Guantanamo Voices

Iguana Rights VS. Human Rights

Guantanamo Bay prison is filled with some bizarre creatures. “Banana rats” the size of opossums scurry around under the blocks, freaking out soldiers and detainees alike — though Chris remembers the time when one soldier from his unit drunkenly hurled rocks at a banana rat, killed it, grilled it and, yes, ate it.

Gitmo Iguana Basking in Full Iguana Rights

Gitmo Iguana Basking in Full Iguana Rights

And then there’s the iguanas. Iguanas make driving around Guantanamo’s base a harrowing activity because the lizards are protected by the Endangered Species Act. While U.S. judicial code does not apply in Guantanamo, the Endangered Species Act apparently does because soldiers are warned that if they accidentally run over an iguana they can be fined up to $10,000.

The irony of this is not lost on Moazzam Begg, who spent two years detaineed in Guantanmo. He summarizes the iguana situation for audiences most nights:

“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.”

Chris sees the disparate rights of humans and iguanas as an offshoot of an environment designed to totally dehumanize the detained terrorist suspects.

“I don’t think they wanted us to consider you as humans, I don’t think they wanted you to consider yourselves as humans. They took away from you everything you could possibly have,” says Chris, explaining the military strips detainees of their rights and also their names and possessions — detainees are known only by numbers and are allowed only a one-inch toothbrush, a Koran, a foam prayer mat and eight sheets of toilet paper. “And that’s exactly the training they used on us soldiers as well,” adds Chris, “take everything from them and break them down.”