Ahmed Errachidi, The General Who Was Just a Cook


A extract of the following piece was published in The Guantanamo Lawyers, Inside a Prison Outside the Law, Mark P. Denbeaux, Jonathan Hafetz, March 2011. 

Just a few months after joining Reprieve as a volunteer in the summer of 2005, I found myself thrown into the deep end by our legal director Clive Stafford Smith and asked to carry out some very urgent investigation on the case of one of our clients, Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan national who had lived in the UK for eighteen years. Ahmed had lived and worked in the catering industry in London as a chef; however, after his capture in Afghanistan the U.S. authorities were convinced that his command of the English language and his defiance in the face of those abusing him could only mean that he was someone high up the al Qaeda ladder. And so Ahmed became the “General.” In his visits with Clive it became clear that Ahmed was very far from being any General.

He told Clive about his son Imran and his heart defect that needed urgent treatment, treatment that in Morocco costs a small fortune. He explained how he had travelled to Pakistan in September 2001 with the idea of buying cheap silver which he could resell in order to pay for his son Imran’s medical treatment in Morocco. After 9/11 when the U.S. military started bombing Afghanistan, Ahmed crossed the border and tried in vain to ease the suffering as the bombs rained down. Ahmed was no al Qaeda general but a father who, like so many others, was willing to go to the ends of the earth to help ease the suffering of his child.

Whilst the Blair government had managed to get eight British citizens home from Guantánamo, albeit they left them to suffer for several years, in regards to nine other British residents, which included Ahmed, they took a stance of complete non-assistance. The British Foreign and Common, writing in response to our letters about the British residents, continually stated that their policy was NOT to offer consular assistance to individuals who were not British citizens. I could not believe how my government had left British residents like Ahmed to rot in Guantánamo. Being of Jamaican parentage and often hearing the problems of family members regarding immigration, I imagined that this is how someone I know could be treated just because their passport does not bear the magic words “British Citizen.” Ahmed had lived here for nearly twenty years, lived and worked and paid taxes. He paid into British society, contributed to that society, and yet my government, for want of a better phrase, washed their hands of him.

We were given just a matter weeks/days by the U.S. military to submit new evidence for Ahmed’s Annual Review Board (ARB)—the process that takes place in Guantánamo to decide whether a prisoner is still a threat to U.S. national security—which meant me running around in between my paying job and college to try and gather as much evidence to disprove the allegation that Ahmed had been “identified as having received training at the al Farouq training camp in July 2001, to include weapons training, war tactics and bomb making.” So on a cold evening in February 2006 I set out on the trail to prove exactly the opposite of the headlines shouting loud to the world that Ahmed Errachidi was the “Cook who became the General.”

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