A night in Guantánamo

By JEFF INGLIS  |  June 18, 2008

Visions from inside
Inmates’ smuggled words show pain, frustration
I discovered during my time in the cell that it is possible to look for so long at one spot — on the floor, the wall, the ceiling — that the spot actually disappears from view. With enough uninterrupted time — or enough detachment from the brutality of the “real world” — it must be possible to make everything you can see just disappear.

What appears in its place? We know some answers, courtesy of the men held at Guantánamo. They have, with the help of their lawyers, published fragments of poetry shedding light on their thoughts, dreams, and visions.

Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, published last year by the University of Iowa Press, includes 22 poems that made it past the US military’s censors. The one that struck me most deeply, in the middle of the night as I read the poems aloud to myself, was “O Prison Darkness,” by an author identified only by his first name, Abdulaziz. It ends with these lines.

Even though the bands tighten and seem unbreakable,
They will shatter.
Those who persist will attain their goal;
Those who keep knocking shall gain entry.
O crisis, intensify!
The morning is about to break forth.

These were some of the songs I listened to while in the cell. My selections were based on reporting by Spin, Mother Jones, the BBC, the New York Times, Time, Transcultural Music Review, and FBI documents, all of which listed songs or bands played by soldiers at Guantánamo, usually at very high volumes, as a way to break down detainees’ psychological defenses.

“Soldier Like Me (Return of the Soulja),” 2Pac & Eminem, Loyal to the Game, 2004
“Don’t Get Mad, Get Even,” Aerosmith, Pump, 1989
“Dirrty,” Christina Aguilera featuring Redman, Stripped, 2002
“One Eight Seven,” Dr. Dre, Chronicles — Death Row Classics, 2006
“Step Up,” Drowning Pool, Desensitized, 2004
“Bodies,” Drowning Pool, Sinner, 2001
“If I Had,” Eminem, The Slim Shady LP, 1999
“Take a Look Around,” Limp Bizkit, Greatest Hits, 2005
“This Is the New S**t,” Marilyn Manson, Lest We Forget — The Best of Marilyn Manson, 2004
“The Burn,” Matchbox Twenty, Mad Season, 2000
“For Crying Out Loud,” Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell, 1977
“Whiplash (Live),” Metallica, Kill ‘Em All, 2008
“Meow Mix” radio commercial
“Killing in the Name,” Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine, 1992
“Naked in the Rain,” Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 2006
“Sometimes,” Britney Spears, . . . Baby One More Time, 1999
“How Mountain Girls Can Love,” Stanley Brothers, 16 Greatest Hits, 2004
“Walking Man,” James Taylor, Greatest Hits, 1974
“The Star Spangled Banner,” United We Stand, Songs for America, 2001

Jeff Inglis can be reached atjinglis@phx.com.

Clarification: The original version of this story did not fully explain the positions Maine Democratic US Representative Mike Michaud took on the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He voted in favor of the bill as it was introduced in the US House of Representatives, but in a subsequent vote changed his mind and opposed it.

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