Report — From the April 2015 issue

Life After Guantánamo

A father and son’s story

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In 2008, I became the lawyer for Abdul Nasser Khantumani and his son Muhammed, two men who were being held at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba. When the United States took them into custody, in 2001, Abdul Nasser was in his forties; Muhammed was still a teenager, with a year of high school left. There’s a picture of him as a boy in Syria, not long before his life changed. He’s at the beach with his younger cousins, their arms draped over one another’s shoulders. He’s skinny and soaked, his wet hair plastered to his forehead.

On December 20, 2008, Muhammed cut one of his wrists in his cell. He smeared his blood on the walls, writing country of injustice is america. Once his wounds had been treated, he wrote me a letter in which he listed the reasons for his act:

1. Being in this place, having been arrested when I was 17 years old

2. The continuous psychological pressure and the torture that I currently endure

3. The torture endured by prisoners in general

4. Being apart from my father

5. Current general torture

In another letter, he wrote diagonally, in all caps,

I SAY TO AMERICA DO WHATEVER YOU WANT THE PRISON HAD MADE MY HEART SUCH AS THE STONE FEEL WITH COMPLETE HOPELESSNESS I DON’T KNOW IF SOME PEOPLE KNOW THAT.

Illustration by Caroline Gamon

Illustration by Caroline Gamon

Muhammed had learned English in high school, and he had practiced it with the guards at Guantánamo and with his lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, where I work. (I’ve corrected Muhammed’s misspellings and condensed some of his correspondence.) When I first met him, more than seven years after he was detained without charge, he had given up hope that he would ever be released. It took him a long time to change his mind.

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is a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights

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