The Ignominy of Guantánamo: a History of Torture

8 November, 2021
Amnesty and Wit­ness Against Tor­ture pro­test­ers against Guan­tá­namo at the US Supreme Court (Pho­to: Flickr/Justin Norman).

Don’t For­get Us Here, a mem­oir by Man­soor Adayfi
Hachette Books, 2021
ISBN 9780306923869


Marian Janssen


Don’t For­get Us Here avail­able from Hachette.

I am grate­ful that this jour­nal asked me to review Don’t For­get Us Here by Man­soor Aday­fi. Had I not promised to do so, I fear I would have found it too dis­turb­ing to fin­ish the har­row­ing sto­ry of young Aday­fi, who spent almost half his life as a pris­on­er at Guan­tá­namo Bay. The sto­ry of Guan­tá­namo, or Git­mo for short, is well-known: short­ly after the “War on Ter­ror” began in response to the ter­ror­ist attacks on 9/11, the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion set up a prison camp for for­eign ter­ror sus­pects at the Amer­i­can naval base in Cuba. At Git­mo, CIA, NSA and US mil­i­tary offi­cers and sol­diers car­ried out atro­cious acts of tor­ture, flout­ing the Gene­va Con­ven­tion. Since then, few­er than ten of the almost eight hun­dred sus­pects have been con­vict­ed of war crimes. Aday­fi was one of the inno­cents, sold by Afghan war­lords to the Amer­i­cans and locked up for four­teen years with­out a trial.

Every thir­ty pages or so, I had to put his heart-break­ing, bru­tal book away, as the descrip­tions of the tor­ture he had to under­go — the hood­ing, punch­ing, kick­ing, yelling, pep­per-spray­ing, the sex­u­al humil­i­a­tion, and the chain­ing — were relent­less. The phys­i­cal vio­lence oth­er men inflict­ed on him was exac­er­bat­ed by psy­cho­log­i­cal pain: soli­tary con­fine­ment, sleep depri­va­tion, death threats, and the fear, always, that he would spend his whole life locked up in a cage, would nev­er see his fam­i­ly again — or that every day might be his last. 

When Aday­fi was detained, he was not even twen­ty, full of zest for life, look­ing for­ward to a gold­en future as a uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent in the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. I could not but think of my only son, who is now around that age, liv­ing a peace­ful life in the Nether­lands, as every par­ent would think of their own chil­dren endur­ing such an ordeal.

Aday­fi over­came the unthink­able. He endured because of his sense of jus­tice and his sense of injus­tice. He man­aged to sur­vive because he cared deeply for his fel­low pris­on­ers. In the inhu­man con­di­tions at Git­mo, where for years he had no con­tact with his moth­er, father, and sis­ters, the oth­er detainees came to stand for fam­i­ly, for love and loy­al­ty. They became his brothers.

Ani­mals, too, helped him pull through. He felt con­nect­ed in his soul to the cats, banana rats, and, par­tic­u­lar­ly, an igua­na, Princess, who kept him com­pa­ny. (The guards left Princess alone, because she was a pro­tect­ed ani­mal, and “sol­diers could get fined $10,000 for touch­ing or harm­ing igua­nas. She had more rights and free­dom than we did.”) Because Adaify, “Detainee 441,” was con­sid­ered a trou­ble­mak­er, he spent much of his time in iso­la­tion, con­demned to a small cage with­out a view for up to 22 hours a day, tor­ment­ed by extreme noise, light, dark­ness, cold or heat. An occa­sion­al glimpse of the sea, or, per­haps, just the sound of its rolling waves, opened his heart, made him real­ize his own human­i­ty, despite the guards treat­ing him and his broth­ers as less than ani­mals. Aday­fi even describes a “gold­en age” in prison, a peri­od in which, using recy­cled card­board, soap, and oth­er min­i­mal ele­ments, they bright­ened up their cells with arti­fi­cial flow­ers and oth­er things of beau­ty. The most artis­tic and cre­ative among them, Moath, even made “win­dows” so that in his locked cage there were vir­tu­al views of the out­side, of a vast blue sea, a sun­set, birds fly­ing freely.

For­mer Guan­tá­namo pris­on­er Man­soor Aday­fi, in his flat in Serbia.

 In his pref­ace, Aday­fi states that he hoped that by describ­ing the “small moments of joy and beau­ty, of friend­ship and broth­er­hood, of hard­ship and the strug­gle to sur­vive — all the moments that unit­ed us and bond­ed us — that I could maybe change the way peo­ple thought about Guan­tá­namo.” But every­thing beau­ti­ful was tak­en away again, as most guards took an ani­mal­is­tic plea­sure in tear­ing down the works of art the pris­on­ers made. For Aday­fi there was, how­ev­er, always one rap­ture that remained, that reaf­firmed his belief in his own human­i­ty: his love for Allah. I am an athe­ist and find it impos­si­ble to tru­ly under­stand the kind of deep belief that Aday­fi lives — or, for that mat­ter, the Catholi­cism that my own moth­er so fer­vent­ly adhered to, or Bud­dhism, Hin­duism, any reli­gion. To admit that, despite myself, I some­times felt irri­tat­ed by the exalt­ed ways Aday­fi spoke of Islam and Allah, reveals my own ungod­ly pet­ti­ness. I am grate­ful, though, that Adayfi’s faith helped save him.

