It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. On January 20, 2015, two books were published about the atrocities committed at Guantanamo; both eyewitness accounts but from entirely different perspectives. One was from the perspective of a Staff Sergeant, charged with guarding the infamous detention camp, and the other from a prisoner there (they call them “detainees,” as if that would make any difference.) Both tell harrowing stories of prisoner abuse; one from the shocking events observed by a career Army Staff Sergeant, and the other the personal experiences of a detainee in interrogation and confinement. Both are compelling and should be read by every American citizen. I pre-ordered both of them, and read them back to back. Here are my thoughts:
Murder at Camp Delta by Joseph Hickman
“When I heard people complain about the legality of the place, or the Bush administration’s actions, I thought they simply didn’t understand the new, harsh realities facing America. I also believed that while the United States’ actions might not conform to the letter of the Geneva Conventions, they upheld the spirit. I trusted my government and my military to uphold basic American principles of decency.”
We all were shocked by 911 and we all trusted the government to keep us safe from terrorism. However, in the process, the government not only took away the basic human rights of suspected terrorists, they took away our civil liberties as citizens as well. And, as Mr. Hickman explains, they tarnished our pride and our dignity as Americans.
“For the first time in uniform, at the end of that day, I started to feel shame, both in myself and in my military.”
Joseph Hickman is an American patriot, a professional soldier, and an experienced security professional with corrections experience. What he witnessed while on duty at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is something that one would normally not believe. However, after the publication of the torture memo, it not only becomes believable, but, as an American, you feel the shame of it all as well. Mr Hickman has told his story at great personal risk to himself, because he believes, as I do, that America is a nation of laws and must stand up for the principles that make this country great. One of these principles is that we do not abuse prisoners in our custody, and we certainly do not kill them. Both happened at a Guantanamo and his story is one that had to be told so that we can avoid the terrible shortcuts and violations of civil liberties and human rights that our government committed after 911. This is a book that every American citizen should read, and we should not only demand a full investigation but also prosecution of those involved. The story is so well written, it feels like you are one of Hickman’s colleagues, living the entire experience with him.
Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi
“The law of war is harsh. If there’s anything good at all in a war, it’s that it brings the best and the worst out of people: some people try to use the lawlessness to hurt others, and some try to reduce the suffering to a minimum.”
This certainly is an important story. However, I’m not sure that this diary tells the whole story. To begin with, I understand that the redaction (as can be seen on the cover) is making a statement about censorship, and it is not a very good one for our government. The U.S. Government has no business editing anyone’s manuscript, especially in light of the fact that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and, in this case, also the press. I can understand changing or redacting names to protect the identities and covers of the spooks, but names of military personnel certainly need not be secret, and it seems that it was done to protect the criminals who perpetrated the crimes, which is not acceptable in a civilized society, war or no war. In this regard, the truth should really be told. Also, whole portions of the diary were redacted, probably to keep secret what was actually going on, and we know the things that were going on from other accounts.
All that being said, this book is by no means literature, but is a story that needed to be told. A story of solitary confinement, of coercive interrogations and coerced confessions, and of torture and abuse. A story of physical torture, psychological torture, sexual torture, beatings, ice cube torture, sleep deprivation, and of forced drugs. It is a story of religious and cultural intolerance, of verbal abuse, and of depriving prisoners of their basic needs, like soap and toilet paper, and exercise. No prison in the United States could ever stay open if it engaged in such practices, except, of course, for solitary confinement, which should also be banned in U.S. prisons. Mr. Slahi has been imprisoned in Guantanamo for 12 1/2 years, never having been charged with a crime; and even though he was ordered released in 2010 by a federal judge, he remains incarcerated. As I stated, it is a story that needed to be told, but it’s just too bad that Slahi did not get a chance to tell it to us, and I hope he comes out alive so he can fill in all the blanks.