Tortured in Guantánamo: Mohammed El Gharani, a son of Chad

August 28, 2008

Image of hands on a fence

Seized in Pakistan at the age of 14, Mohammed El Gharani is one of Guantánamo’s forgotten prisoners, but this need not be the case. The example of Sudan, which has secured the return from the prison of four Sudanese nationals in the last nine months demonstrates what can be achieved through persistent diplomatic pressure on the United States.

Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent Mohammed, has spent many years publicizing Mohammed’s plight. Lawyers have visited Chad to meet government officials and members of Mohammed’s family, and the charity has repeatedly described the suffering he has endured in US custody.

This includes being suspended by his wrists on 30 separate occasions, and regular assaults by the Extreme Reaction Force (ERF), a riot squad used to punish prisoners for even the most minor infringement of the prison’s ever-changing rules. One ERF assault resulted in one of Mohammed’s teeth being broken, and he has also described brutal treatment in interrogations, including one occasion when an interrogator stubbed out a cigarette on his arm. Held in almost complete isolation, Mohammed has become so depressed that he has tried to commit suicide several times.

The latest news from Guantánamo serves only to emphasize how urgent it is for the government of Chad to put pressure on the US government to secure Mohammed’s return to Chad. As recently as March, Mohammed told his lawyers that he had had another tooth broken in an assault by an ERF team, and, although he has not been interrogated for over a year and a half – which suggests that the US authorities have no further use for him – he continues to be held in almost complete isolation in Camp V, one of the prison’s most notoriously harsh cellblocks.

New revelations, contained in a US Department of Justice report on the FBI’s role in interrogations at Guantánamo, also serve to emphasize how much Mohammed has suffered over the years, and how important it is for the government of Chad to do all it can to rescue him from the abuse and humiliation he has suffered at the hands of US forces.

The report reveals how, on one occasion in September 2003, despite FBI reservations, Mohammed was chained in a painful stress position by a military interrogator from the US Marines, and left alone for hours until he was forced to urinate on himself. The report quotes the FBI agent saying that, when he complained, he was told that he was being “weak.”

In an interview with Mohammed in February 2007, in connection with the report, Mohammed described this incident, and also explained that it “was not the only time he was chained to the floor.” On another occasion, he said, “the military chained him overnight for 12-16 hours.” He also explained that the interrogator responsible for this – who, it seems, was masquerading as a FBI agent – “told guards to hit him, throw him down, and throw cold water on him” during interrogations, called him a “nigger” (a term of racial abuse that Mohammed had not heard until he was in US custody), and “subjected him to loud music and colored lights” during the session described above when he was chained up overnight.

The report also describes how Mohammed was subjected to sleep deprivation through what was known euphemistically as the “Frequent Flyer Program.” This involved moving prisoners every few hours from cell to cell – for periods of weeks or even months – to disorientate them. Even though sleep deprivation of this kind is known to cause severe mental and physical problems, the FBI agent describing it claimed that it “was not designed to deprive the detainee of sleep, but to prevent certain detainees from becoming comfortable with their surroundings and to keep them off balance so that the detainees would not have an advantage while being interrogated.”

Mohammed also reported that another interrogator – who also seems to have been masquerading as an FBI agent – was responsible for short-chaining him on several occasions and subjecting him to sleep deprivation. In addition, he stated that this agent “took him to a room that was completely dark and placed him in a chair. When the lights were turned on, he could see that the walls were covered with pornography.” He added that “he was introduced to a woman that spoke Arabic and wore a bikini. He was told that if he cooperated, she would sleep with him.”

The worst of these abuses have now come to an end, but Mohammed continues to endure regular beatings from the ERF teams, and is confined in almost total isolation, with no sign of when, if ever, his ordeal will come to an end. Reprieve calls upon the government of Chad to renew its efforts to secure Mohammed’s release. As the passages from the Department of Justice report reveal, his torture, abuse, humiliation and isolation have gone on for far too long.


Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’


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Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner