On Jan. 11, 2002, the first "enemy combatants" were brought to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. On Jan. 23, 2009, newly inaugurated President Obama signed his first executive order closing the facility, which remains open to this day.
From 779 detainees to the current 171 men, Guantánamo has represented a dreadful, we would argue illegal and unconstitutional, development in our nation’s history. It exemplifies the racism engendered by "war hysteria," the label my mother applied to the internment of her family among the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese American citizens involuntarily sequestered during World War II.
Animated by my family’s history, I first became involved in protesting and raising awareness of Guantánamo detainees in 2005, understanding how easy it was to "forget" those interned in the past and with every conviction that the situation at Guantánamo was catastrophically more grave.
Capt. James Yee, who served as the prison camp’s Muslim chaplain in 2003, recounted a prisoner’s report of his arrival. He was forced to kneel in gravel, without shade from the sun, without water. He was kicked when he spoke. After many hours in the same position, his legs went numb and he couldn’t walk when finally allowed to get up. Others had passed out with flies swarming around them.
Major General Geoffrey Miller took command in November 2002, and the methods of interrogation he instituted, state-sanctioned torture, were later exposed at Abu Ghraib after he was transferred there from Guantánamo.
The Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos organization sought to sponsor two cleared detainees for relocation here, an effort endorsed at the Amherst Special Town Meeting of 2009 and at the Leverett Town Meeting of 2010. This became impossible, however, as Congress adamantly refused to allow detainees here (even those no longer defined as "enemy combatants"), based on an exaggerated assumption of their dangerousness – war hysteria.
One of the men we sought to help was a Muslim Russian, Ravil Mingazov, a former ballet dancer, whom a federal judge ordered released in 2010. As Haiti struggled in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Ravil came up with the idea (impossible to implement) of sending surplus food packages donated by Guantánamo prisoners to the earthquake survivors so close by.
Another focus has been to raise awareness of the denial of rights under military law and the Geneva Conventions embodied in the Guantánamo phenomenon and the threat to our constitutional principles.
Local attorneys have volunteered to represent detainees. Though 600 prisoners have been released, the institution remains. After 10 long years, 89 who remain have been cleared – many for four years or more – but cannot leave. The Obama administration’s 2009 Guantánamo Review Task Force found 46 others too dangerous to release, but lacks evidence to charge them with war crimes. Some 30 other prisoners are to be charged and tried.
On Dec. 31, 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, including a provision that enables the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial. The Guantánamo practice of indefinite detention is now for the first time a matter of law. This suggests Guantánamo is not the anomaly, but a most worrisome and significant indicator of a society whose democratic principles are under attack.
From Sunday through Jan. 28, No More Guantánamos will present an exhibit of photographs, stories, art and poetry at the Nacul Gallery in Amherst to keep at the forefront of our consciousness the present danger Guantánamo represents. Please join our opening reception Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. We must remain vigilant and take action to hold our government accountable for the abrogation of our traditional rights and freedom from illegal persecution. We must not forget the humanity of those whose stories are not heard.
Norma Akamatsu, a social worker in Northampton Massachusetts, wrote on this article behalf of the organization No More Guantánamos. It first appeared in the Hampshire Gazette.