By Ramy Osman
It’s not a stretch to say that 90% of Guantanamo prisoners have nothing to do with terrorism. There have been 779 inmates held in Guantanamo since 2002. Over 500 hundred have been released without the government compensating them or attempting to restore their reputation. To this day (June 2013), 166 non-Americans are still imprisoned without charge. 86 of them have been approved for release but have been languishing in their cells because US government bureaucracy still won’t allow their release. A prisoner mutiny has been going on for over the past 3 months where over 100 prisoners banded together in a hunger strike; A number of them becoming deathly ill and then being force fed to keep them alive.
These prisoners are on the receiving end of American injustice and they know how hopeless it is to expect America to right its wrongs against them. They’ve seen how difficult it is for a grass roots effort to get just a single person released. The prisoners no longer rely on a president or on the media or on grassroots campaigns to respond to their cries for freedom and justice. They don’t view American presidential powers as being the most powerful authority in the world, or as “leader of the free world”. They view it as being subordinate to the corruption that it operates within. For these innocent victims, humanity has failed them and there’s only one thing left to do.
How did so many innocent people end up in Guantanamo? And why aren’t they released? To answer the first question, you have to go back more than 10 years when America was in a frenzy after 9-11. The American government was more concerned with lashing out at people it didn’t like, than it was concerned about pursuing justice. Many Americans are still in a state of frenzy. When the US military invaded Afghanistan, they started a campaign of arresting anyone who was either a foreigner, or anyone who was against the American invasion. The US military paid local Afghans tens of thousands of dollars every time they would turn someone in who loosely fit those criteria. It was a scorched-earth policy that resulted in the arrest, torture and deaths of thousands of innocents.
Which brings us to the second question: If they’re innocent, then why aren’t they released? The simple answer is because President Obama refuses to release them and has even signed bills that keep them detained. He acknowledges the injustice of Guantanamo, recently saying that “Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law”, yet he doesn’t fight for its closure because it’s not politically safe for him to do so. In 2009, Obama thought he could close Guantanamo with the stroke of a pen when he signed executive order #13493, But that executive order was blatantly ignored by his subordinates and nobody moved to close it. His political impotence was further exposed when the prison not only continued to function beyond its closure date, but when he himself authorized an infrastructure upgrade of the base and also signed the NDAA, which prevents the transfer of innocent prisoners.
Obama simply didn’t have the moral fortitude to demand compliance with his executive order. To this day, he continues to value his job and political friends more than he values ending injustices done in his name. The same can be said about all his subordinates who know about the injustices of Guantanamo, but who continue to obey orders and “do their job”. From prison guards and commanders, to Guantanamo residents and DC policy makers, they all share a collective guilt because without their willingness to keep the system running, there would be no Guantanamo. No matter how mundane their job is and no matter how compassionate they think of themselves in the role they play, they are the ones responsible for implementing the injustice. Their excuse of “just following orders” does not absolve them of responsibility. As volunteers who are part of an oppressive system, they have a moral obligation to remove themselves from any role which contributes to the continuation of that oppressive system. There is a moral imperative for them to take a courageous stance similar to that of former Guantanamo prison guard Terry Holdbrooks, who chose not to work there anymore because he was against the injustices and inhumanity of the prison.
People seem to forget that Obama is a popular leader, not a moral leader. In his 2008 presidential campaign, he pledged to close Guantanamo because he was riding a wave of popular support. But after he became president, the popular support for the shutdown of Guantanmo was no longer felt, therefore, he didn’t follow through on his commitment. He became more concerned about harming the sensibilities of politicians and bureaucrats, than he was about following through on his pledges. The voice of the people who elected him disappeared, and so too did his sense of moral responsibility. Obama is a ‘political moral relativist’ because only with the outrage of citizens against him or with an impending impeachment can he possibly be driven to take firm action against injustice. But neither outrage or impeachment will happen. After all, it was the citizens who voted for his inaction when they elected him again in 2012. 60 million people gave Obama permission to continue to be a moral relativist and to continue to authorize that innocent people rot in prison, that women and children get killed in drone strikes, and that we fight and bomb countries that never attacked us. All with the blessings of the popular crowd.
Despite the world knowing about the plight of Guantanamo prisoners, the world is helpless and can do nothing. All worldly authorities have failed them and so the only authority that is left to rely on is that of God Almighty. They don’t keep track of poll numbers, petition signatures, or the serial number of executive orders. They only rely on their humble prayers, which are the same prayers they made when they were free. Their prayers are what bring them comfort and consistency in good times and bad.
It happens that one of these prayers was recently caught on video. Jason Leopold, an investigative reporter, was on a media assignment at Guantanamo when he set up his camera to record a cell block in Camp 5 at the prison (a maximum security section set up for “non-compliant” prisoners). He recorded a scene that has repeated itself for over a decade. In the morning silence before sunrise, the prison guards were monitoring each cell unit. The silence was broken not by prisoners throwing tantrums or yelling obscenities, but by a call to prayer that is the same call to prayer recited in public every morning by millions of people around the world. In this case, what is usually a call to prayer that is muffled by a steel cage and lands only on the ears of those within hearing distance, this call to prayer was willed by God to be broadcast to the world:
God is the Greatest, God is the Greatest
I testify that there is no god but the One God
I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God
Come to prayer
Come to success
Prayer is better than sleep
God is the Greatest, God is the Greatest
There is no god but the One God
Here is an mp3 file of the “Guantanamo Athan” (right-click and ‘Save-As’): Guantanamo Call to Prayer
Download it and share it. Set it as your alarm for morning prayers (salatul fajr). Let this imprisoned brother reap the rewards of waking you up to pray to your Lord.
Morning Prayers at Guantanamo’s Camp 5 (skip to 2:55)