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The Many Eids Spent In Guantanamo: An Ex-Detainee Reflects



In this blessed month of Dhul Hijjah, when two billion Muslims celebrated Eid Al-Adha, 30 men still remaining in Guantanamo with no charge or trial in sight, sat through their 22nd Eid.

Thinking about my brothers there prompted me to reflect on my own Eids spent in Guantanamo, which have been of the worst and the best of my life.

2002-2010: The Dark Days of Solitary Confinement

When we were in US government custody before being transferred to Guantanamo, some of us experienced our first Eid in a CIA black site, not knowing where we were, or how long we would be in such darkness.

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After being sold to the CIA during Ramadan in 2001 when I was 18 years old, I was first snatched to a black site in Afghanistan, where I lost track of time. I was kept underground in a dark cold small room, naked, hanged, with no light or window, and I was put through intense interrogations which amounted to torture.

Many others were in different prisons in different locations; some were even imprisoned on an aircraft carrier on the ocean, put in cages where they were tortured and abused. It was here where we technically spent our Ramadan and Eid, but in those black sites and prisons there was no Ramadan, no Eid. There was no us. We were dark ghosts.

Some made it and survived the black sites, and some disappeared. Those who survived were sent to Guantanamo.

The First Eid in Guantanamo

Our first Eid in Guantanamo was in 2002. It fell only one month after the arrival of General Jeffery Miller, the architect of the torture programme there. The first day he assumed command, we were subjected to degrading body searches, which amounted to sexual assault, and other forms of punishment.

This took place during Ramadan, as a way of asserting his authority and control over us. Like us, some guards didn’t like him. But for us, there was no sleep during the day and night; we were subject to intense interrogations and torture in the blocks, including starvation – especially those of us in solitary confinement. Many of us were beaten. I recall my face was bleeding, my testicles were pulled and kicked, and I was showered with pepper spray.

That year, Miller formed the JTF (Joint Task Force) and new SOP (Standard Operation Procedures, but we called it Sh*t On Paper). Everything was designed to serve to torture us, to separate our minds from our bodies, and to drive us to the brink of collapse. This programme amounted to human experiments conducted by Miller, with his psychologists, advisors, and experts.

As Ramadan neared its end, I was in solitary confinement with a small group called the Red Eyes; these were a group of prisoners who chose to stand and fight. The term Red Eyes is a Yemeni tribal term, which refers to individuals with courage, integrity, and transparency; people you can depend on in any situation and under all circumstances. We went on hunger strike hoping to inspire others to join in so that we could bring the guards to stop the madness in the camp.

On the day of our first Eid, we woke up for the Fajr (the first daily prayer). It was just like every other day, and we waited for what we thought was an hour or so. We wouldn’t be allowed to know the time in Guantanamo; we would estimate the time. This was particularly challenging in solitary confinement, where the cells were tiny, enclosed metal boxes measuring 2x2m.

When we thought the sun had begun to rise, we began calling out to one another: “Eid Mubarak!” in various languages. There were 50 nationalities speaking more than 20 different languages.

We tried to discuss how we could perform the Eid prayer and celebrate the occasion. “Let us be happy on this day!” I shouted to my brothers. “It’s a day for happiness, as it is a day of joy that cannot be taken away from us. They have already taken everything from us; they think they have even taken our freedom from us. But we still have a lot to have and fight for!”

“SHUT THE F*CK UP!” the guards shouted, banging on our cages. “SHUT UP! NO TALKING! STOP TALKING!”

But that day we ignored them. We continued preparing for the Eid prayer, reciting and repeating out loud “Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar, La ilah illa Allah, Allah Akbar, walee Allah Al-hamd” (praising God).

So the guards turned down the temperature, and we began to freeze in our cages. They brought more big fans to the block to make more noise, and they mocked us and knocked on the doors. They turned off the water, and they switched the lights on and off, fast and repeatedly.

One of the camp officers and an Iraqi translator in army uniform entered the block and shouted in Arabic: “Stop talking! You are violating the camp SOP, and you are abusing the guards!”

