February 20, 2009 / 2:14 PM / 8 years ago

Novel describes innocent boy's Guantanamo ordeal

4 Min Read

LONDON (Reuters) - A new novel tells the story of Khalid, a British teenager of Asian descent who travels to Pakistan for a family funeral only to end up in Guantanamo Bay, falsely accused of having links to Al Qaeda.

"Guantanamo Boy," published this month by Penguin imprint Puffin Books, is based on author Anna Perera's research into children who were taken to the U.S. military prison following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

And while the story of a 15-year-old from Rochdale, northern England, is fictional, it includes detailed accounts of Khalid's often shocking treatment in Pakistan, Afghanistan and finally at the notorious base located in Cuba.

A review in The Times daily called it "one of the grimmest books for teenagers to have been published for some time."

Perera argued that tough stories aimed at a younger audience were nothing new.

"You'd be surprised how many controversial issues are addressed in children's books," Perera said.

"Look at Melvin Burgess's 'Junk'. There is prostitution and underage sex presented to teenagers. They have this information on television and the Internet all the time," she told Reuters in a recent interview.

Perera considered toning down some scenes of torture in Guantanamo Boy, notably those involving the interrogation technique of "waterboarding," a form of simulated drowning. But she included it in the final draft.

"I never forget how resilient the teenagers I taught were," said the author, referring to her time as a teacher.

Uncomfortable Reading

Khalid is unwittingly caught up in the paranoia and panic that gripped the world shortly after the 2001 attacks.

In Karachi, people falsely denounce neighbors in return for cash from U.S. intelligence agencies, Khalid is abducted, falsely accused of being in Afghanistan, flown to Kandahar and then to Guantanamo Bay where his nightmare gets worse.

Sleep deprivation, torture, anger, boredom and bewilderment drive the boy to the edge of madness, and, although Khalid is luckier than most other young inmates by the end, it is not clear whether he will ever fully recover from his ordeal.

Khalid only confesses to the apparently ludicrous charges against him after being subjected to "waterboarding," during which he is convinced he is about to die.

Perera was inspired to write the novel after hearing of the plight of children at Guantanamo Bay from the charity Reprieve.

"I was so shocked and appalled by that fact. I began researching the prison, and the more I read the more shocked and appalled I became," she said.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's founder who has fought for the rights of Guantanamo inmates, welcomed Perera's novel and the attention it drew to what he called the "pawns in (former U.S. President) George (W.) Bush's ill advised experiment."

"Over 20 kids have had to grow up in solitary confinement in Guantanamo Bay with fewer rights than the iguanas that crawl all over the island," he said.

Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, has promised to shut the prison, widely viewed as a blot on the human rights record of the United States.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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