Guantanamo Voices

Brainstorming at 100 Miles an Hour
January 13, 2009, 3:38 pm
Filed under: conversations, media, speaking event | Tags: , , , ,

Moazzam and Chris are supposed to be appearing on Yvonne Ridley’s Press TV show at 2:30pm. But it’s 12:50 pm and we’re still in the lobby of the hotel in Bristol, 115 kilometers away from Press TV’s London studio. Chris wolfs down some cold pizza, they throw their bags in the car and we speed down tiny country roads lined with old stone walls. Rounding a corner, the driver slams on the brakes, stuck behind a slow moving truck emblazoned with “Scraggy’s Chimney Sweep.” Chris starts cracking up, saying in his mocking British accent, “I’m a chimbley sweep!” Moazzam and the driver start laughing, too, at the fulfillment of the British stereotype. “No, really, I’ve never seen this,” says Moazzam, “Never in my life have I been stuck behind a chimney sweep.”

Finally we hit the freeway. Chris gets buried in his book — Simone de Beauvoir’s The Ethics of Ambiguity — as Moazzam and Jarallah carry on a loud, expressive conversation in Arabic around him. I crane my neck to see the speedometer. We’re driving 110 miles an hour. We are NOT going to miss this interview.

Moazzam’s phone rings maybe a dozen times. After one call he turns around from the front seat to talk to Chris.

“We’re going to be debating a couple of right-wing guys on television,” Moazzam says, “How do you feel about that?”

“Uh, I might get a little impassioned, but I’ll try not to swear,” replies Chris.

Moazzam nods. “I mean, this is the place to tear them apart. Don’t get angry — get even. This guy, I’m guessing, is an armchair neocon. You and I, we experienced this on opposite sides of the wire but this guy will be talking about something he’s never experienced.”

“Well I won’t be afraid to pull that card out,” says Chris. They both nod and Chris returns to his de Beauvoir.

Responding to Obama’s New Gitmo Plan

chris arendt jaralla al-marri al jazeeraChris and Jarallah hear the news about Obama’s Guantanamo policy change while they were signing the guestbook at Al Jazeera English, killing time in the television studio’s waiting room before their interview begins. Now that Chris had styled his mohawk and Jarallah had brushed his bushy beard, there was nothing to do but hang out and wait to be called on tv.  

And that’s a young woman with a headset poked her head in the door to tell them what she just heard over the wire: Obama announced that he wouldn’t be closing Guantanamo within 100 days as planned. He promises to issue an executive order on his first day in office to close the prison, but getting all the detainees out of there will take more than 100 days. For Chris and Jarallah, this immediately confirmed that Obama is just another promise-breaking politician.  Later, squeezed together in the back of a car racing toward a speaking event in Bristol, the American anarchist and former detainee tear Obama apart between each other.

“I saw the whole Obama campaign as like a car commercial, trying to sell me on a newer model of the same old shit,” says Chris.

“My hope, Obama promised, he can do something,” agrees Jarallah with his funny English syntax, “But my feeling is that he will not do what he can for the human beings.”

That night after the speaking event — which is standing room only in a Bristol activist center — a man from the crowd asks Jarallah to give a glimpse of what conditions for detainees might be like if Guantanamo is closed and the men hel;d there are moved to US soil. Jarallah’s brother, Ali, is the only “enemy combatant” imprisoned within the United States. He’s been held on a navy brig in South Carolina for seven years.

“He has been held in isolation for 14 months,” begins Jarallah, explaining that his brother has had trouble obtaining books and medical care and has been allowed to call his family only three times in seven years. Ali’s case is one of the complicated, unprecedented legal situations that Obama’s team will have to sort out. It seems that Ali was initially arrested (from his home in Illinois, where he was attending grad school) as a witness against his brother. But now Jaralla has been released and Ali is still imprisoned, still with no charges brought against him.

Obama recognized that these strange judicial situations might take a while to sort out, but said he is still committed to closing Guantanamo:

“It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize — and we are going to get it done — but part of the challenge ….. is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous, who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication,” Obama said.

While some evidence against terrorism suspects may be tainted by the tactics used to obtain it, Obama said, that doesn’t change the fact there are “people who are intent on blowing us up.”