197 reporting from a dark hole
The following is a letter from Younous Chekkouri to Reprieve paralegal Cortney Busch.
You asked me to tell you about myself. This is my story.
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 Guantanamo.
I guess my tragedy starts from that first day when I was kidnapped by bounty hunters. I was so scared. I thought I had only a slim chance of surviving. But you know me, 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!
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. I lost my wife and my brother as well. The funny thing is I was returned 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’ve got used to numbers. In Kandahar [at the US military airbase] I was Mr 189, if I remember rightly. 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.
I suppose that in an odd way it was good news to discover that I wasn’t alone. I realised that I was witnessing a big story, an insane one. When they put me on a plane a guard said to me, “You’re going to hell”. When we got to Gitmo, it turned out that he had not been joking.
I don’t even care if I’m killed. But it’s the way we get treated here that scares me. Before this I had only ever seen men behaving like this in the movies. I used to watch movies about World War I and II and 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.
Younous was doing charity work in Afghanistan when he was rounded up with other Arabs and taken to a prison in Kandahar.
He was sold to US forces for a bounty and then taken to Guantánamo Bay. He was held without charge for 14 years before finally being released to his native Morocco in September 2015.
On arrival he was detained by the Moroccan authorities. Younous was finally freed in February 2016 after being held for almost five months.