Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Guantanamo Detainees are Human Beings

In the days ahead, people all over the country will turn their attention to the plight of men entombed at Guantanamo.

I wrote a few days ago about how, despite a handful of releases by the US government, the key fact is that approximately 150 men who never should have been at Guantanamo in the first place remain stuck there, with no indication that they will ever receive anything close to justice.

More Guantanamo detainee art at
"The Hauntingly Beautiful Artwork Of Guantanamo Detainees"

Today, I am dedicating some time to trying to appreciate the humanity of the men at Guantanamo.  So much of the story of Guantanamo has been the program of the US government to make Guantanamo detainees the object of hate.  They have been characterized as "the worst of the worst," with no basis in any kind of legal finding of fact or law. They have been Exhibit #1 in the "Empire of Fear" that our government has constructed.

It will be the work of many years to restore the humanity of the people who have been tortured in our name through their detention at Guantanamo. We must find ways to turn our backs on the propaganda about these men and learn something about them as people. 

The artwork on in this post is selected from the article "The Hauntingly Beautiful Artwork Of Guantanamo Detainees".   I've selected just two of the many examples shown there.

The first shows the inside of a cell. I invite you to look closely at how the color is applied. The layering, the variegation, the approach to representing shadow via color; they all suggest a person using their creative powers to the utmost to find human experience in what is intended to be nothing more than a featureless cell in a dungeon.

More Guantanamo detainee art at
"The Hauntingly Beautiful Artwork Of Guantanamo Detainees"

The second is a still life - a tea set. This one seemed particularly important to me because of something I read years ago in the book by my sister, Elaine Scarry - The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. In it, she explained that torture is about destroying the entire world of the tortured person, and often torture is carried out by using domestic objects -- the things that usually tell us that our lives are safe and secure -- to terrorize and inflict pain.

There can be no greater evidence of this than the way the act of feeding has been transformed by the program of force-feeding Guantanamo hunger strikers: "feeding" has gone from being a life-giving nurturance to a world-destroying act of inflicting pain.

So, as I look at this tea set, I imagine someone reclaiming the domestic space for themselves -- rebuilding their world. I have only a vague idea of the signficance of the small tea glasses, and the tea pots (why are there two?), and I don't really know about the decanter on the right.  I love the brilliantly-colored carpet hanging on the wall, though its not a type I particularly recognize.  The point, of course, is that whether or not I fully understand the meaning of these objects, they probably hold immense meaning in the world of the person who painted them.

More Guantanamo detainee art at
"The Hauntingly Beautiful Artwork Of Guantanamo Detainees"
There's a lot to see in these pictures. Please spend some time reflecting on them this year as part of your January 11 observance.


Related posts


It is clearly the time for an annual dose of stealth maneuvering by our government's "national security" apparatus, led by the President.  They're hoping that they can make it look like Guantanamo is "going away." According to the Administration's script, Americans are supposed to yawn and go back to sleep. Instead, we need to be saying: how do we take responsibility for the injury we have caused?

(See A Modest Proposal: Resettle the Guantanamo Detainees in Chicago)



In 2013 America, we have been conditioned to feel anything associated with Middle Eastern and/or Muslim men should trigger feelings of suspicion, fear, and hatred. And when those cues are triggered, all of our objectivity and healthy skepticism goes out the window.

(See Orwell and the Uses of Hate)









My most prominent memory of my first viewing of the Guantanamo film, The Response, is of one of the stars of the film -- Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek fame -- participating in a panel after the screening. I was blown away when she said, "I did this because our civil liberties in our country have been gravely damaged and we all need to contribute to repairing them."

(See Understanding What Guantanamo Means)