Guantanamo Voices

Most Fascinating Guantanamo Questions
January 14, 2009, 9:47 pm
Filed under: speaking event | Tags: , , ,

Chris Arendt, Moazzam Begg and other detainees have been crisscrossing the country for a week now, speaking in four cities during seven extremely long days. By my own calculations, in those seven days they have talked about their Guantanamo experiences to roughly 900 audience members and 22 media people, including the BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN and one reggae-loving documentary filmmaker who said his name was “Small Money.”

A lot of people ask the former guard and detainees the same questions, but here I’ve culled together the most fascinating questions so far from both audiences and media.

From the Bristol audience: What were the most memorable worst experiences you have seen?
Moazzam: I don’t really like to focus on all of those on a personal level because I like to move forward, but some of the worst things: The dehumanization, the torture and the murder of other people. And that for me was worse than anything I had to endure.

Jarallah: They put me in the cage or the prison without anything. One day they just knocked the door and said, “You’re going home.” They put me on the plane and returned me to my country and that was it. I spent six years of my life in this prison and I didn’t do anything wrong.

Chris: Like Moazzam, I try to stay away from the negative things, not only for me because they’re around in my head but it’s often a question that comes out. Guantanamo, it’s a pile of the worst thing you’ve ever seen. Just to try to provide a visual of the worst thing, well, I didn’t see it, but I was working the sallyport all night. I got to listen to a man scream and scream and scream. Screaming through the night for eight hours because he’d completely lost his mind. Or, not lost his mind. Maybe that’s a totally rational response to the situation.

From the Bristol audience: I’m looking at both of you [the detainees and Chris] and I’m thinking, who is the victim here? Are you the victim, Chris? And if you’re the victim, what are we?

Chris:I am both the oppressor and the oppressed in this case. I’m a victim in that my family has been economically repressed for the entirety of my lineage. We’re victims of a warrior culture that pushes us into the military and economic baiting. I don’t know if writing books or making speeches helps anything, I don’t know if this will end the war. We’re speaking for the possible benefit to the public good, but I came here to meet Moazzam. So that I could share the things inside of my head and he could share the things inside of his. Myself and the members of my organization are doing what we can with what we’ve got and that’s all we’ve got to give.

Question from University of Reading audience: To the detainees, how did you withstand the torture?

Jarallah: Actually, it’s hard. One day, six years, eight months, they kept me in a cell. And then one day, within two days, I have freedom. The government need to hold me, we bring your family. I have two children, one daughter five years, one daughter two years, who was born when I was there.  When they came to me, I was really really, need to see them. The first time, I see them, I couldn’t accept. I feel something between me and them. The same night, I changed my mind and told [the government] I change my mind, I cannot go, keep me here for some days… My mind is good, but I’m strange to see people. It’s really strange to see people, talk to people like you now is really hard for me.

Moazzam: You have to cut yourself off. You have to say to yourself, you are not the man you once were. I’m not a father anymore, I’m not a husabnd anymore, I’m not a son anymore, because if you do, you start thinking about them, and if you start thinking about them, it starts breaking you. And if they break you, they have done their job. They want to break you, so you can’t let them. So you have to cut yourself off from yourself. So, when you see your family after all of those years, you’re cold. You have to say for yourself, for this time here, I am nothing. You are the number they gave you. Here, in a situation like this, During these time, if you do not believe in a God, I challenge you, because you need to believe in something, you need to have someone to talk to. If you are not a person of faith, you will find faith. These were the tools for me that were extremely important. When you return and you see everyone around you crying and your eyes are dry, it’s because your tears dried up a long time ago.

Question from University of Reading audience: There is a difference, maybe, between what a person considers humane treatment and what international law defines as humane. In your eyes, was the treatment at Guantanamo humane?

Moazzam; There are sets or standards of humane treatment. Cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment are outlawed by the US military. And yet people are being degraded to the point that I don’t even want to mention here. The concept of US torture has been outlawed by the US military. And yet torture has been redefined by the Bush administration. When Alberto Gonzalez said that, for something to constitute torture it must lead to organ failure or death, otherwise it’s not torture… And so the interpretations the interpretations have been widened so much that they’ve been reinterpreted. But most ordinary people, I think, should stick to this standard: “Treat people as you would be treated.”

Chris Arendt: Uh, Guantanamo Bay is a dog kennel and you can’t put people in a dog kennel and then say that you’re treating them humanely… I guess that’s as simple as I ever saw it.

Moazzam: The iguana, which is a lizard, is a protected creature in Guantanamo. It is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The detainee has no rights. The first statement made to us as detainees under United States custody was, “You are the property of the United States and you have no rights.” And that’s the distinction, particularly because five people have died in Guantanamo. Because if you kill accidentally an iguana in Guantanamo, you face a fine of $10,000. Ten human beings have died in Guantanamo.

The Anger of Soldiers
January 14, 2009, 8:48 pm
Filed under: conversations | Tags: , , , ,

In the car today between Bristol and Brighton, Moazzam and Chris got to talking about all the reports of soldiers returning from duty very violent people. Chris mentioned that within his unit, several of the men had been charged with violent crimes after coming home and he himself had tried to commit suicide. They agreed that soldiers have a lot of pent up rage. During his time in detention, Moazzam experienced this as a latent hostility against, it seemed, all things Muslim. An intense conversation followed:
Moazzam: All the cells [in Bagram] had different names on them.. one was called Somalia and Libya and Lebanon. And I was thinking, “What’s Somalia got to do with this? What’s Lebanon got to do with this?” And then I started to realize, these people feel that this is payback time for the Muslim world… It didn’t say Vietnam, it didn’t say Korea.  For some people, there is some pent up rage and that it’s payback time for these people.
Chris: You know, I grew up with these kids and I feel like they were this angry all the time. These kids are the same kids who beat me senseless when I was in school, who were constantly aggressive all of the time. These were the kids who even though I was a part of the military, even after I had gone through basic training and proved myself, taped me to my bed, beat the shit out of me in the night, beat me in the stairwells, beat me in the showers… In basic training I got hit in the face with a shovel in my sleep…

Moazzam: You know when you said that some of these guys were psychotic —
Chris: I mean it! I was more terrified than of anybody I’ve ever been in my entire life. Being surrounded by these guys was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I was way more terrified spending a year around them than a year around terrorists. Absolutely. I’ve been more physically abused by these people than anybody I’d ever been in my entire life. These were scary people to me.