By Andy Worthington, February 21, 2014
Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), who will be 46 in May, is one of the last two Moroccan prisoners in Guantánamo, and his story has fascinated me ever since I began researching the prisoners' stories for my book The Guantánamo Files back in 2006.
In Guantánamo, Younus has always maintained that, in the mid-1990s, he traveled to Pakistan with his Algerian wife Abla, in search of work and education, and then spent time in Yemen and Syria. In 2001, the couple moved to Afghanistan, where they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants. After the 9/11 attacks and the U.S.-led invasion, Younus sent Abla to safety in Pakistan, but was himself captured and sold to U.S. forces.
In contrast to Younus's own account, the U.S. authorities accused him of running a military training camp near Kabul, even though he has repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history. The U.S. authorities also described him as a "close associate" of Osama bin Laden, but he has repeatedly expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by bin Laden, describing him as "a crazy person," and adding that "what he does is bad for Islam."
In addition, Younus has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and, as I discovered last year, when he took part in the prison-wide hunger strike that did so much to remind the world of Guantánamo's existence, he is a Sufi Muslim, something that makes it even more improbable that he would have been running a training camp. For further information, please read Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith's account of a conversation with Younus during the early months of the hunger strike, and Younus's own detailed account.
Moreover, discrediting the U.S. authorities' claim still further, in January 2010 he was one of 156 prisoners cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama soon after he took office in January 2009. 80 of those men have now been released from Guantánamo, but Younus is one of 76 cleared prisoners still held, awaiting a new home, and hoping, since Congress eased restrictions on releasing prisoners that had almost brought the release of prisoners to an end for three years, from October 2010 to July 2013, that he will finally be freed in the near future, to rejoin his wife Abla.
Below is a letter that Younus wrote to Abla for Valentine's Day which was originally posted on the website Medium.
Imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay, detainee Younous Chekkouri thinks of his beloved wife Abla
Today is Valentine’s Day, 2014. I cannot believe how many days I have spent away from the most precious thing I have in this world -- my wife, Abla. My heart beats day and night with the name of my beloved.
We were very young when we fell in love, after destiny decided to introduce us in Turkey. Together we have travelled all over the world. We lived the life of migrant birds, needing only each other. That was before I was kidnapped, and the years of torture began; I was left to rot here in Guantánamo Bay. Life now has no taste.
Abla and I are only able to speak once every three or four months -- it’s a complicated process that involves her coordinating with the Red Cross (ICRC). I know this is not easy for her because it takes a lot of time, and I know she’s busy; she teaches in order to support herself. I wish I didn’t have to cause her all this trouble.
Life now has no taste
I remember that one time she went to the ICRC office, she picked up a poetry book of her choosing, and afterwards she told me about one of her favourite romantic poems from the book; Ibn Hazm’s “Tokens of Love”. Months later and by very happy accident, I was able to find the same book on the library cart that comes around the cell blocks for those of us who remain here in the prison. I wrote back to her with one of my favourite poems from the collection; it was only my favourite because it made me think of her smiling face.
I stare up at the ceiling of my cell. I so miss the sky, the stars and the moon. I remember once when we were together, looking up at a full moon shining like a pearl in the night sky, I turned to her and said, "Darling, you know that you are more beautiful than the moon when you smile". "You liar!" she retorted and we both burst out laughing.
Destiny is a very strange thing
12 years of agony. I live like a frightened child or an animal waiting for the unknown. I pray from my heart that my sadness and anxiety will come to an end. I pray to see my wife again, and to be able to tell her everything that I have kept bottled up in my heart for more than a decade.
I dare not believe that I will ever see my sweetheart again. There is only one face that comes to me in my dreams. It is her face, the one who has been crying day and night, waiting for me to hug her and say, "Don’t worry my love, it was all a nightmare and now it’s over".
In every letter I write to her, I tell her that we will never be apart again. I don’t know if she believes me or not, but I imagine her eyes shining and her lips parting in her magical smile. I do know that neither of us ever imagined we would be in this situation. Destiny is a very strange thing.
I want only to feel human again
President Obama and his wife have adorable children, whose future they guard jealously. I’m sure the President’s greatest fear is that he will be apart from his wife or children. Well, I have just the same feeling because I’m human just like them.
I do not blame President Obama though for these long years, I don’t blame anyone. I want no vengeance for the 12 years I have spent in Guantánamo, never having committed any crime. I want only to feel human again, to hug my soulmate and tell her that we will never again be apart.
So I’ll spend another Valentine’s Day away from the only thing that matters to me, my Abla. I wish you all a very happy day with your loved ones. For me, it is just another day. I’ll wait until the night when I can hold my sweetheart once again, if only in my dreams.