Graphic Novel Review: Guantanámo Kid

Words by Christopher Colbourn

Guantánamo Kid tells the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, one of the youngest inmates detained at Guantánamo Bay by the US government in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. A Saudi national arrested outside a mosque in Pakistan at the age of 14, El-Gharani spent eight years of his life detained without charge or trial, first by Pakistan and then by the US, and was treated as an adult though he was still a juvenile. Even after his eventual release and resettlement in Chad- his parents’ country of origin- El-Gharani still lives in the shadow of his time in Guantánamo, treated with suspicion and hostility by intelligence agencies wherever he goes.

This graphic novel- written by journalist Jérôme Tubiana and drawn by the prolific illustrator Alexandre Franc- starkly depicts the human rights abuses endured by El-Gharani and the other prisoners held at Guantánamo, detailing the inmates’ fight against the camp’s regime to secure fairer treatment, while human rights charities fought the US government on their behalf. Franc’s  simple black-and-white illustrations clearly communicate the daily brutality of life in Guantánamo, without revelling in gratuitous detail. Likewise, Tubiana’s unembellished prose faithfully recreates El-Gharani’s memories of his time at the camp. Though the pair do not shy away from the prisoners’ suffering at the hands of cruel guards and indifferent officers, they also delight in showing the inmates’ small acts of resistance against their captors: fighting, slinging weaponised human waste, singing protest songs, and generally making a nuisance of themselves to secure small improvements in their conditions. Franc’s foot-stamping guards and fuming bureaucrats are always a delight to behold, and are a welcome relief from the anger and sadness so masterfully inspired in 150 short pages.

Guantanámo Kid, for all the weightiness of its subject matter, is nonetheless an enjoyable and eye-opening read, and especially must be recommended to teenagers and young people who cannot remember a world before 9/11. Tubiana and Franc cut through western governments’ efforts to normalise the inhumane treatment of terror suspects- a message which is particularly necessary today, as the Trump administration has revoked President Obama’s order to close the Guantánamo bay prison, and openly embraces Guantánamo and the use of torture in the ongoing and misguided ‘war on terror’. Amnesty International has endorsed this book in the hopes that it will mobilise people to join them in campaigning for the release or fair trial of the 40 men still languishing in Guantánamo, and the prison’s immediate closure.