I remember Waddah, a Yemeni prisoner who passed away in 2009 in Guantanamo under mysterious circumstances, who was a wise young man. He told the interpreter, “Today is Muslim’s Eid. We are simply trying to pray Eid prayers and celebrate this day. Please, explain to the guards that they should respect that and stop what they are doing.”

“You can’t do that here,” said the camp officer. “It’s against camp SOP.”

“You have to talk to your interrogators to get permission,” he said. “You can’t pray collectively; pray alone..”

Frustrated with this response, I shouted to Waddah, “Please brother, stop talking, and tell them to stick their SOP in General Miller’s a*s. Let us do what we want to do and let them do whatever they want.”

I asked the Iraqi interpreter to convey my message to Miller himself.

“This is America and you are under USA military control you must obey the camp SOP,” the Iraqi interpreter said.

“I refuse,” I said. “This is my home here, so you must respect my rules. This is no America here. It’s just you and us. And I only obey my Creator.”

Waddah and others tried to explain to them the significance of Eid. They told the guards it was a special day for us, but there was no use. We tried to continue our prayer, but the noise in the block was too loud to hear each other. As punishment, General Miller deprived us of breakfast and lunch. Undeterred, I continued shouting and talking even though my brother couldn’t hear what I was saying.

I was challenging the camp, the SOP, and Miller. A few brothers joined me in my defiance.

The guards continued mocking us and mocking our prayers. So we mocked them back.

I told them, “You can join us! Become Muslims, and we can pray together. If you did that, I bet your George Bush would imprison your a*ses with us here.”

One of the guards opened a bean hole in my cage’s door. I thought he would give me my meal but instead, pepper spray struck me in the face. I couldn’t breathe or see; my eyes burned like hell. In my disoriented state, I lunged forward to snatch the pepper spray bottle, but I couldn’t see anything. I shouted to warn everyone. But they already knew; the guards had already started spraying everyone. They were enjoying seeing us in pain.

Five minutes later, a team of seven guards, equipped with protective gear and known as Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) along with a mad dog barking non-stop, lined up at my cage’s door. They unleashed more pepper spray over my face and body. Then the dog was released, followed by the entire IRF team, which charged into my cage. They pushed me to the metal wall, which made a big noise, and they pulled me to the floor and piled on top of me. They forced my face into the toilet (then only a hole in the floor) repeatedly, flushing water over my face, over and over again. I felt I was drowning, and I was struggling to breathe. I swallowed a lot of water, and I thought I was going to die. The burning pepper spray and water mixture made my situation even worse.

Eventually, I was taken out of my cage to the block tier where the IRF held me down. Some were on top of me pressing their knees on my neck, making it hard to breathe. Then a corpsman came and searched my a*s over and over again. He searched every hole in my body. The guards, officers, and the Arabic interpreter present were laughing, and someone was saying, “I bet he is enjoying it.”

I spent the rest of that day shouting and screaming, breaking their SOP, but the burning sensation of the pepper spray persisted. I was in agony. I was on fire. I couldn’t see for the rest of the day. All my belongings had been taken away. I was left with only an orange shirt and pants saturated with pepper spray.

This was my first Eid in Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, in the open blocks where the prisoners were held in separate cages, the story unfolded differently. The guards could not prevent the brothers from offering the Eid prayer, because there were too many of them in the blocks. However, they were punished by being deprived of lunch and dinner. As the night of Eid arrived, the brothers managed to celebrate. They danced and sang in various languages. They congratulated each other in various languages, turning this into a defiant act.

Miller wanted to send us a message that he was there to kick our as*es and to crush our spirits, to torture us, even at Eid. Instead, we responded with dancing, singing, and celebration.

So, all the men in the blocks who had sung and danced were punished; the singers were moved to solitary confinement. That Eid we realised that our happiness bothered Miller, so we decided to be even happier and display even more resilience and strength.

So, while Miller was experimenting on us, he was in fact revealing his weaknesses to us.

Throughout our imprisonment, we never ceased fighting the camp administrations (JFT, Army, Navy, Marines, Airforce, Coast Guard, and interrogators), always striving to stop them from torturing us and abusing our religion.

In the open blocks, brothers would prepare for Eid by hiding some food and fruit the days before -despite the limited portion of food we received- and then share the excess with each other as Eid’s gifts. No matter where we were or under what circumstances we were in, we still showed them that we would never surrender our identities or give up, and that they couldn’t change us.

