Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barbed Wires and Tall Walls


“Imagine a future, 10 years from now or 20 years from now, when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime, on a piece of land that is not part of our country.  Is that who we are?  Is that something that our founders foresaw?”

Saleem Syed’s ears stood up.  Could the President of America have really said that? 

The TV was broadcasting Barack Obama’s speech on national security.  Saleem’s hand moved impulsively to his mobile phone. 

“Can you arrange for me a visit to Guantanamo Bay?”

“Tough, boy, but I can try.  What gives you the idea, however?”  It was the editor-publisher of the weekly for which Saleem had been working as a journalist for years.  

In a couple of days’ time his editor-publisher got him the permission to visit Gitmo, as Guantanamo is known among people closely associated with it.  T&C applied, of course.

Surrounded by the sea where the steep hills did not reach, the prison camp stood like Dracula’s fort  silhouetted against the sinking sun as Saleem watched it from John Paul Jones Hill. 

“We’ll draw lots to decide which prisoner you can interview personally,” said the Commander of the Joint Task Force – Guantanamo.  Only carefully selected names will be in the draw, knew Saleem.  T&C applied everywhere.

The lot fell on Abdul, an Afghan.

“War is in our blood,” said Abdul.  “When we didn’t fight with Russians or the Americans, we fought with the neighbouring tribe.”

Abdul said that he was a warrior whom the neighbouring tribes loved to hate.  So they got him into Guantanamo.

“The American helicopters would drop leaflets every once in a while in the tribal areas,” said Abdul, “offering $5000 per terrorist caught.  Five thousand dollars is a huge lot of money for any Afghan, you know.  I was sold for that sum.”

There was a sign of the Al Qaeda on Abdul’s Casio F-91W watch.  That was enough proof for the CIA which decided that Abdul was a terrorist.

“Are you a terrorist?” asked Saleem.

“Who can be worse terrorists than America?” asked Abdul in return.  “They fuck everyone in the world.  If they cannot do it literally, they do it in the name of democracy.  Or in the name of economic liberalisation.”  Disdain foamed in his mouth and he swallowed it.  “Allah has given each people their own land to live in the way they deem best.  Why does America walk with an erect cock on all those lands pretending that fucking is America’s birthright and sole obligation to the world?  There have been prisoners from 48 countries here, you know.  How did 48 countries become enemies of America? ”

“Are you a terrorist?” asked Saleem again.

“I want America to leave us alone.  Is that terrorism?”

“Were you ever part of any terrorist attack anywhere?”  Saleem changed his question.

“No,” said Abdul after looking into Saleem’s eyes for a while.  “I’m not a terrorist and never wanted to be one.”  He said that he was just another Afghan who worked in his field during the day and spent time with his family in the night.  Yes, he did fight occasionally with some fellow or the other from another tribe.  That too was part of the harsh life in the desert.

“What will you do if you are set free from here?”

“I want to see my daughter.  She is eleven years old now.   I haven’t ever seen her.  She was born the night I was arrested.  I was taking my wife to hospital for the delivery.  I was arrested on the way.  And the scare made my wife deliver the baby in the van itself, before reaching the hospital.  I want to meet her, my daughter.  I want to love...”

He broke off.

“You are a journalist and you know how much of what people say may be true,” said the military officer who escorted Saleem out of the prison camp.  “Look,” said the officer.  He was pointing at the wall opposite a prison cell.  The wall carried many stains which looked like shallow dollops of filth.  “Faeces and urine.  They mix it and throw it at the guards passing by.”

“I want to love...”  Abdul’s words distracted Saleem away from the faeces and urine.   

The sun was sinking into the Caribbean Sea as Saleem walked out of the cage of barbed wires and tall walls. 

PS. This story was inspired by a report, “The Week Goes Inside Gitmo,” in The Week [October 27, 2013].


  1. I had read articles in a few magazines regarding the inhumane approach of the American millitary men with prisoners in the detention centers. Most heart rendering and awe strinking presentation of this brutishness was seen by me the movie 'New York'. The extent of misery cannot be expressed.. It was simply snatchng away one's identity and right to be treated as human. This one is again a heart touching note on the inhumanity, the so called first world country bears. I respect your idea and feelings regarding the issue.... and this one's an artpiece.

    1. Gitmo is a symbol, Namrata. A symbol of the power that America wields over the world. It's not just military power, not brutish power alone, it's also an economic power. America controls the world.

  2. That's collateral damage for all kinds of war. Extremely sad but is very real. Although it might be very tempting to see this is as the reflection of a people but Obama got elected on his anti-Gitmo plank but 5 years hence, nothing. Nothing at all.
    It's funny to think how readily America has internalized Mao's adage into it's foreign policy - 'Power flows through the barrel of the gun'. The difference being, while China is overt about it, US is pretty covert.

    1. Of course, not every American supports Guantanamo, or for that matter, many of America's foreign policies. But we judge the country by what it does officially rather than what the people want personally.

  3. Let these words open the eyes at least a few of this blogging community .the world will find isolate them in a day .thank you .jk

    1. Bloggers can do much in this area... Thanks.

  4. This is a touching story!
    How many such Abduls are languishing!
    I hope all changes soon.

    1. Changes come too slowly, Indrani. And in some cases, they never come. International politics is one such place: only power games. And a lot of innocent people suffer.

  5. Lovely piece of work... Yes, it is sad to see the power US holds over the rest of the world... There might be many worse off than Abdul for all we know.. Rather sad state of affairs...

    1. Thanks, seets. I'm sure I have portrayed a much less bleak world that it actually is at Guantanamo.

  6. i have read much about the bay....all i can say is Allah help them set them free .
    Good work :)

  7. Every time I read something like this and I hate human race. Unfortunately, we are without humanity. :(

    1. True, Pankti, our humanity is being eroded relentlessly... we can't afford to be human anymore!


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