“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].