Guantanamo Voices

Meet Chris
Chris Arendt

Chris Arendt

Chris Arendt grew up in a trailer at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a rural Michigan cornfield. His family was both a poor family and a military family, so it was always assumed that if he wanted to go to college, the only way to pay for it was to join the army. Arendt grew up to be a punk kid, driving hours to music shows around Michigan and sporting a mohawk and anti-authoritarian tendencies, but he signed on with the Michigan National Guard in 2001 to pay for community college tuition.

During times of peace, the National Guard is deployed for domestic issues, such as helping out in floods, and requires its members to work as soldiers only one weekend a month and two weeks a year. Arendt was shocked when he received a phone call in 2004 telling him his National Guard unit had been called up for deployment. He left school and went through a month-long mobilization process at Fort Dix. In January 2004, he was shipped to Guantanamo Bay. It was the first time he had left the country.

Immediately, Arendt found the guard work at Guantanamo Bay to be repulsive. He worked as a guard on Delta Block and felt strongly that the inmates were unnecessarily dehumanized and demonized.

He described his life as a guard for Esquire magazine:

“Every day you walked down the blocks, forty-eight people in two rows of twenty-four cells, and you have no idea what any of them are there for. They’re just sitting in their cells. You give them food, and if they get crazy, you spray them with this terrible oil-based chemical. Then you send these five guys in to beat the shit out of them…

During the span of a few months, I worked maybe half the time on the blocks. It wasn’t a whole lot of time, but it was really starting to break me down. I couldn’t deal with it. I tied a 550 cord to the ceiling fan that was in my room and I tried to hang myself, but I ripped the fan out of the ceiling. I’ve never been happier about poor construction. That was about two months before we went home.”

One of the images that struck Arendt most profoundly in Guantanamo were the styrofoam cups detainees used at meals. Though it was against the rules, prisoners would draw intricate flowers and designs on the styrofoam cups. Arendt would collect the cups and then throw them away.

After several weeks in Delta, Arendt got in trouble for talking with detainees and was transferred to an office job. Working in an office in a situation he found severely stifling and dehumanizing, Arendt struggled to keep sane. He began obsessively folding origami cranes. Since the cranes were not allowed to leave the base, he would fold hundreds and then sweep them all into a trash can.

Arendt’s tour of duty in Guantanamo ended in 2005. He returned to school at University of Illinois, Chicago. Arendt majored in philosophy and French but also spent a good deal of time riding a fixed gear bike around the city and working as a busboy at a vegan cafe. In December of 2007, he joined Iraq Veterans Against War and has since worked as an anti-war activist. In 2008, he decided to embark on a 15 -month “tour of duty” as a homeless vet, hitchhiking across the country. He spoke at an Iraq Veterans Against the War event called Winter Soldier, testifying about mistreatment of detainees in Guantanamo. Moazzam Begg saw a recording of his testimony there and invited him to tour the UK with Cageprisoners.

When he returns to the US, Arendt currently plans to live in rural Vermont with a veterans’ art collective called Combat Paper, which makes paper from old military uniforms.

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