Raging Bull, Raging Bull and the Guantanamo Guard
"Raging Bull Raging Bull", that's all that Chris Arendt heard down the phone line before it went dead, and this was how he found out that he had been deployed, although he and the rest of his unit initially thought they were going to Iraq.
Chris is an ex-US soldier who served at Guantanamo Bay, he is a very young and quite fragile 24. He is the archetypal poor working class kid from a trailer park in MIchigan, who joined the US army as what he calls a business choice. This was the opportunity for a poor kid to join the territorials and have his college paid for in return for a weekend a month of drill. From a military family, Chris thought this was the opportunity to prove his masculinity, as he put it, it may sound silly, but at no point did he really think he was ever going to have to kill anyone or go to war. I have been a teacher and I know that teenagers often don't think about the consequences of their actions and make daft decisions all that time. In fact I don't even think teenagers have a monopoly on this!
Chris tried everything he could to get out of the deployment, he claimed he didn't want to be an oppressor, he didn't agree with the War on Terror, he had mental health problems, but within a month he and the rest of his rag tag artillery unit of home guards aged from "18-800" were called up and told they wouldn't be going to Iraq but to the maximum security facility of Guantanamo Bay, and they were pissed about it. They got no training and started work immediately with no directions and made it up as they went along. This 19 year old kid was taken off guard duty after two months( he claims for being too friendly with the prisoners) and put on an admin detail and for 8 months he was soley in charge of every movement of every detainee and set up every interrogation. He catalogues the abuse he witnessed and the dehumanisation of prisoners and reminds us that torture can be more insidious than just the well publicised water-boarding. When a guard asked any of the detainees why he was there, he didn't know, he didn't know how long he was going to be there for, if he would ever see his family again and was often kept in solitary. Enough to break down any person despite the "rigorous interrogation techniques".
Chris obviously still suffers great trauma from the experience and has joined the group "Iraqi veterans against the war" who are starting to break the silence around Guantanamo.
Chris travelled to Belfast with Moazaam Begg, an ex-detainee of Guantanamo Bay to tell their story as part of a 'Caged Prisoners' tour . I have blogged about Moazaam before but he was as articulate and moving as ever especially when he raised the case of Omar Khadr, who was arrested when he was 14 and is still in Gunatanamo. Therre is international humanitarian law governing child soldiers which has been willfully disregarded.
Sami Al Haj, the camera man from Al Jazeera who was swept up in Iraq, kidnapped and renditioned to Guantanamo, before being held for 6 years without charge, is supposed to be there as well but he was denied a visa. Exemplifying the fact that although only a handful of the detainees at Guantanamo bay have ever been charged with any crime, the presumption of guilt is a shadow which still follows the released detainees.
This presumption of guilt, is particularly important at this time when Obama is trying to shut Guantanamo and needs to find countries who are willing to accept ex-detainees. There are 235 detainees left in Guantanamo, the majority are Yemeni, Pakistani and Afghan, who can all return home, but there are around 65 who need to find a third country because they are dissidents from Algeria, Libya or China for example. If they are returned to their own country there is a real risk they will be tortured. The only country who has officially accepted any of the prisoners is Albania. Even presuming enough countries accept these prisoners, it will be imperative that we continue to campaign to remove that stain of guilt from their heads. It is unacceptable that they will be perceived as "terrorists" when they have never been charged with a crime. they have already had up to 7 years of their lives stolen from them. They will need support and counselling to resettle not approbation, let us extend our compassion not our judgement.
Finally, it is vitally important that those guilty of war crimes such as torture are brought to account, sometimes it looks like an impossible task to bring the worlds torturers and dictators to justice. Pinochet looked like he would always enjoy impunity, however it took one Spanish prosecutor, Alvarez, to issue an extradition order which placed Pinochet under house arrest for 18 months and changed the face of international law. Even if the US refuses to sign up to the ICC Rusmfeld, Gonzales et al should be scared to set down on Eurpean soil.
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