Year after year, we celebrated Eid in our cages, whether in solitary confinement or in the open blocks.

Finding Beauty More Beautiful in the Hardship

Despite all of this, these Eids also carried beautiful memories.

It was a time to share with one another memories of our lives before Guantanamo. We discussed how we would celebrate Eid in our different countries, how our families would prepare for the occasion, the food they cooked, the visits they made, the songs they sang, the dances they danced. In this, the pain of missing our families and our freedom was always present.

Eid in Guantanamo offered us the opportunity to refuse to be prisoners, because Eid can never be a prisoner. Eid’s role there was to bring happiness and peace to us, to free our souls, and to bring us all together.

The greatest and most enduring happiness we could ever experience was being happy while feeling and living through our own pain and the pain of others. I still feel that togetherness, that happiness to this day. Some of those Eids I count as the best in my life. While feeling pain, we were also defeating the pain and the captor. Those Ramadans and Eids in Guantanamo were special gifts to us.

The guards didn’t know how much we could celebrate Eid despite our circumstances. When we finished the Eid prayer, all the prisoners in all camps at the same time would start calling each other and congratulating each other. This would happen spontaneously and simultaneously, our voices intermingling in a mixture of warmth, greetings, prayers, and blessings. It was a great gathering of mixed voices calling out in various languages. We shouted from cage to cage, blocks to block, and camp to camp. It happened without any warning.

Some of the guards told us they thought we were planning to kill them, or start a riot. The first time this happened, General Miller called all the guards on the evening and night shift to come to the camp for an emergency, suspecting we were plotting against them. But when the prayers concluded calm was restored across all the camps. The camp staff and civilians wandered around the camps, expecting something to happen, but nothing did. There was only peace.

Once, an officer asked us, “So, what is your next step?”

We told him, “Eid Mubarak to you too!”

And we explained Eid to him. Although skeptical, he couldn’t deny the truth.

Some of the kind-hearted guards and medical staff would come and whisper to us “Eid Mubarak”, although they had to be careful to avoid getting into trouble. But since the guards were constantly changing, the new guards would be surprised and shocked by our simultaneous celebrations on these days, in different camps.

Throughout the years, the longing to see our families grew. On the Eid days, prisoners would reread their families’ letters, sharing them with each other, passing them from cage to cage and block to block. They would pass their family photos to one another.

Sometimes we would hide any good news we received during the year until Eid, so we could share it with our brothers to make them happy.

Reading the letters our brothers had received brought us great comfort and happiness, as if they were from our own families. Even those of us who had never received a single letter in years, like me (my first letter arrived in 2007), found solace in reading those letters.


The hardest Eid in Guantanamo was in 2006. The wounds from losing three of our brothers (depicted in the film Death in Camp Delta) were still fresh in our minds. That Eid, I cried a lot in secret. I remember Yasser, Alli, and Mani’a. They were part of the Red Eyes group, and we had been on hunger strike together. We had been force-fed together, and we had all had our time in solitary confinement.

They were with us for every Eid. Yasser and Ali had beautiful voices and would always sing for us. Mani’a was a poet who memorized all kinds of poems in different languages, including many poems composed by prisoners in detention.

That year, I was in Pappa block with some of the Red Eyes. None of us could hide our tears when Bahr (one of the best singers at Guantanamo) raised his voice and sang the same song that Yasser used to sing every Eid.

Yasser, Ali, and Mani’a always will be with us, we won’t forget them. Those who killed our brothers will face justice one day, and we will keep seeking justice for them in this world.

Eid in the Force-feeding Chair

Between 2007-2010, we all were moved either to solitary confinement in camps 5 and 6, because the open cages blocks were closed in camps 1, 2, and 3. The living conditions worsened. Many of us went on hunger strike, to push back against this, so we spent Eid on the force-feeding chair, what we would call in 2013 the “Game of Thrones Chair”. We would say, “I’ll take my feed today as a big meal of lamb”, or, “I will take my feed today as two big burgers, a biryani. We would say to each other: “Enjoy your meal!”

