Guantanamo Voices


Amazing Questions Part 2

Chris, Moazzam and other detainees field a dozen or so questions every night from audiences and a constant barrage of them from media. Here are the most insightful of the last week.

From the Sheffield audience, January 20th —

How do you channel and control what I imagine must be incredible feelings of anger toward the west and the world for your situation?

OMAR DEGHAYES: I don’t know, I don’t really understand. Our belief probably helped us. Because we believe in the hereafter, we believe in the destination, that if something happens to us, there must be a wisdom behind it. Though we have been treated badly, there must be some benefit. You learn patience in prison. If I speak how much I learned in prison, maybe people think Guantanamo is a good place. But we learned a lot in Guantanamo really. I said this to Chris when we first met and he couldn’t believe it but we learned a lot about ourselves, about mixing with other people, about prisoners and people’s hatred and prejudices and how we should not be the same if we were in a position of power. All this I think you learn from other people’s mistakes. And the belief that the who turns day and night is not America, but Allah.
From Aerosol Arabic, Birmingham street artist. Interview held with Chris in a random Middle Eastern restaurant on Stratford Road, January 18th —

How did you feel when you came home from Guantanamo?

Very Official Interview (with falafel)

Very Official Interview (with falafel)

CHRIS: I felt like I was losing my damn mind, I couldn’t figure out where I fit.. It wasn’t until I was hanging out with other veterans who were also screwing up their all their relationships and also couldn’t keep jobs that I thought, well, that adds a little perspective. Maybe it’s not just me, maybe it’s this whole damn thing. Maybe it’s having been over there and coming back. I challenge anybody to try it, you come back and you’re a freak show. Nobody wants to touch us with a ten foot stick. My resume says Guantanamo Bay on it now, where am I going to work. Who wants that guy? Cause right off the bat, they know, this kid’s probably got problems.

You’re going around now throwing two fingers up against your country and basically talking internationally about how crap your country is. Do you think that you’re in a way being disloyal?

CHRIS: No, because this isn’t two fingers up against my country, it’s two fingers up against the people who have sold my country out. These are two fingers up against the Bush administration and the corporate pillagers who have sold out the young people of America. I love America. I think America is a great place to grow up. I think a lot of working class values are things I’m really glad to have been imbued with. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere but where I grew up. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up with anybody but the people who raised me. I don’t my regret being an American. But my finger’s goin’ up at the people who are taking our ability to be proud of America away

From the Nottingham University Audience, January 19th:

Who is responsible for the abuses in Guantanamo, the low level soldiers or the high ranking officials?

CHRIS: It comes from both ends. On the blocks, there’s not an extreme level of oversight. The camp comandant and the seargant major of the camp, the highest ranking NCO and officer of the camp, have virtually nothing to do with the camp — they make all the rules, but they never go in and see it. There is a lot of abuse in our operations just day by day, that goes from something that’s procedural to something that’s excessively forceful. But then interrogators and comandants set things from their end, like they’re responsible for the frequent flier program.

MOAZZAM: The great lesson from Nuremberg is that the individual soldier cannot claim they were not liable because they were just following orders. How did abuse happen? In a place like Bagram, which is closer to the front lines, there’s more anger, there’s more energy from soldiers, there’s more liability for abuse. But there is an environment that can be created when people at the top like Donald Rumsfeld says, “I stand for eight to ten hours a day, why is standing limited for four hours for these guys.” But of course when we stand as detainees, we stand chained, with our hands above our heads. So the penny drops from the top.


From the Nottingham University audience, January 19th:

Were there many other soldiers who felt the way you did, Chris? Why did you respond differently to the situation than the other soldiers?

CHRIS: I was definitely minority status, it was like… it reminds me of when Christianity was first starting to come out and people would draw the Jesus fish on walls. It’s like a secret society. I’m an absolute pacifist, which, I know, is at odds with me being in the military but I was playing a dangerous gamble of trying to get college money and get out without being deployed… There were a couple other people who were kind of in line with we. Most of them were like, “We don’t know what these people are here for, it’s more than likely that our government’s full of shit. So the best thing we can do is just go and do our jobs and treat these people like people.” Who recognized that we couldn’t do anything to change things, that were all specialists, we were all privates, we can’t do anything that will radically change things. There were other people there who were good people, we weren’t all horrible monsters.

I don’t know what to attribute my values to. I was raised by this mouthy little Portugese guy, my grandpa, who was an absolute racist. But racism’s just never really stuck with me, I’ve always thought that was wrong. My family are hunters, I’m a vegetarian. I’ve just always been like this. Maybe I’m just some kind of weird hillbilly mutant.



Facing the Faithful
January 20, 2009, 11:37 am
Filed under: conversations, Islam | Tags: , , ,

Friday night in Birmingham turns out the biggest audience Moazzam, Chris and Jarallah have seen on the tour. Nine hundred people, mostly Muslim, fill up every seat in a vast, crimson conference room on Conventry Road, the main thoroughfare of Birmingham’s dense Islamic neighborhood.

birmingham rex center

This is where Moazzam grew up, where he attended Jewish primary school and joined an Arab gang that fought with skinheads. It’s where he learned about Islam and where he returned to with his wife and kids after being released from Guantanamo.

birmingham cageprisoners

But to Chris it’s very foreign — he had never met a Muslim person before he went to Guantanamo. At 1AM on his third night in England, Chris stumbled back into his hotel room, dog tired from dinner at the house of a new Muslim friend. He flopped on the bed, held up a bag covered in Arabic script and announced, “Moazzam gave me two Korans.” In the five days between then and now, Chris has learned a lot about Islam. In addition to hanging out with a minivan full of pious Muslim ex-detainees for the week, he’s visited a mosque, discussed how faith kept people strong through Guantanamo’s torture and learned the historic background on “the whole beard thing.”

On stage in Birmingham, staring out at the conference room full of men with beards and women with scarves, Moazzam asks Chris what he thinks of Islam now. Is it a religion of violence, terror and repression?

“I see Americans casting judgments of Islam being guilty of the same things America is guilty of,” said Chris, “If we were to say of the Islamic world, ‘You are obsessed with violence’ – how are we not? I was raised with guns and violent video games.”

Outside hours later, after the last audience members finally filter out into the frigid January night, Chris smoked a cigarette and thought outloud about the religion that surrounded him.

“One of the things I’ve felt conflicted about most since I’ve been here is that many of the guys I’ve met are extremely devout, faithful Muslim men. And in the life I live in the US, I break a lot of Muslim law and don’t really think about it, I don’t think about these things being sinful. But since being here, I’ve been thinking about this from a different perspective. Islam and to be a Muslim is something that, in my lifestyle, I haven’t understood. It’s not like I feel like this lifestyle is wrong or my lifestyle is wrong, it’s just two different ways to live… the main things I can see us varying on are the smaller sins. As far as social justice and things obviously we’re on the same line.”

Moazzam and Chris at Birmingham's Central Mosque

Moazzam and Chris at Birmingham's Central Mosque