Caring deeply for Guantánamo Bay detainees is not un-American.
Another anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes. We light candles and remember the fallen. The anger within many of us is temporarily reignited. We speak of where we were and invite others to do the same. Vocabulary: Freedom. Terrorism. Heroism. Cowardice. Good. Evil. Every television channel further sears the now iconic image of Bin Laden deeper into our minds. Some balance the somber memories with birthdays or, as my own grandparents until my grandmother’s recent passing, with wedding anniversaries. Meanwhile, at Guantánamo Bay, innocent people who were never charged with a crime are now psychologically wrecked from the torture they endured; innocent people who were never given a trial have had eleven years ripped from their lives; innocent people are now dwindling to nothing but bone and willing to die all in a desperate attempt to simply have a voice.
There is a distinct current in the United States that whispers: If you sympathize with Gitmo detainees then you are un-American. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel’s brave story on The New York Times titled Gitmo is Killing Me is a moving testament to the human spirit. That the UK legal charity Reprieve cared enough to listen to Samir’s voice is heroic. That The New York Times gave Samir’s voice an audience is as beautifully American as any story out there. The whisper within me: You know what’s un-American? Not giving two shits about these people. Under so many other circumstances Samir’s story would have instantly made him a hero:
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone….
It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.
When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.
Why are Samir and so many others still detained? Here are a few ideas floating out there:
(1) Because even after 11 years we still have no idea whether or not they are terrorists. Guilty until proven innocent.
(2) Because the United States can at once rally the loudest for human rights and be the superpower capable of shredding them as it sees fit.
(3) Because after 11 years we are afraid of releasing these people – people who have undergone some of the world’s worst torture methods.
(4) Because sympathizing with the detainees could potentially ruin the careers of career politicians.
(5) Because in the eyes of many they are nobodies. They are taxi drivers and farmers and they are not white or wealthy or born in places with power.
Though I have a certain respect for him, John McCain’s entire political career, his life, has been bolstered by the torture he endured as he invaded another country and essentially sought to kill as many people as possible – innocent or not. He’s considered one of our country’s heroes for partaking in this.
And the elderly man in Laos – a country that holds the title of being the most heavily bombed – who wanders through the unexploded ordnance to collect pieces of metal so he can boil them down and make spoons to remind people to feed the world compassion and peace?
And the people who hush the whispers outside or within so they can see themselves in others?
And the people who believe everybody is somebody?
America was not attacked on 9/11. Humanity was. Continuing to deny basic human rights to potentially innocent detainees at Guantánamo Bay is proof that in many ways the terrorists are still winning.