Once, one prisoner Khalid, asked the nurse if they could please feed him Pepsi through the force feeding tube, because he missed Pepsi.

“It’s against camp SOP,” the nurse responded.

Some of our singers avoided singing two songs on Eid. They were songs that Yasser used to sing. One was his favorite song, and one he used to sing for us every Eid without fail. Yasser was loved by everyone. He was only sixteen when he was brought to Guantanamo. We did not sing this song because it was too sad.

During Guantanamo’s dark time under General Miller, we chose happiness at Eid despite the terrible punishments we received for doing so.

In doing so, we chose family over the hardship of our imprisonment. We shared our brothers’ pain and lifted each other up.

We made sure that nobody was left behind. Every Eid we would talk to camp officials to get out brothers from solitary confinement, and to suspend or eliminate punishment for the brothers who were on punishment so that they could share in the Eid with us. Some camp officials would help us, and some would ignore us.

In this way, for all of us, and those who helped us, Eid was a new beginning for everyone.

Eid in the Golden Age (communal living camp 2010-2012)

When Barack Obama was elected as the US President, he promised to close all US military prisons and end torture. Despite the fact that he failed to deliver on this promise, the US government finally agreed to sit down at the negotiation table with us for the first time at Guantanamo.

Through relentless perseverance, we managed to secure improvements in our living conditions. Camp 6 transformed into a communal living camp, and many of our demands were met. Interrogation became optional, and there was no more violence in the IRF’s operations. In fact, we were given a chance to intervene to fix any problem with a prisoner before the IRF were called in.

Classes in Art and English became available. We were given laptops for classrooms, TV, Satellites, PS3, DVD players, movies, books, and newspapers so that we could be in touch with the world and pass the time waiting more easily. We got better food, healthcare, and clothes. We got microwaves and refrigerators and were granted phone and video calls with our families.  We were assigned better psychologists, and had direct contact with the colonel and generals in case of emergency in the camp, and so on.

Although the camp rules didn’t change, they were relaxed, and our brothers were released from the suffocating grip of solitary confinement as part of our negotiations.

The first Eid of that era arrived in September 2010, ushering the collective prayer and celebration for the first time. We were also granted the privilege of receiving incentive items and parcels from our families, lawyers, and even friendly interrogators for the first time.

In Camp 6, we spent months of preparation for Eid. We got new clothes and shoes, and prisoners collected food for months piece by piece, and we collected and saved sweets, pies, and ingredients to bake cakes, and create our own delicacies from the items we received from our families, lawyers, and the navy camp admin. The camp kitchen would prepare special meals and sweets for lunch and dinner for three days.

It was a priority to ensure that everyone got a gift on Eid.

A dedicated team of brothers from different blocks in Camp 6 put together a well-organized plan that included the gifts, the celebrations, the food, and the game match that would happen on the day of Eid. We placed tokens of brotherhood in each cell with a personal written note. It was important that the rest of our brothers could experience joy. Those who were in hospital got special meals and gifts prepared for them.

In the months leading up to Eid, we gathered whatever we could from our families, lawyers, friendly interrogators, and even guards who would secretly acquire items for us. Despite the prohibition on possessing money, we managed to acquire contraband, and those guards would get paid. Although they did it as a human gesture, we insisted that they were paid. Our exceptional chefs also began preserving food that could be transformed into a grand feast.

Countless hours were devoted to Eid preparations. We readied the recreation yard, laid out carpets, organized Eid programmes, and put up posters in the blocks inviting everyone to attend. We arranged matches between the best teams, and the best players would participate. We resolved any conflicts among our brothers, striving for reconciliation and unity.

As the early light of Eid day broke, prisoners hurried to shower and put on their new white clothes and shoes. The aroma of perfume filled the blocks, and Yemenis, Afghanis, and Saudis fashioned sheets into turbans. The transformation of our brothers on Eid day was a sight to behold—a true testament to the beauty of Islam.

The two blocks united in the Eid prayer, with different nationalities coming together. Even the minority groups in each block received the utmost respect and were treated as honored guests. Never before had I witnessed or experienced such brotherhood.

