“An intense, important read for anyone interested in the American government’s misguided efforts at Guantánamo.”
“The U.S. government didn’t want you to hear about life in the ‘legal black hole’ of Guantanamo. Having won the right to a judicial hearing and secured their release, Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir tell the urgent, compelling story behind their detention and one of the most important Supreme Court decisions of this century. It’s a revealing and moving look at what the U.S. government tried desperately to hide.”
“Witnesses of the Unseen courageously exposes an ugly episode in U.S. history, restoring to Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir the humanity hijacked from them by the American government. This book transcends geography and time to take readers from Boumediene and Ait Idir’s early years of innocence to their long imprisonment in the cages of Guantanamo. A must read for all people of conscience.”
“Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir are two of the most notorious victims of the U.S.’s post-9/11 program of rendition, torture, and indefinite detention. Kidnapped on groundless suspicions, they are perfectly placed to reflect on the horrors of Guantanamo and the ‘war on terror.’ With a warmth and intelligence sadly lacking in America’s treatment of them, this powerful joint memoir exposes their captors’ cruelty and the Kafkaesque twists and turns of the U.S. government’s efforts to build a case against them.”
“This book gives us insight into a dark period of U.S. history that is bound to repeat itself, unless more people like Mustafa and Lakhdar agree to tell their stories. Through their compelling first person accounts, told with enormous sensitivity, we learn how a culture of fear and suspicion can result in cruelty, injustice, and total disregard for humanity. There is horror, but there is also immense hope in this world where dedicated people, including the victims who have suffered untold indignities, speak up and speak out.”
“In Guantanamo, Mustafa and Lakhdar often lifted my spirits and gave me reasons to smile and to laugh in the midst of so much pain and darkness. I urge everyone to read this moment of history, which is so beautifully and graciously captured by my two brothers and friends.”
Seven Years in Guantanamo
“I still have no idea why anyone ever thought that I was a terrorist. Even now, even after everything I’ve been through, I would never support the use of violence against innocent people.”
“There are reports every day of people getting attacked because of their race or their religion. Having been subjected to such attacks, I would like to humbly plead and pray that we, all of us, find a way to recognize the basic humanity in one another, and treat each other with decency and respect. I have seen, heard, and felt people acting out their very worst impulses, and I know we can be better than we have been.”
Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir were living quiet, peaceful lives in Bosnia—working, raising young children, filling their weekends and evenings with pick-up soccer games and coffee with friends.
In October 2001, they were arrested and accused of participating in a terrorist plot. However, after a three-month investigation, all charges were dropped. Under intense U.S. pressure, Bosnian officials did not release the men to their families, but instead turned them over in the middle of the night to American soldiers—dressed in Bosnian police uniforms—who had come to the jail. They were beaten, blindfolded, shackled, and flown to Guantanamo.
Housed outdoors in steel mesh cages, Lakhdar and Mustafa watched as the now-infamous military prison was built around them. For seven years, they languished in subhuman conditions, enduring torture and harassment, force-feedings and beatings, cut off from communication with their families. Neither was given an opportunity to argue his innocence until 2008.
When a George W. Bush–appointed judge reviewed the government’s case against Lakhdar and Mustafa, he ordered their release. Lakhdar and Mustafa are now reunited with their families and rebuilding their lives. They are grateful to the many people who have supported them throughout their ordeal, including the Americans who have protested Guantanamo and the WilmerHale attorneys and paralegals whose thousands of hours of pro bono legal work helped them finally obtain justice. They share their stories in the hope that what happened to them does not happen again, especially under an American flag that should stand for liberty and justice.
Lakhdar was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush. Prior to his seven-year internment in Guantanamo Bay, he was an aid worker for the Red Crescent Society in Bosnia. He now lives in France with his wife and children.
Mustafa, a co-plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, was also held in Guantanamo Bay for seven years. Before his internment, he worked for Qatar Charities in Bosnia, and was widely recognized as a talented athlete and coach. He has reunited with his wife and children and is now a computer science teacher at a secondary school in Sarajevo.
Lakhdar and Mustafa shared their stories with Kathleen List, who helped translate them from Arabic into English. Daniel Hartnett Norland and Jeffrey Rose edited their accounts.
(pictured with his son Youssef in 2011)
“Nothing can ever erase what happened—what we did—to this man. But neither can anything erase the moments of transcendent joy he somehow made his way home to.”
–Preface to Witnesses, p. xiv
(pictured with his son at karate practice in 2012)
“His students, ranging from five to fifteen years old and including his own son, were a diverse group: male and female, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic and Muslim, novice and advanced. All of them, it appeared, were having fun, and everyone treated each other with genuine respect. Mustafa was clearly in his element.”
–Preface to Witnesses, p. xvi
Lakhdar and Mustafa with Kathleen List and Daniel Hartnett Norland, who together with Jeffrey Rose helped Lakhdar and Mustafa shape their narratives into a book for an American audience.
We cannot adequately compensate Lakhdar and Mustafa for what they went through—what we put them through. We cannot restore to them the years they lost, or the opportunity to watch their children grow up. But we can listen to them and do our utmost to make sure that other innocents do not suffer the same fate.
Please also consider sharing a message of support with Lakhdar and Mustafa by clicking the envelope icon below and writing them a note. Also, if you would like, you can contribute to this GoFundMe campaign. All contributions will be split between Lakhdar and Mustafa to assist with their efforts to rebuild their lives after Guantanamo.