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A night in Guantánamo

Staying in a replica cell, with no waterboarding included
By JEFF INGLIS  |  June 18, 2008

First thing in the morning, a man stopped at my door, leaned in, looked me square in the eye, called me “a piece of shit,” and spat on my floor. I tried not to take it personally.

I was in a prison cell and wearing a day-glo-orange inmate’s jumpsuit, sitting on a thin mat, where I had sat and slept intermittently — and uncomfortably — through the preceding seven hours.

Amnesty International brought the cell to Portland’s Monument Square and arranged several days of events about the offshore prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, last week to draw attention to the 270 or so inmates still held there, and to highlight the support of some of Maine’s congressional delegation for suspending the legal rights of inmates there, most of whom have never been charged with any crime.

I’d volunteered to spend the night in the replica cell (which is modeled on the ones at Gitmo, which are very like the standard isolation units used in US “supermax” prisons) because we’ve all heard stories about unlivable conditions at Gitmo but can’t come close to imagining what it must be like to live for as long as seven years in a small box with little contact with the outside world, and even less hope of release. I hoped my few hours of simulated incarceration — even without the alleged abuse visited on Gitmo “detainees” by US service personnel — would help me appreciate the nightmare those prisoners endure.

When I first entered the cell, I sized things up. I could take three normal-size steps from side to side, four from the door to the bed; a “lap” around it involved 12 reasonably normal-sized steps. With my arms outstretched to the sides, I could touch the walls; reaching up, I could touch the ceiling with my stocking feet flat on the floor. Lying on the raised platform that served as my bed, my head touched one wall and my feet pressed against the other. The walls and ceiling were white; the toilet/sink fixture by the door was stainless steel; the floor was gray. There was one small window — easily covered by my forearm — by the bed and another in the door.

I was already in the jumpsuit, so I sat on the thin sleeping mat, got out my iPod, put in the earbuds, selected the “Gitmo” playlist, and turned the volume up. (The guards play a wide selection of American music — though mostly dark heavy stuff like Drowning Pool and Marilyn Manson — at high volume, at all hours, as a form of psychological torture for the prisoners.)

I read from the Koran, opening it at random and finding the 36th sûrah (chapter), entitled “Yâ Sîn,” or “O Man.” According to the annotation in my copy, that chapter is often recited by Muslims at times of adversity, to sustain their faith. At one point in the text, a group of believers approaches a city of non-believers to try to convert them: “(The people of the city) said: we augur ill of you. If ye desist not, we shall surely stone you, and grievous torture will befall you at our hands.” But, Allah explains through the prophet Mohammed, whatever suffering his followers must endure will be relieved if they stick to their faith, while those who did the torturing will be condemned to burn in hell. After a few readings, I found my hope rising and my discomfort decreasing, even though I am not a Muslim.

I also read — for the first of three times that night — a book of poems written by Guantánamo inmates, seeking a sense of what they feel and think. Despite great discomfort, hardship, and fear, some inmates are able to transcend themselves and their situation and find hope, and dreams, and a sort of freedom.

It’s really far worse
My night was only a tiny taste of what the detainees held at Guantánamo experience. The most obvious difference, of course, was that I spent just over seven hours in a replica of a cell sitting in downtown Portland. Many of the inmates have spent more like seven years in real cells in a remote base in Cuba. By comparison, my imprisonment was soft time.

A Portland police officer sat in his patrol car outside, mostly to protect the cell itself and its accompanying gear (a generator, electronic equipment, parts of a disassembled information booth), but I took comfort in his presence, knowing that if any harm befell me, aid would be nearby. The Gitmo detainees have their own uniformed, armed guards, but they are as likely to be their tormentors as their rescuers.

It was mostly dark in my cell, though a few streetlights shined in. Some detainees’ lawyers claim their clients are suffering permanent psychological damage because the lights in their cells have been kept on 24 hours a day for years.

I was warm and not hungry, equipped with a sleeping bag and fortified with a good meal at home before going into the cell; the inmates get blankets if they’re lucky and regularly complain about both the quantity and the quality of food served at Gitmo.

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Re: A night in Guantánamo
 Congradulations on showing the truths of the cell, and what it entails. However, it feels like you are trying to show a poor me effect on the inmates in the cells. Personally, they did a lot of stuff to be put there, and at least they are alive. if we went back to the way things were they would have been put to death by gun, shock or needle. And thats the way this world should work. Point blank, black and white. Great article, but a little too pushy and liberal. If someone were to read this one might think that they are still getting enough liberty in jail. They were sent there for a reason, and they should have been put to death in my eyes!
By thefreakinprincess on 06/13/2008 at 1:20:39
Re: A night in Guantánamo
Free medical attention, dental work, prescriptions, psychiatric care, clothing, food and lodging all provided by US tax payers. You to can enjoy that life style if you fund, support or take part in terrorist activities including but not limited to bombing, murder, sabotage, beheading and slamming aircraft in to buildings. Even after spending years (not hours) these radical muslims are still happy with themselves and the part they played in their attacks on infidels and muslims alike. Unlike Mr. Inglis, their strong belief in allah carries them. Their belief that they will become matyrs allows them to endure. Their training in camps throughout the world have conditioned them to take the long periods of confinement. They only thing the jihadists and Mr. Inglis share is a hatred of the United States.
By DavidmD on 06/13/2008 at 2:35:53
Re: A night in Guantánamo
Did the author read any of these verses during his 'day in the box' ? "Those who reject our Signs, We shall soon cast into the Fire: as often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the penalty: for Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise" "(As for) those who disbelieve, surely neither their wealth nor their children shall avail them in the least against Allah, and these it is who are the fuel of the fire." "O ye who believe! when ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them. If any do turn his back to them on such a day - unless it be in a stratagem of war, or to retreat to a troop (of his own)- he draws on himself the wrath of Allah, and his abode is Hell,- an evil refuge (indeed)!" I know that even during WWII there were some amongst us that were sympathetic to the Nazi's efforts to exterminate the Jews. Mr. Inglis' support for jihadists (radical islam) is no different than those who filled Madison Square Garden in NYC for a Nazi rally.
By DavidmD on 06/13/2008 at 4:19:22

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