Given a choice, I would choose to meet Bisher al-Rawi, who was detained at Guantánamo for four and a half years without charge and later released. Listening to his story, the statement that “Guantánamo is a place that makes people lose their minds” really struck me. Detainees, who are held indefinitely and without charge, must indeed lose their minds after years of ill treatment and repeated interrogations.
After experiencing such injustice, it is incredible that al-Rawi can tell his story so calmly and seemingly without malice. Speaking to him about his ability to move on from the trauma of being held in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo could yield important lessons about the human capacity to move past trauma and create a better life.
His story is representative of the kind of treatment that current detainees experience on a regular basis at Guantánamo. His detention at the facility is another chapter in the ongoing story of holding non-Americans at the base. However, I would choose questions that focus less on his detention experience and more on his life afterwards. Because he has clearly told his detention story before, the period afterwards is of more interest to me.
In the interview with al-Rawi on the Guantánamo Public Memory Project website, it’s clear that he has moved on with his life. He does indicate that re-entering the real world after being imprisoned is difficult, but he smiles when he talks about his wife and young son. Somehow he has managed to create life for himself after the horror of wrongful detention and torture. I would be interested to question him on how he has found the personal fortitude to make a life for himself that is not governed by his past imprisonment. How has he rebuilt his life without hatred and animosity for his captors? How does he cope with the reality of his past while trying to live happily in the present?
It would be helpful to include others in this dialogue as well, particularly other detainees who have been released. Talking with one another about how they deal with their prison term could help to create a sense that none of them are alone in their experiences, and could act as a powerful tool to reenter society successfully. Also helpful for the dialogue would be the inclusion of military prison guards, either those from Guantánamo or other bases. By speaking with one another, these two groups, on very different sides of the detention experience, could better understand the perspective of the “other.”
Posted by Hannah Schmidl, MA candidate in Public History at Arizona State University
Arizona State University is participating in the Guantánamo Public Memory Project‘s National Dialogue and Traveling Exhibit. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery in December 2012 and traveling to 9 sites (and counting) across the country through at least 2014, the exhibit will explore GTMO’s history from US occupation in 1898 to today’s debates and visions for its future. The exhibit is being developed through a unique collaboration among a growing number of universities as a dialogue among their students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO.