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I'm a Minnesota Girl, living in the south. I tell my friends I try not to talk and think like a Yankee, but sometimes I slip up!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Guantanamo -- Our Dachau???

This morning in a discussion with a friend of mine, we mutually agreed that if the crimes we have committed at Guantanamo were to go unpunished; to be pushed under the rug of the crisis in our economy over the next year or two; that we both did not know how we could live with ourselves.

I am reminded that this is the 7th anniversary (since January 11, 2002) of our momentus decision to "host" prisoners that were ostensibly "captured enemy combatants", deprived of the Geneva Convention, who could be held without communication or trial. About 770 detainees, that we know of, have been housed at Guantanamo since that date - nearly 500 have been released. McClatchy papers, who were allowed to interview 66 detainees, developed an opinion that 89% of those once held there had no ties at all to the Taliban. I give you the pictures that shocked the world at their arrival, above, along with my personal talisman photo, to never forget Guantanamo, the hand in the fence, above.

Marking today's dubious "anniversary", Andy Worthington posts this on his Huff post blog:

From my Yahoo blog on this topic, on June 22,2007, I repeat my own somber take on what I consider to be the United States' greatest societal/military blunder in the name of war, since the WWII Japanese internment camps:

In 1975, I visited Dachau, a concentration camp/memorial to the Holocaust in a sleepy suburb of modern-day Munich. Germany has no choice but to expose its conscience to the world and with is within its borders. Nothing of the sort will be done with Guantanamo, the US "prison" that is a global mark of shame beyond our borders. Talk in these last two years from the administration made me think they would shut it down, with ample time before Bush is ousted to try to deep six the facilities, destroy the evidence and obliterate anything that would allow the world to point the finger at Bush and cronies, after they no longer control the horizontal and vertical. That didn't happen.

But maybe that's just the cynic in me. Rather than post the news, I post information about something nearly as strong as the physical evidence that WILL survive Bush. The prisoners' poetry - it will carry the unflinching words (possibly lost, somewhat, in translation) that will tell the story to American scholars who will pierce our shame and bring it into the light someday:

DES MOINES, Iowa - The story behind a book of poetry written by Guantanamo detainees could be as compelling as the poems themselves. Prisoners, denied pens and paper, wrote some of the poems by scratching verses onto foam cups with pebbles. Other poems were translated into English by linguists with security clearances but no literary credentials.
"It was a long and draining project," said Marc Falkoff, a law professor who represents 18 detainees.
The University of Iowa Press will release "Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak" on Aug. 15. The volume, featuring 22 poems by 17 detainees, will be only the second English-language book written by Guantanamo prisoners. The only other book written in English is "Enemy Combatant: A British Muslim's Journey to Guantanamo and Back," by Moazzam Begg, a Briton who was detained for two years before being released in 2005 and whose verse is also included in the upcoming compilation.
The compilation emanated from letters written by prisoners to Falkoff, a law professor at Northern Illinois University who represents one Pakistani and 17 Yemeni detainees. Last year, he received a letter written in verse, prompting him to check with other lawyers and discover that many Guantanamo prisoners were writing poetry.
Falkoff, a former literature professor, hoped that publishing the poetry would provide a fuller understanding of the inmates. But first the work had to endure a gauntlet of government censors, who wouldn't release much of the work. Attorneys initially sent poems written in their original Arabic and Pashtu to a center near Washington, D.C., where translators with security clearances produced English versions. Government officials then determined whether the poems could be released, in either their original or translated versions.
Falkoff said detainees, some of whom have been in custody for five years without a court hearing, turned to poetry as an outlet to express their frustration and yearning. For many, it was a way to persevere.
"None of these poems were written with the expectation that they would be read perhaps beyond a small circle of their fellow prisoners," he said. "Some of the poems are exceptional, absolutely stunning; some are more pedestrian."
Joseph Parsons, acquisitions editor for the University of Iowa Press, heard about the poems and approached Falkoff about publishing the work.
"Because it's such a salient topic, a current event, we all felt the sooner we could get it out the better," Parsons said.
Parsons plans to market the book widely at commercial and academic bookstores. Falkoff's royalties will go to the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. None of the poets will earn money from the book.

In my sadness, I'm reminded of a favorite famous poem by William Stafford:

A Ritual....
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep,
the signals we give -- yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

The darkness around us has been deep. I pray that we bring this into the light, so that it may never happen in America again.


Algernon said...

Comparison to Dachau might be an overstatement, but it is a shameful thing made all the more shameful if indeed this policy goes unpunished.

quid said...

Algie....Agreed. Hopefully, we put no one to death at Guantanamo. Hopefully.


Donna said...

"...all the more shameful if indeed this policy goes unpunished."

I absolutely agree.

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