By Alexia Rauen
Mansoor Adayfi’s 2021 memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, transports readers to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a world in which children and adults are routinely tortured by the United States. Guantánamo Bay has been a naval base in U.S. possession since 1903. Adayfi spent his childhood in the idyllic mountains of Yemen1 with dreams to study in the United Arab Emirates.2 When Adayfi was eighteen years old, he traveled to Afghanistan on a research trip for an important sheik in Yemen who promised him a university reference letter in exchange for his work.3 With the United States offering bounties for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, Adayfi was captured and sold by warlords who instructed him to say he was a member of Al-Qaeda, or else the Americans would kill him.4 The Americans, in turn, took a nineteen-year-old Yemeni boy and reinvented the narrative of who he was. They convinced themselves he was an older Egyptian general (“they even believed [the general] had plastic surgery to look young and different, I guess to look like me”) and tortured him for years in search of information he couldn’t possibly possess.5
The memoir is a damning indictment of a military-industrial complex set on torture. The military pepper-sprayed, sexually assaulted, and beat detainees.6 Mohamedou Ould Salahi, author of The Mauritanian, has also confirmed that he suffered sexual assault while in Guantánamo. The United States held children, such as fourteen-year-old Ismatu Allah, with adult prisoners.7 Adayfi was held in solitary confinement for weeks.8 In response to hunger strikes protesting the abusive conditions, detainees, including Adayfi, were strapped to execution-style chairs and violently force-fed with feeding tubes.9 Disrespect of detainees’ religious practices and of the Qur’an was widespread: “they had kicked Qur’ans, stepped on them, thrown them in shit buckets, and worse.”10
The military-industrial complex does not operate alone; it is supported and legitimized by organizations and officials. The Red Cross, which Adayfi states was at both Kandahar and Guantánamo, failed to help him in any meaningful way; rather, he believes the organization was there “to give legitimacy to what the Americans were doing.”11 Former U.S. president Barack Obama’s false promise to close Guantánamo never came to fruition. Perhaps the same will be said of the Biden administration’s pledge.
The theme of humanity features heavily in Adayfi’s memoir. He is desperate for the United States to recognize his humanity, and by bringing us into his world, he leads us to recognize the humanity of his “brothers” – the other detainees. Adayfi, too, is clever. When the military brought in cleaning vacuums and left them on to create constant defeaning noise to torture the prisoners, Adayfi pretended to love his so much he begged not to be separated from it—leading, of course, to being separated from the vacuum, if only for a while.12 If Adayfi’s goal is to show his humanity, he has succeeded and surpassed this. His memoir reminds readers of our collective humanity where abuse and torture cannot be tolerated.
Adayfi was finally released from Guantánamo in 2016, but rather than returning home, he was forcibly relocated to Serbia, as the United States deemed Yemen a place of no return.13 Prior to his release, Adayfi had learned English and planned to complete a university degree.14 In October 2021, he graduated from college at the top of his class. Adayfi has achieved remarkable things despite the years of torture inflicted by the United States. Now, this torture is back in the spotlight, as the U.S. Supreme Court contemplates whether to allow testimony regarding a detainee’s torture by government contractors. The Court wants to know why the detainee, Abu Zubaydah, is not being allowed to testify himself. It seems the U.S. government is determined to silence voices from Guantánamo. Thankfully, Adayfi has spoken out, and his memoir should awaken the American conscience to close Guantánamo. I only hope that Adayfi continues his story and writes another book for the world, perhaps, as he mentions at the conclusion of his memoir, on his life in Serbia.
- Mansoor Adayfi, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, (New York: Hachette Books, 2021), 9-10.
- Ibid, 16.
- Ibid, 15.
- Ibid, 4.
- Ibid, 337.
- Ibid, 91, 187.
- Ibid, 42.
- Ibid, 54.
- Ibid, 205-06.
- Ibid, 74.
- Ibid, 27.
- Ibid, 129.
- Ibid, 357.
- Ibid 286, 289.
Adayfi, Mansoor. Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo. New York: Hachette Books, 2021.
Image: The U.S. National Archives and Defense Visual Information Distribution Service