After a long blogging hiatus, I again feel compelled to evaluate and share about my own participation in the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although I regularly think about my experiences there, I was prompted to write this after reading a BBC article about how a former U.S. soldier, Brandon Neely, sought to find and personally try to make amends with one of the prisoners he guarded while deployed to Cuba.
I, too, have thought about attempting to directly apologize to the men I helped confine in Gitmo, but when I was there, those caged individuals were so effectively dehumanized to me that I didn't know them by name, only by number. Additionally, in my fear-induced state of compliance, I never wanted to risk engaging in the highly prohibited practice of idly chatting with the "enemy." Undoubtedly, these military policies exist in hopes of preventing anyone from developing the type of humane feelings and pangs of conscience that clearly affected both myself and Mr. Neely.
Unlike him, I don't know if I'll ever again meet any of those I so unquestioningly and unjustifiably helped to imprison. However, I do want to make it widely known that I offer no defense for my actions. This is not meant to imply that such an acknowledgment in any way mitigates my guilt, but considering the ongoing nature of these abuses, I am convinced that it is both right and important that I speak out against them.
To this end, let me be clear that I am guilty of having helped to confine men to cages without possessing any form of evidence that would justify their incarceration. Worse, I did not object to seeing some of those men strapped into chairs and force-fed through tubes inserted from their noses into their stomachs. Bear in mind that such "feedings" were not administered multiple times a day as a result of ongoing medical problems, but because many men had lost their will to live and had therefore stopped eating.
This form of extreme apathy toward continuing one's life is sadly understandable when a human being is effectively deprived of almost all liberty. In this context, forced feedings cannot be seen as a compassionate lifesaving act, but as a most extreme attempt at total domination of another human being. How can it be anything other than torture to keep someone alive against their will while indefinitely isolating them in a barren cage?
I witnessed these most heinous acts, and at the time, I neither did, nor said, anything. I did not object because I believed these means could be justified by the end result of obtaining information or preventing the prisoners from rallying support through martyrdom. I was wrong in my actions, and I was wrong in my reasoning.
Other than those still held captive, I am clueless as to the whereabouts of any of the men who were imprisoned during my time at Gitmo. As a current resident of Illinois, I've considered trying to visit any captives that are transferred to this area, but I doubt that would be allowed.
In light of the present circumstances, I see no other possibility for me to personally make amends. However, this does not mean that progress in the overall situation cannot be made. By publicly admitting his guilt to those he wronged, Brandon Neely has both raised awareness about this issue and provided an example to millions of what can be done. Among these masses, he has inspired me, and perhaps others, to more articulately and publicly admit our own culpability for the wrongs we committed at Guantanamo.
Some might argue that testimonies like mine or Mr. Neely's have little affect on the politics that supposedly govern our world. However, a year ago many people thought Barack Obama offered hope and change for how Americans would act and be perceived in the larger world. Nevertheless, relatively little is different today despite all the bureaucratic chatter and even a Nobel Peace Prize. In contrast, I think it is abundantly clear that the virtuous actions of Brandon Neely provide a far better way forward than the rhetoric of "policy change" from any politician. After all, only stopping the commission of a particular evil is not sufficient to foster healing; for this to happen, there must also be an unequivocal admission of guilt and acceptance of personal responsibility for one's past actions.
The URL for the BBC story is as follows: