Don't Forget Us Here: Freedom, but at what cost?

Don't Forget Us Here: How Islamic steadfastness triumphed over the many faces of Guantanamo torture
7 min read
21 October, 2021
Book Club: Mansoor Adayfi's memoir as Guantanamo detainee #441 is an invaluable resource for exposing the joint impunity of the United States and its nefarious associates in the War on Terror, but also how Adayfi's Islamic faith triumphed over it all
In an awe inspiring display of resolve, Dont Forget Us Here chronicles how one Guantanamo detainee was able to keep his faith while incarcerated in the most torturous of conditions [Hachette Books]

The memoirs of released detainees from Guantánamo Bay tell us a great deal about the passing of time. As the world turns and life moves on, their stories remind us that what seems like a frenetic world, for them, moves at a much slower pace.

In Camp X-Ray, the movie starring Kristen Stewart as a Guantánamo Bay guard, the director used the desire of a detainee to finish reading the Harry Potter series as a way of highlighting how as the world easily had access to the latest books, the detainees were forced to wait for long periods to catch up.

This was what struck me about Mansoor Adayfi’s account. I was used to detainees reading Harry Potter in the early memoirs, but here he was, referencing The Hunger Games in his conversations with his lawyers. The passing of time tracks differently for those detained.

"Whatever tactic was used in the outside world against Muslim populations, they were replicated in smaller and everyday ways in Guantánamo"

In the outside world, 20 years of the global War on Terror meant increased surveillance of Muslims across the world. It meant the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, proxy wars in Yemen and Somalia, and the spreading of the policies of the War on Terror to justify repression of suspect communities in almost every country in the world.

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For those detained in Guantánamo, their lives became a microcosm of all the contestations that are occurring in the wider world. The right to pray, the right to fast, the right to their Quran, and even the right to live a life free of sexual humiliation. Whatever tactic was used in the outside world against Muslim populations, they were replicated in smaller and everyday ways in Guantánamo.

This memoir, however, is not exactly like other accounts. Perhaps it is due to the length of time that Mansoor was detained, but there is a raw quality to the writing that does not shy away from any subject. While he is forgiving to those who show him kindness, Mansoor regularly highlights the complicity of others, regardless of how they might feel about their own work.

The 2021 film "The Mauritanian" showed the wilful, torturous negligence of the United States' security apparatus [Getty Images]
The 2021 film The Mauritanian showed the wilful, torturous negligence of the United States' security apparatus [Getty Images]

The International Committee of the Red Cross comes in for particular criticism, as previous descriptions by former detainees as them being ‘glorified postmen’ are extended further:

“The Red Cross didn’t answer our questions, they just probed for information that on the surface showed we were being taken care of. They pointed out that the camp had given each of us a Qur’an to keep in our cages, and a blue face mask to hang at the top of our cages to keep the Qur’an safely off the ground when soldiers stormed in.

They pointed out that we had taqiyas now, the white skullcaps Muslims wear to cover our heads when we pray. “You can pray,” they said. But these were empty improvements. We still couldn’t pray together, stand freely, or even talk openly. The food was very little. We lived in open cages with no shade and no toilet.” (p.34)

It is not just the Red Cross that Mansoor criticises. Perhaps uniquely among all the accounts of detainees, he also criticises those detainees who were, “the weakest and most compliant,” albeit still respectful in calling them brothers.

Mansoor’s criticism of them largely stems from his understanding that their compliance with the regime’s orders, perpetuated harm against the entire group as it allowed for them to be split from one another. This tactic of divide and rule was used to great effect by the prison authorities who used compliance as a way of cracking down more harshly on those demanding their rights.  

Mansoor recognises that the impetuousness of his youth, as a nineteen-year-old detained at the camps, might have played a role in his refusal to submit to a regime of lawlessness, however, it is that very same youth that gave him drive to resist.

At very few points during the account do you feel he was a victim of his detention, but rather, he was constantly engaged in acts of resistance – from leading hunger strikes to throwing faeces at the guards and even the camp commander – at some points you even get the impression that the detainees were running the show.

"At a time when commentators in the West are horrified by the numbers of those from the Muslim world seeking sanctuary away from potential violence in their home countries, the assumption is that they will do anything to receive asylum and citizenship in the West"

In the midst of all the resistance, there is an acknowledgement by the guards and interrogators that Mansoor is not supposed to be there. It is the maddening and undisputed fact of his detention, and yet his treatment continues unabated.

In spite of that recognition, Mansoor’s approach is not to separate himself away from the others – that somehow because of this he is more deserving of rights – but rather continues to make himself the target of increased hostility by guards through a constant process of trying to antagonise them. This is all with one thing in mind: that he and his brothers should be treated like humans.

Freedom is offered to Mansoor, but at a cost that he is not willing to pay. In an earlier period of his detention, inducements are offered to him in order to gain intelligence among the detainees:

“Is this what he’s offering? Is this your test? You hold up your hand. You are very respectful. Be mindful of Allah, you think, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allah alone; and if you seek help, then seek help from Allah alone.

“Work for me,” he continues. “I will make your life good here.”

When everything has been taken away from you—your life, your family, your freedom, who you are—he now asks you to give away the one thing you have left: your integrity. Know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and hardship with ease.” (p.102)

At a time when commentators in the West are horrified by the numbers of those from the Muslim world seeking sanctuary away from potential violence in their home countries, the assumption is that they will do anything to receive asylum and citizenship in the West.

Like many of those who were detained alongside him, when – even after over a decade of unlawful detention – this explicit offer is made to Mansoor (on the condition he provides false testimony against a detainee he never met), he refuses. There are principles at stake for him, and the chance of a life of comfort will never be enough to induce a betrayal of himself or another:

“In exchange for my cooperation, they would relocate me to a Western European country, where I’d get citizenship, a generous house, a college education, a car, and $150,000. They said they would relocate my mother, my father, and my youngest siblings there, too. I would disappear so that no one would ever be able to find me and that I would be safe. I’d heard brothers talk about such deals but I always thought they were fake.

Believe me, I wanted all those things. I wanted to be free and to see my family. I had left my home when I was thirteen so that I could get an education and one day take care of my mother and father when they were older. This was my dream, the dream that had first brought me to Sana’a and then to Afghanistan. And in exchange for all this, all I had to do was identify a man I didn’t know.

"I cannot,” I said. I couldn’t lie. It’s forbidden in Islam. It’s against everything that I fought for. It’s against everything that I am.” (p.341)

Perspectives

You are left with a sense of extreme awe over the values, principles and actions of a young man who spent the best years of his life fighting for his own rights, and just as importantly the rights of others.

There is an inner strength in him that is derived not only from Islam but his particular belief in the religion. It becomes the lifeblood of his resistance. Perhaps no moment in the book sets this out better than when an interrogator asks who Mansoor is working for. His answer is simple, “Allah”.

Dr Asim Qureshi is the Research Director of the advocacy group CAGE and has authored a number of books detailing the impact of the global War on Terror.

Follow him on Twitter: @AsimCP