PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Trapped by Circumstance: 'Guantánamo Kid: The True Story of Mohammed El-Gharani'

Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre France have created a powerful work in Guantánamo Kid that brings attention to the humanity of people who are accused as terrorists.

Guantánamo Kid: The Story of Mohammed El-Gharani
Jérôme Tubiana, Alexandre Franc

SelfMadeHero / Abrams

Mar 2019

Other

Imagine a 14-year-old boy—maybe your own son, maybe a neighbor kid. Now imagine that this child is arrested while attending religious services, interrogated and tortured, and eventually sold to a foreign power who imprisons him (with further interrogation, torture, and abuse) for more than seven years, all without any real effort to get to the bottom of who he is and whether there is any truth to the charges against him. How well do you think he would fare under such treatment? My guess is, not very well at all. And how would you feel about a child being treated in this way? My guess is that you'd be seriously angry about it.

Well, that's pretty much what happened to Mohammed El-Gharani, the subject of Guantánamo Kid: The True Story of Mohammed El-Gharani, a graphic novel written by Jérôme Tubiana and illustrated by Alexandre France. This work offers a fine example of the power that a single story has to reach people who may be only vaguely aware of an important geopolitical situation such as this. It's one thing to hear about prisoners being held at the Guantánamo Bay Prison Camp in Cuba (according to The Intercept, 40 prisoners were still being held there as of March 2019), and another to learn the story of just one of those prisoners. It can be easy to dismiss the prisoners as "terrorists", but it's impossible to dismiss the story of Mohammed El-Gharani.

El-Gharani's family emigrated from Chad to Saudi Arabia, where the family faced discrimination in employment and education; as a result, El-Gharani began working as a street peddler at a young age. He was offered the chance to study in Pakistan, which he managed with the help of a fake passport (since he didn't have his family's permission to leave the country and was too young to travel alone), a fact that would later be held against him by American authorities.

(SelfMadeHero / Abrams)

For a time, everything went as expected: El-Gharani lived with the uncle of a friend, studied English and computer science, and intended to return to his family in Saudi Arabia after six months. Then came the fateful Friday when was arrested at a mosque due, he thinks, to his Saudi accent. He was tortured by the Pakistani police, interrogated, then tortured some more. When word came that he and his fellow prisoners would be sold to the Americans, he thought things were looking up—based on popular movies, he thought Americans were good people who believed in justice and that his innocence would quickly be established. He expected to be released while there and maybe he would even have the chance to study in America. The reality would prove quite different.

El-Gharani and a number of other prisoners were transferred to American custody, then moved first to an American base in Kandahar (Afghanistan), then to Guantánamo. Interrogation and torture were part of the prisoners' daily existence, as well as more ordinary abuse like bad food, blacked-out windows, and deprivation of clothing and bedding (in the face of deliberately excessive air conditioning). They were trapped in a process in which no one was concerned with the truth and the only purpose of interrogations was to force confessions. For example, El-Gharani's birth certificate, which would have demonstrated that he was a juvenile, was readily available yet never requested by the Americans.

Given such a no-win situation, it was not surprising that some of the prisoners found ways to get back at the guards—spitting and throwing feces at them being two of the more popular methods. El-Gharani became a leader among the prisoners, finding one way after another to resist (one of the most important—to always appear happy, even after an interrogation, to let the guards know that they can't win). He also came to realize the truth of the expression "People are like the fingers of a hand. They're not all the same" and to recognize that while some guards enjoyed being brutal, they weren't all equally bad.

(SelfMadeHero / Abrams)

He formed a particular bond with an African America guard who shared with him his experiences living as a black person in the United States, while El-Gharani told him about Islam, in return. In a move that could have gotten the guard fired, he brought snacks to El-Gharani in his cell; he also brought him a copy of the S.O.P. (the manual of Standard Operating Procedures), so that El-Gharani could know exactly when the military was violating its own rules; for example, cooperative prisoners were not supposed to be teargassed, but regularly were.

Since we're hearing his story, you've probably guessed that El-Gharani was released—in fact, the judge presiding over his trial noted that not only was the government's case implausible (how could a child from an extremely poor Saudi family have been part of a London cell?), it was based entirely on the testimony of two other prisoners at Guantánamo, with zero corroborating evidence offered in support. Eventually, he was released to Chad, a completely unfamiliar country, because Saudi Arabia did not consider him a citizen. More hardships followed, mixed with freedoms, but El-Gharani remained remarkably resilient and positive through it all, dwelling not on the many injustices already suffered, but looking to the future and how he could "make my life better where I am. It is what it is."

Tubiana tells El-Gharani's story simply and eloquently, based on a number of sources (listed at the back of the book), while an appendix continues El-Gharani's story to the present. Franc's clean illustrations, in pure black and white, are realistic enough that the reader can differentiate among characters and situations and to gain a clearer idea of the conditions El-Gharani faced, yet not so detailed as to be distracting. Together, Tubiana and Franc have created a powerful book that brings attention to the humanity of people who are accused as terrorists and relays the importance of what happens to such people in these times.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.