Guantanamo Bay Prison: is it still open? Yes. Does it still have 779 men there? No. All but 41 have been released because, after all, they were not the worst of the worst.
Yet that is how they were treated.
On Wednesday, January 11th I quickly lay down on the floor of the Hart Senate office building in Washington, D.C. beside a banner that read, “Hate Doesn’t Make U.S. Great.” I was part of a die-in. I chose to risk arrest in this way to honor one of the nine men who have died while detained at Guantanamo. In my heart I carried the name of Awal Gul from Afghanistan who had died of a heart attack at age 49 in 2012 while imprisoned at Guantanamo.
Mr. Gul had been cleared for release by a military tribunal (i.e. found not guilty), but in the end it was God who released him. We don’t know what caused Mr. Gul’s heart attack, but the conditions for detainees at Guantanamo would be cause enough. Can you imagine being tortured? Really I can’t. How would I behave if I were striped naked and exposed to extreme cold for hours and hours, or chained in a painful posture until my whole body screamed? What if I had to hear blasting noise with no let-up? Was Mr. Gul one of the detainees being sexually assaulted by female guards, or told his mother would be raped if he didn’t give the required information?
Eight other men have died at the prison, and eight of my friends also lay on the floor in the atrium of the Hart building to represent them. We were dressed in orange jumpsuits, wore black hoods, and were prepared to be arrested. The men we represented were not prepared for what awaited them when they were sold to the U.S. army for bounty, shackled, hooded, flown to Guantanamo and tortured. Three of the nine were almost certainly tortured to death. But let me turn your attention to the 41 men still in detention.
What do I know of these men? I know they are MUSLIMS, and Guantanamo was created to tell the world that Muslims are dangerous, that Muslim men are sub-human, and that the United States should decide their fate. Yet this was not an image that went down well in the rest of the world, so Obama tried to close the prison. He did not succeed, leaving President Trump to carry on the anti-Muslim message. It points a lethal finger at our Muslim brothers and sisters, those who live in this country and the l.6 billion worldwide.
What do I know of these Muslim men? I know they are human beings with families who miss them. I know some are poets because there is book of their poetry. (Poems from Guantanamo, Marc Falkoff, ed.) I know some are artists, because Ghaleb Nassar al Bihani has a lawyer who got some of his paintings to Washington, and I saw them. And their beauty made me cry. Beauty. Men thrown away like disgusting garbage are creating beauty. I know that these Muslim men have not seen or touched their wives and sisters, mothers and sons for up to 15 years.
What do I know of these men? I know they want to go home, and they have as much right to freedom and justice as we do. If we can’t prove they did something criminal, we have to honor their rights, because tomorrow they might come for you – or me – and call us non-human according to some new definition.
We have to remember that Guantanamo Bay Prison is still there. We have to remember all the men who were ever there and the ones still there and what we have done to them. We have to remember because it gives them a sliver of hope, and because it restores our humanity. We have to remember the ones who died there so that one day we might be forgiven.
Sherrill Hogen, a Charlemont resisdent, has been protesting Guantanamo and torture for 10 consecutive years with Witness Against Torture (www.witnesstorture.org).
Sherrill Hogen 413-625-8195