After concluding our collective prayers, we stood, shaking hands and embracing one another as if meeting for the first time. Then we formed a circle, engaged in conversation, and offered congratulations to one another. There was happiness on every face, and the jokes and laughter echoed around us, breaking the chains and the shackles.

As we sat in a circle, we waited eagerly while a group of brothers brought breakfast, sweets, and the cakes we had baked. We enjoyed eating our shared breakfast, thanking the serving team and our excellent chefs. After breakfast, the team served Yemeni coffee, teas, juice, and Palestinian dates which made us feel at home.

We were a big family sitting eating and enjoying our Eid. Some of the guards and camp staff who were our friends, and the guards who were in the watchtower would share our meal too.

One of the female guards said to me once: “I really enjoyed your Eid, the food, the dancing, the singing, and the joy you guys have.”

I told her, “You are welcome to join us.”

“I already did,” she said. “I love the way you treat each other and take care of each other. Thank you for the food and the gifts”.

Guards used to call her “441’s girlfriend”.

While everyone sat and ate, some of the brothers distributed surprises – small gifts and written notes – to brothers in their cells. We made sure to support those who did not have lawyers or could not receive items from their families. This was a sight that always brought tears to my eye —the unity and selflessness with which we cared for one another.

After sharing a meal and conversation in our block, we would exchange visits with other blocks to congratulate and greet our brothers there, and to give them gifts and food. They would do the same for us.

The Navy camp administration was kind enough to let us visit other blocks for a few hours after we gave them our word that there would be no problems. Camp 6 is huge, with eight blocks, and we would often get lost walking from one block to another.

The day ended with a soccer match between the two best teams from Camp 6. Both prisoners and guards watched in excitement, while another group of brothers served juice, tea, ginger, and snacks, including chocolate and sweets made within the camp between everyone, including the guards.

In the evening, we would all gather and sit down in the open air to listen and participate in the programme. Some brothers gave speeches in different languages, singers would sing in different languages, and we all would sing and join them even if we didn’t understand the songs. Poets would recite their recent poems, also in different languages.

To add some friendly competition and fun, we divided into three groups, engaging in friendly competitions involving singing, dancing, poetry recitals, and quizzes about Arabic grammar, Science, English, and even Guantanamo’s history.

The victorious team enjoyed rewards and had the power to assign amusing tasks to the losing teams, which made us laugh. The winning team would ask the losing team to stand and sing like Michael Jackson, or dance hip-hop. It was very funny.

Then, singers performed in diverse languages, and we danced in various styles, depending on the country of the performer. We celebrated in the recreation area where other blocks would join us, and the fences that separated us no longer mattered.

One memorable performance included a group of Yemeni brothers who staged a mock Yemeni wedding. A chosen brother would be dressed as the groom, and a singer led a special Yemeni wedding song while the rest of us echoed the melody. It was a beautiful scene that brought joy to everyone’s hearts. They would walk him around while singing.

Another act involved a team of prisoners covering their faces, playfully mimicking the IRF (Immediate Reaction Force) team. Holding an ISO mat like a child and a spray bottle filled with water mixed with perfume, they would approach the “groom” calling him by his ISN just as the American IRF team would do. They would playfully spray him, shout instructions in English, and pretend to restrain him. This brought laughter to the crowd.

Following this, a “court” was held where the groom could choose someone to be his lawyer. It was all in good fun, as we knew we had no chance of winning a case against him. This allowed us to see humor in our situation for a little while.

The final act stole the show. Our beloved “King Danial,” the shortest brother in the camp, made his grand entrance. With a cap tilted to the side, sunglasses, a trimmed beard, a necklace, a vest over a t-shirt, wide shorts, high-top shoes, a big watch, and headphones on his head, he walked with a humorous swagger. Some brothers were tempted to playfully confront him, but he would rile them up further. He would then break into a hip-hop-style English song and dance, showcasing his talent and entertaining everyone. Guards in the towers even joined in, laughing and cheering for him. His performance earned him gifts from the guards who appreciated his unique talent.

At the end of the program, exceptional brothers were acknowledged and awarded precious items such as books, watches, CDs, CD and DVD players, sunglasses, and more. The rest of us received a generous gift—a sumptuous dinner for three nights.

