February 10, 2009 by cosmoakacitizensmith
3rd February 2009. Around 7pm.
Nearly 1000 people are crammed into the Great Hall at Cardiff University Students’ Union building. Chatting, waiting, anticipating…..
We’re here to experience what only could be described as a unique political moment. Two former inmates of Guantanamo bay, the notorious detention centre run by the US that holds prisoners without trial and subjects them to extreme torture, are on a speaking tour.
With one of their former guards.
Moazzam Begg, (centre), one of the released detainees, is first up. People stop talking and hold their breath. He starts with the Muslim call to peace, then begins to explain his background, the circumstances of his incarceration and what happened to him while he was at Guantanamo. He also talks about the wider politics surrounding the base and others like it. His book, Enemy Combatant, was written about his experiences, and he promotes it during his talk.
He comes over in a very dignified manner. Evidently, he is someone who has come to terms with his what happened to him and wants to help others as a result. He has set up an organisation called Cage Prisoners to help people all over the world who are held in similar conditions to those in Guantanamo.
Next up is Omar Deghayes, (left), who details the horrendous torture that he and other inmates endured. Again, despite the extremity of his experiences, he talks with great dignity and bearing, and without any trace of malice or hatred.
I can’t describe how completely disgusted I am by the actions of the US government in this case, and the UK government’s poodling around on this matter. Never has the phrase “Not in my name” had so much resonance for me.
Finally,it is the turn of Chris Arendt, a young man from a poor family in the American South, who found himself at 19 working at Guantanamo. He was even promoted to running day-to-day operations. This was a man barely out of his teens at the time, remember, and someone who joined the military as a way to get an education that would have otherwise been denied him. His contribution to this evening takes the form of a question-and -answer session with Begg.
At first, it seems Arendt is not taking the event particularly seriously. He jokes and tries to make light of things. Gradually as his story came out, prompted by Begg, it becomes apparent something far more sinister is going on.
Arendt had gone in the camp untrained and unprepared. Although he did not end up involved in a lot of the torture that occurred there, he took part in what was called the “frequent flier programme.” This was where detainees would be woken up every hour, shackled and bound, and walked to another part of the compound. It was a process that would go on for days and days at a time.
It becomes apparent that Arendt’s manner is actually betraying his extreme trauma, but not in an obvious way. It would almost be easy to mistake him for a young lad goofing around, but this is patently not the case. He explains how he has undertaken the tour to atone for what his involvement in Guantanamo. Intellectually, you know he understands this. But in terms of dealing with the emotions he’s been left to face, you also are aware he has a long way to go.
How does it feel to be a guard at a concentration camp? Very easy, he explains. You just get up in the morning and go to work.
So ironically, in the story of the two former concentration camp inmates and their former jailer, it is the former jailer who is ostensibly the most scarred from his experiences.
The Al-Jazeera journalist Sami el Haj was also due to speak, but he was refused a visa until that night in Cardiff. The last night of the tour.
“All governments are lying c*********s.“ Bill Hicks
See also: http://www.guantanamovoices.org/