Ahmed Errachidi, The General Who Was Just a Cook

The ARB submission was good to go, and the first ever affidavit bearing my name went along with it. Clive would joke that that was it and now my name would have gone into the CIA computer database. He said I should look out for strange folk loitering around outside my mother’s house and listen out for strange noises on my mobile phone. I now joke and tell people I know to be careful too and that maybe they’re being followed or their phones are being tapped because of their association with me. We would now wait to see if this submission would go some way to getting Ahmed out of Guantánamo.

In the year to follow I continued the investigation into Ahmed’s case, although not at the same speed as before. I had covered most things with just a few leads that I really wanted to follow up. I tried hard to get media coverage on Ahmed’s case, working with journalists from local and national newspapers. One local paper that followed Ahmed’s story from the first day I spoke to one of their writers printed big posters about Ahmed which went in the windows of the local shops and news agents in the area where Ahmed lived. I always believe that local press is really important as a way of getting people angry and aggrieved that some one of the “locals,” one of their own, is having a bad time.

I arranged meetings with his local members of parliament. This year his MP even wrote to George W. Bush himself demanding Ahmed’s release. I am always a little wary of the MPs as they always have their own agendas when getting involved in a case; nevertheless, if they are committed, they can give us the political weight we often need. Ahmed’s MP helped us with something that had been giving me considerable grief: getting a hold of Ahmed’s home office file. The problem in getting such documents for our clients is that the release form we have authorising us to do so is only a copy. For security reasons the originals are held in a secure facility in the U.S. Some places will accept our release form when I added a touch of my famous charm or an accompanying letter. However, the home office would not accept our photocopy even with a letter stating it was a true copy of the original. On a trip to the States, our senior counsel, Zachary, managed to get the original. Between this and some help from Ahmed’s MP, we were able to get hold of his file.

It was only a matter of weeks after we finally got hold of Ahmed’s home office when we received an email from the U.S. Department of Justice via one of our colleagues in the U.S. stating that Ahmed had been released and transferred to the control of the Moroccan authorities. Shit! I couldn’t believe it. I had two feelings; one was happiness that he had finally been given his long overdue freedom, but two, I was angry that he had not been returned here to the UK. Another cause for anger was that, as per usual, we had been kept completely in the dark, only being told of his transfer after it had happened. As it had happened so often, his legal team was kept completely in the dark about these extremely important developments. We are often the last to know when these things are happening—deliberately kept in the dark so that we are in practice robbed of all opportunity both legally, politically and in the media, to challenge any decision made.

There was little time, however, to remain angry as whilst we had been told by the U.S. State Department that Ahmed had been transferred back to Morocco we did not know where he was. I informed his brother in Morocco, but he had not been told where Ahmed was. I was on the phone to the Department of Justice in Morocco, but they would not give me any information. I had human rights organisations on the ground looking, checking with their contacts in the prisons to see if anyone from Guantánamo had recently arrived—nothing! I was calling Morocco from a friend’s home telephone at five in the morning to try and find out where he was. A journalist from Reuters was in Rabat too asking the same questions to the relevant government bodies. I just wanted to know where he was. But no one was talking. I had done enough research to know all about the Moroccan authorities and what their secret police were capable of. His family knew, too, and they were right to be worried and fearful.

For a week we had nothing. I was angry, frustrated, worried. We spent that week on the phone, sending faxes and emails. I set a deadline that if by the end of the week I had heard nothing either I or someone else from Reprieve would travel to Morocco and raise some hell to find out where he was.

Then that very weekend, Saturday evening I believe, I was at my sister’s house for dinner when I received a call from Ahmed’s brother Abdeljabbar. He said Ahmed had been released and was right there with them. I couldn’t believe it—my heart was racing; the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I was ecstatic. I could hear the sounds of Ahmed’s family in the background; I could hear the happiness, the joy. Abdeljabbar thanked me profusely on behalf of the whole family before saying that Ahmed wanted to talk to me himself. Ahmed came to the phone, and I was so relieved when he said he was unhurt. He thanked me for all the work that we had done on his case. This was one of the most emotional phone calls I have ever had in my life. I was truly choked up. I told him how happy I was that he was home, safe, free.

Ahmed also told me that he had bags full of letters that people had written to him and that he was sorry he had not written back, but that because he had spent most of his time under disciplinary sanctions in Guantánamo, he was not allowed to write letters. I passed him Clive’s mobile number so that he could call him, too and told him that our work was not done. If he needed anything, he only had to call me.

This was the first time I had ever spoken to Ahmed and yet I knew him so well. I had spent over a year getting to know him, and somehow the warmth with which he spoke to me on the phone was proof that he knew me, too. This was a truly wonderful moment. I came off the phone, tears in my eyes. My sisters and other members of the family wanted to know who was on the phone. I explained, and they were happy for Ahmed and showered me with handshakes and much back patting. I called all those friends who knew I had been working on Ahmed’s case to tell them the good news, too. I even went home and cracked open a bottle of champagne to toast Ahmed. I have worked extensively on the cases of several of our clients, but Ahmed’s case was my first investigation for Reprieve. I remember when I first started working on Ahmed’s case that my colleague Zachary impressed upon me how important this investigation was. He hoped I would see the investigation on Ahmed’s case out until the end, until Ahmed was released. And here I was a year and a half later, and Ahmed was free and home with his family. I was happy and proud of what our little organisation had achieved.

Ahmed is back home in Tangiers, Morocco with his wife, kids, and family, trying to get his life back after over five years of unlawful incarceration and abuse at the hands of the American authorities, over five years of his life stolen away from him and from his family. He is a Moroccan, but Morocco is a place he doesn’t know, millions of miles away from the world he knew here in the UK. This was home for eighteen years. The only thing that upsets me is that he wasn’t returned here, the proud chef who had lived and worked in London for so long. In Morocco he has to cope with starting a new life.

I’ll always feel ashamed of how my government left Ahmed to rot in Guantánamo, left him as one of the longest serving prisoners in solitary confinement, left an innocent man to suffer when it was in their power to get him out. Maybe complicity is a dirty word, but it’s most definitely one that is appropriate here. I’ll leave it at that. I’ll probably never know for sure if the evidence we submitted for his ARB was the reason he was released. But sometimes I look at it like this: we carried out unpaid investigation for the U.S. military, an investigation which proved that he was just a cook and not a general. They never had anything on Ahmed. He was just another Pakistani lottery scratch card cashed in for around $5000 by the Pakistani military.

Ahmed enjoys cooking again, and soon after his release, Clive went to visit Ahmed at his home in Morocco. Ahmed that he would feast on some of the finest fish dishes, dishes which had won him so much praise when he worked here in London. Clive told me that unfortunately he could not eat the copious amounts of food placed before him. I laughed when soon after Clive’s return to the UK, Ahmed emailed me inviting me to come and visit him whenever I like. He said, “Hopefully you’re a better eater than Clive.” One day soon I will visit Ahmed, this man I know so well.

Chris Chang

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