gitmo I realized that he hadn't been joking. Recently, I watched Amazing Grace, about William Wilberforce, the English lawyer who campaigned for the ending of the slave trade. These kinds of slaves still exist in Gitmo, and there is no end to our suffering, just as there was no end to their suffering.

When I was first brought here, I thought that soon the world's superpower would work out that I wasn't the bad guy they were looking for. During all this time, the thing that breaks my heart the most is the thought that I will never see my wife, Abla, again. I tell my wife I don't care that she gets older and everything changes, I just want her heart to stay the same. I need her, and it gives me hope that she feels the same way about me.

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I have been waiting years in this place to be repatriated, but I can't be because it's too dangerous for me to go back to Morocco. I grew up in Safi. It's a town by the sea, in the west. I have been waiting for another country to offer me asylum. "Soon" in Gitmo is nothing, you know.

One of the last films I saw is called The Green Mile. I liked this film a lot! When I saw it, I loved it and I felt myself in the place of the prisoners. I understood them. Sometimes I see myself as having been dead all this time, and when I get a call from family or my lawyers, it's like they have a date with a corpse, but it makes me so happy. These calls make me come back to life, if only for an hour or so. It's like some people have not forgotten that I am a human being.

Before I was in Gitmo, I had only ever seen men behaving the way they do here in the movies. I used to watch films about World War I and II. I used to watch films about the Vietnam War. I would see American POWs in the hands of the guerrillas, and I always sided with those prisoners. I cried for them, and when, at the end of the movie, I got to see them go home and be with their loved ones again, I was happy.

I hope that there is a happy ending to my movie, too.

This is 197 reporting from a dark hole.

About Younous Chekkouri:

Younous hopes to be resettled to Germany, where his aunt and uncle live.