Thursday, 23 April 2009

Innocent Man in Guantanamo

I'm currently reading Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo, by Murat Kurnaz. I pick up random books to read from my local library, but almost always true stories, preferably autobiographies. Reason being I realised as a teenager that life was short, and interesting, and I had a lot to learn. Since time was limited, I had better learn about truth rather than spend my days dreaming about fiction - I had read plenty of fiction as a child; I then took the decision to try to spend every minute of my life as effectively as I could, learning from others who had succeeded in life as much as I could.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this book since I knew it would be pretty grim and depressing. But since the guy had come out the other end and had found the strength to write about his ordeal, I thought that I could probably learn something from him about endurance under difficult times.

As a young adult I once had a vivid dream about Hell. It was like I actually went there and had a look around. It made a lasting impression on me that I will never forget. I think up until then deep down I didn't really believe in Hell; I did believe in a loving and forgiving God and the concept of Hell seemed somewhat in contradiction to this understanding. However, my journey that night, and what I saw, although in a dream, was so vivid that I will always remember. Such images I could not have conjured up myself, having always avoided watching scary movies, the shock of this terrible vision altered my view on life. Now I know that Hell exists, and that it is of man's making. It is a product of the very opposite of love and compassion. It is the ultimate destination of selfishness, a place where a combination of self-indulgence and fear removes all feeling towards others; however, place into that terror just one person who puts another person's needs above their own, where compassion brings one to care for another, at the cost of pain and great danger to oneself, then those bonds of Hell are broken.

Reading this book, about this innocent man in Guantanamo (who I believe was just one of many innocent men), it suddenly dawned on me, 'this is it, this is what I saw, this place was Hell, Hell on Earth'. The constant abuse and torture, the inhumanity displayed by the soldiers towards the prisoners, day after day, year after year, is at times too much to comprehend. I can only read this book in small chunks, since it weighs too heavy on my heart. But I am glad I chose to read it and would recommend all people that believe in facing up to truth to have the courage to do the same. This is a story that needs telling to the World.

Let me tell you what I find the most appalling: the way in which so called 'doctors' were instrumental in the abuse. I have read how doctors were often brought in to determine whether an inmate could withstand any further torture; Murat was strung up in chains left hanging from his handcuffs for days on end; every so often a man with the label 'doctor' on his uniform would come in and check his pulse to see if he was still alive and to decide whether he could withstand any more - the answer for Murat was always that he could. Seems the doctor got it wrong with the man in the room next to him who appeared to be left hanging dead.

I read about a young man who had had his legs amputated due to frostbite, with just stubs left for fingers. He was thrown into one of Camp X-Ray's cages with wounds full of puss. His bandages were never changed, rather he was often beaten and was not even permitted to pull himself up on the cage to use the toilet bucket. A man with frostbite in one finger, the rest all ok, was told that they would amputate his finger; instead they took off all his fingers leaving just his thumbs. A man with toothache in one tooth was taken to a dentist, who took out all his teeth. Terrible fractures that were left to heal on their own. A blind man over 90 interrogated, beaten and tortured with the rest.

Murat says that he had many toothaches and health problems, but that he avoided seeing the doctor at all costs since he wanted to keep his teeth, fingers and legs.

I ask myself what these doctors are doing now. Have they maybe returned from service, maybe to practice medicine in a top medical hospital in America somewhere, maybe with some kind of honours? I think of the Nazis living undercover lives in society. Will these men one day have to face up to their participation in such crimes?

But even under inhumane circumstances, a compassionate spirit is shown impossible to break in some of these men. The guy with his legs and fingers removed never cried when he was beaten, but cried loudly when he saw other men being beaten. Murat writes that he was a really nice guy. Had been married shortly before being arrested. Enjoyed playing soccer, before he lost his legs. Murat later learnt that this man had survived his injuries, had gained weight and was trying to keep in shape, had even learned to do push ups. As of 2007 he was still being held captive at Guantanamo. His name is Abdul Rahman. I look forward to the day when all these men are released and they get their chance to tell their own stories to the World .