Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"We know you were working with Al-Qaida in London in 1993. You were part of a clandestine cell led by Abu Qatada Al-Masri."
"Are you sure?"
"You should be smart and say 1998 or 1999. In 1993, I was six."
"HA HA HA."
Ever wondered precisely what it would be like to be a detainee in Guantanamo Bay? If so, this work will shed some light on the shady incarceration practices of the U.S. government perpetuated in the name of the war on terror. Here's the rap sheet from the publisher to lay out the charges...
"Saudi Arabia offers few prospects for the bright young Mohammed El-Gharani. His access to healthcare and education are restricted; nor can he make the most of his entrepreneurial spirit. At the age of 14, Mohammed seizes an opportunity to study in Pakistan.
One Friday in Karachi, Mohammed is detained during a raid on his local mosque. After being beaten and interrogated, he is sold to the American government by the Pakistani forces as a member of Al-Qaida with links to Osama Bin Laden, but Mohammed has heard of neither. The Americans fly him first to Kandahar and then to Guantánamo Bay. GUANTANAMO KID tells the story of one of Guantanamo Bay's youngest detainees."
Yes, if we are to believe Mohammed El-Gharani's story, as the Americans obviously didn't, he was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, having chosen to fly under an illegal passport to Pakistan to study I.T. The illegal passport being necessary because his parents didn't want him to leave Saudi Arabia.
Sold on to the Americans for the not inconsiderable sum of $5000, which perhaps explains why the local Pakistani authorities on the ground might have been happy to provide an endless production line of potential jihadis for enhanced interrogation at Camp X-Ray, Mohammed was about to lose several years of his life, indeed probably his entire potential future, at least as he foresaw it. Do make sure you read the writer Jérôme Tubiana's afterword, because Mohammed's problems with various security services continue to this day.
With a strength belying his tender teenage years, or perhaps because of it, Mohammed adapts, survives and possibly even thrives during his imprisonment with a surprising degree of stoicism and indeed even more astonishing displays of defiance. It's very difficult to know precisely just how one would react in such a situation. I'm not sure I would have responded with such defiance the way Mohammed apparently did, but then I'm not expecting to be hauled off the streets and forcibly rendered halfway around the world for the ultimate surprise getaway. Mind you, neither did he...
Along the way he befriends someone who most politically aware people in the UK will probably have heard of, the Saudi citizen and British resident Shaker Aamer, who was held at Guantanamo without charge for more than thirteen years, considerably longer than Mohammed's not insubstantial seven, and became an unofficial spokesperson for his fellow detainees, though Mohammed too frequently advocated and agitated for better conditions at the camp.
I found Mohammed's sad story incredibly upsetting. That seemingly pure sheer unfortunate circumstance can lead to such destruction of a life, indeed lives, because of course his family was devastated too. And yet, given the judicial injustices we see frequently repeated on domestic soil, particularly American, by law enforcement agencies, is it really so hard to believe Mohammed, and indeed Shaker Aamer's stories, amongst so many others?
I thought Alexandre Franc's black and white, relatively straightforward art style, worked well for disseminating Mohammed's hardships without making it overly-dramatic or indeed too emotionally difficult to digest. It's punchy enough, though, and it also works perfectly in conveying the humour the inmates manage to find, and also the mischief they managed to make, in even the most trying of circumstances.