What also saved him is his brav­ery, his courage. Man­soor Adayfi’s incred­i­ble strength of mind helped him live through the gut-wrench­ing, stom­ach-turn­ing, mind-blow­ing (I real­ly do not have enough adjec­tives) cru­el­ties he was sub­ject­ed to by agents of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.  He was, often, the one who incit­ed his broth­ers to acts of resis­tance, no mat­ter how small, to get the guards to treat them more humane­ly. Own­ing prac­ti­cal­ly noth­ing apart from blan­kets or box­ers, their acts of insur­rec­tion had to make do with what was at hand, so they ranged from spray­ing guards with water and urine to smear­ing them­selves with feces. The pris­on­ers com­bined the lat­ter with the biggest and — for them­selves — the most dan­ger­ous weapon they had:  the hunger strike. For when they were cov­ered in feces, the guards were far more weary of force-feed­ing them, which they used to do by chain­ing the pris­on­ers to a chair and then forc­ing huge tubes down their noses: “No numb­ing spray. No lubri­cant. Raw rub­ber and met­al sliced the inside of my nose and throat. Pain shot through my sinus­es and I thought my head would explode. I screamed and tried to fight but I couldn’t move. My nose bled and bled, but the nurse wouldn’t stop. ‘Eat!’ the nurse yelled. ‘Eat!’”  

Hunger strikes some­times led to just a lit­tle more free­dom (although often the eas­ing of the sit­u­a­tion was soon reversed) and these small vic­to­ries give some relief to this dark book, bring some light into the dark­ness that is Guan­tá­namo Bay. Know­ing that Aday­fi sur­vived this night­mare, I man­aged to read on, towards what I — still naive­ly — hoped would be some sort of a hap­py end. I real­ized, of course, that, para­dox­i­cal­ly, Aday­fi him­self nev­er knew whether he would ever get out of this hell hole where he saw some of his broth­ers crip­pled, or mur­dered. But when Aday­fi was final­ly allowed to leave, the end was no new begin­ning. He was not allowed to return to his fam­i­ly in his home­land, Yemen, but shipped off to Islam­o­pho­bic Ser­bia in the same way he was shipped into Guan­tá­namo Bay: “gagged, blind­fold­ed, hood­ed, ear­muffed, and shackled.”

I am still in shock. But every­one should read Don’t For­get Us Here. Spread the word, don’t for­get the remain­ing detainees at Guan­tá­namo Bay.

Man­soor Aday­fi
 is a writer and for­mer Guan­tá­namo Bay Prison Camp detainee, held for over 14 years with­out charges as an ene­my com­bat­ant. Aday­fi was released to Ser­bia in 2016, where he strug­gles to make a new life for him­self and to shed the des­ig­na­tion of a sus­pect­ed ter­ror­ist. Today, he is a writer and advo­cate with work pub­lished in the New York Times, includ­ing a col­umn the Mod­ern Love col­umn “Tak­ing Mar­riage Class at Guan­tá­namo” and the op-ed “In Our Prison by the Sea.” He wrote the intro­duc­tion, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guan­tá­namo Bay,” for the 2017–2018 exhi­bi­tion of pris­on­ers’ art­work at the John Jay Col­lege of Jus­tice in New York City, and con­tributed to the schol­ar­ly vol­ume, Wit­ness­ing Tor­ture, pub­lished by Pal­grave. In 2018, Aday­fi par­tic­i­pat­ed in the cre­ation of the award-win­ning radio doc­u­men­tary The Art of Now for BBC radio about art from Guan­tá­namo and the CBC pod­cast Love Me, which aired on NPR’s Snap Judg­ment. Reg­u­lar­ly inter­viewed by inter­na­tion­al news media about his expe­ri­ences at Guan­tá­namo and life after, he was also fea­tured in Out of Git­mo, a mini-doc­u­men­tary and part of PBS’s Front­line series. Work from his mem­oir was recent­ly fea­tured at a pub­lic read­ing at the Edin­burgh Book Fes­ti­val along with work by Guan­tá­namo Diary author Mohame­dou Ould Slahi. His graph­ic nar­ra­tive, Caged Lives, was by The Nib and will be includ­ed in the anthol­o­gy Guan­tanamo Voic­es. In 2019, he won the Richard J. Mar­go­lis Award for non­fic­tion writ­ers of social jus­tice journalism.



Marian Janssen received her PhD cum laude from Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Her first book was The Kenyon Review (1939-1970): A Critical History. She received a post-doctoral fellowship for a biography of the poet Isabella Gardner. When she became full-time head of Radboud University’s International Office, her research was relegated to a backburner. After giving a talk at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Marian was asked when she was going to finish her planned biography. When Marian said that writing a biography and her current position did not mix, she was offered, on the spot, a grant for a year’s sabbatical. This led to her Not at All What One Is Used To: The Life and Times of Isabella Gardner (2010).  She is now at work on a biography of the flamboyant American poet Carolyn Kizer.


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