Right after the night programme, our chefs and a dedicated group prepared a much-anticipated dinner. Months of planning and collecting culminated in this moment. The fragrant aroma wafted through the camp as we all anxiously awaited our turn. Sitting in two rows, facing each other, we watched as the brothers serving the food ensured that everyone’s desires were met. All we had to do was sit, eat, and enjoy the flavors.

The scent of the food seemed to permeate every corner of the camp. Although not everyone desired our offerings, we always extended an invitation to the guards.

Our chefs provided us with dishes from various countries—Afghani, Yemeni, Pakistani, Saudi, Russian, and even American pizza. As I watched my brothers’ faces light up with joy, I felt an indescribable sense of fulfillment. Witnessing their happiness became my ultimate purpose, and I would do anything to preserve this feeling of togetherness. It was my Eid—seeing everyone laugh and find solace in each other’s company.

Yet, beneath the surface of celebration, I glimpsed the hidden pain and longing in some of my brothers’ eyes. Those who were married and had children bore the weight of their absence, shedding silent tears. But on this day, we concealed our individual sorrows. Each of us carried a shared burden, and if one suffered, we all shared in the pain. Eid was a time for celebration, for feasting, for singing, and for dancing.

We extended our happiness to the guards and camp staff, offering them our food and sweets, as we believed in sharing joy with all inhabitants of this planet. The Navy camp administration sent representatives to congratulate us on Eid, and they served us sweet delicacies and special meals during the festive days—a gesture of kindness we reciprocated through letters I wrote expressing our gratitude. Even some interrogators offered their clients gifts and wished them “Eid Mubarak.” In Guantanamo, Eid belonged to everyone, not just the prisoners.

During the golden age in Guantanamo, detainees and Navy guards formed a unified family. We cherished these moments, relishing in the little we possessed.

This was until John Kelly came and ruined everything. When he assumed command of the South command in 2012, they were jealous of the little we had. They wanted to see us sad and miserable, just like General Miller had wanted.

So when the army replaced the Navy in 2012, it signaled the end of the golden age.

One of the camp officers told us that Kelly had offered to send the Special Forces to bring Camp 6 “under control”. He told us that Kelly hated us and that he believed we were extremely coddled. Later, we came to know that his son was killed in Afghanistan.

Dark Times Return to Guantanamo

Our brother Adnan had passed away at the end of 2012 in Camp 5. We are still not sure what happened or how he died. He also was one of Red Eyes, a singer, a poet, and an articulate speaker.

John Kelly was determined to plunge us back into darkness. When we protested punishments, he attacked us while we were on hunger strike. He ended the communal living in Camp 6, and sent us all to solitary confinement. Kelly confiscated and destroyed everything we had built and established in the communal cells between ourselves and the guards.

But despite this, of course, Eid still came around. So we decided we would celebrate it as best we could, even if we were on the force-feeding chair.

We sang and joked and congratulated each other. Just like Miller, Kelly failed to understand our true strength. We celebrated our Eid in solitary confinement and in separated cages in the reaction yard. We didn’t have much to share and there were no gifts, but we had each other.

My last Eid in Guantanamo arrived just three days before the US government forcibly shipped me to Serbia, despite my hunger strike protesting my release. Confined within the walls of Camp 5, we met in the recreation area with separated cages, where we spent the entire night reminiscing and reflecting upon the 15 years of our imprisonment.

Khalid, moved by the emotions that swelled within him, sang Yasser’s favorite song. He couldn’t finish the song; he got emotional, tears ran down his face and his voice broke. Over that night, we engaged in heartfelt conversations, recounting the trials and tribulations we had endured. We remembered the brothers who had already been released, the brothers who had died there, how young we had been when we had entered those walls, and how old we had become there.

Their last words to me were “Please, don’t forget us here.”

“I won’t, I promise,” I vowed.



Podcast: Lost & Found At Guantanamo Bay With Mansoor Adayfi –

My Hardest Ramadan Ever –

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Mansoor Adayfi is CAGE’s Guantánamo project coordinator, an artist, activist, writer and former Guantánamo prisoner. He is the author of Don’t Forget Us Here, Lost and Found in Guantánamo.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Timur

    August 10, 2023 at 9:30 AM

    So painfully beautiful!

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