We have all heard about Guantanamo and our opinion about it tends to be affected by news coverage or if made, documentaries. There is no doubt in most peoples minds that the treatment of Guantanamo's inmates crossed the barriers of acceptable and that human rights were breached. Operated in the name of United States of America security, the soldiers due to spend a term there were taken to Ground Zero just before they left to reinforce their hatred for all things relating to what was under no question anything but a major tragedy and act of terrorism.
However, this is not what Ahmed Errachidi, the author of The General is here to challenge. Errachidi calmly and with a greatly philosophical approach to life, tells of how he came to be an inmate in Cuba's most infamous prison. That he landed up there after attempting to extend a humanitarian hand of assistance is one of life's black jokes. Whether his decision to travel to Afghanistan as a Moroccan Muslim was one of the best decisions of his life is a moot point now. He did it, things went wrong for him but he is here to tell his story.
Errachidi was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. His introduction to his life before his imprisonment and how he came to be in Guantanamo is important to his story because it helps the reader to understand the man who was willing to stand up for the rights of his fellow prisoners and who managed to survive where others did not. His description of the conditions that himself and his fellow inmates lived in and the treatment by the American soldiers is sometimes hard to read. There are some passages that just make you seethe with anger, others that make you wince with the shared pain of the inmate undergoing some form of unthinkable torture.
Ahmed's freedom from the prison and the admittance of his innocence was won after the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and his charity Reprieve presented insurmountable evidence that teh charges against Ahmed were absurd.
Just today in the news there is a story of force-feeding 100 of the 166 detainees still in Guantanamo who have been on hunger strike since February. This is enough to tell any reader of Errachidi's story that it is not too late to add our voice to protesters who are still calling for the closure, promised by Obama in 2010, of the travesty of a prison called Guantanamo.
The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantanamo by Ahmed Errachidi is published by Chatto and Windus www.rbooks.co.uk