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05 Oct

VOICES FROM THE AMERICAN GULAG

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It is a slim, small book. One could easily overlook it on a bookstore table of just-published volumes, that is, unless one’s eye rested for a minute on the cover picture of handcuffs, leg irons, and chains and then moved up to see the surprising title: Poems from Guantanamo.

It is a slim, small book that presents an overwhelming and unassailable indictment of American justice under the Bush/Cheney administration and a compliant Congress.

Many of the prisoners currently being held in Guanatanamo have been imprisoned for more than five years without being charged with any crime. Many have been kept in total isolation for three years or more, during which time they have been subjected to various forms of abuse, or to use the administration’s term, “enhanced interrogation” (1), sexually humiliated by female guards, threatened with rendition to other countries to be tortured, and interrogated at the point of a gun. Released prisoners have reported attacks by their Guantanamo guards on their religious beliefs and practices.

Many of the 773 Muslims who have spent time in Guantanamo prison since its creation, including 29 juveniles, were captured under the most questionable of circumstances. According to the editor of the book, Marc Falkoff, Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois College of Law, citing military documents, “only eight percent . . . are even accused of being al Qaeda fighters, only five percent were captured . . . on the battlefields of Afghanistan, and fewer than half are accused of committing a hostile act against the United States.” Some were captured by bounty hunters and delivered to US forces (sold to US forces?). As of January, 2007, 393 prisoners remained in Guantanamo. Only 200 of these are thought to present a security risk for the United States. The American gulag has been and continues to be the nightmare of many innocent Muslims.

Professor Falkoff and other attorneys representing the prisoners discovered that several were writing poems describing their ordeal and their longing for home and freedom. In publishing translations of these 22 poems (2), Professor Falkoff and the University of Iowa Press have provided a great service, not only to the imprisoned writers, but to the American people. In returning their names and a part of their history to these isolated and forgotten prisoners of Guantanamo, the book affirms their humanity and recognizes their courage in engaging in the life-affirming act of writing poetry under the most abject life conditions. In stripping away the secrecy imposed by the administration at Guantanamo, Professor Falkoff has presented to the American people and the world-at-large some of the truth of Guantanamo and 17 flesh-and-blood persons who are suffering at the hands of the current American justice system. We cannot ignore them and their fellow prisoners any longer.

We can no longer ignore Abdullah Thani Faris al Anazi, who lost both of his legs in an American bombing raid in Afghanistan, while employed as an aid worker. Held in Guantanamo since 2002, he has received inadequate care and has been left to make his way on prosthetic limbs sometimes held together by duct tape. We cannot ignore Mr. al Anazi when he includes these lines in his poem, To My Father:

I have no fellows but the Truth.

They told me to confess, but I am guiltless;

My deeds are all honorable and need no apology.

They tempted me to turn away from the lofty summit of integrity,

To exchange this cage for a pleasant life.

By God, if they were to bind my body in chains,

If all Arabs were to sell their faith, I would not sell mine.

We can no longer ignore Jumah al Dossari, a Guantanamo prisoner for more than five years, held in solitary confinement since late 2003, who has attempted suicide 12 times during his confinement. We cannot ignore Mr. al Dossari when he writes in his Death Poem:

Take my blood.

Take my death shroud and

The remnants of my body.

Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world,

To the judges and

To the people of conscience,

Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,

Of this innocent soul.

Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,

Of this wasted, sinless soul,

Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the

“protectors of peace.”

We can no longer ignore the 17 poets of Guantanamo nor the hundreds of their fellow prisoners who remain nameless and voiceless.

Where is our outrage at the denial of basic human rights and due process to those we hold captive?

What does it say about our national political discourse that the existence of Guantanamo prison is rarely mentioned, much less condemned?

What does it say about each of us if we do not demand the closing of Guantanamo, the release of all prisoners who cannot be charged with any crime, and the institution of fair judicial proceedings to charge and try those who are suspected of committing a specific and prosecutable offense against the United States?

Jumah al Dossari ends his poem by identifying the United States as the supposed “protectors of peace.” What protection of due process will we give him and his fellow prisoners, be they innocent or guilty?

What peace will we give the lost souls of the American gulag?

Mary Oleary-McGlinn

(1) “Enhanced interrogation” is a direct translation of versharfte Vernehmung, a Gestapo euphemism for torture. The Washington Spectator, July 1, 2007

(2) The book contains only those poems that were not suppressed or destroyed by Guantanamo officials. Many others were.

******

Addendum: Although in March of this year, Secretary of State Rice is reported to have assured questioners that Mr. Bush wanted to close Guantanamo, it now appears that his desire to take this honorable action has been superceded by political expediency as his fellow Republicans have begun to speak out against the closing of the prison as part of their Presidential campaigns based on fear and intimidation. As Senator Hagel has stated, “It’s (i.e., the closing of Guantanamo) a Repubican litmus test year.” “The Republican party has won two elections on the issue of fear and terrorism. (It’s) going to try again.” The Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2007

To support Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Diane Feinstein and their bill calling for the closing of Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, contact your Congressmen and women and go to Amnesty International USA’s site “Tear It Down” : http://www.tearitdown.org

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The McGlynn

It is interesting to note the view of our military.
“While a few detainees at Guantanamo Bay have made efforts to author what they claim to be poetry, given the nature of their writings they have seemingly not done so for the sake of art,” says Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman. “They have attempted to use this medium as merely another tool in their battle of ideas against Western democracies.”
Is not the military mind set a wonder to behold?!

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