In a breath-taking story that shows both the power of forgiveness and how technology can build bridges, a former Guantanamo Bay prison guard met with and apologized in person to two former detainees in London this week. This meeting happened after the guard, remorseful from his time at Gitmo and disillusioned by what he saw and did there, decided to reach out to former detainees via the social networking site Facebook.
BBC News has the story:
The guard, Brandon Neely, and two former British prisoners, Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul, met and talked about their time in Gitmo. Neely said he began to question what he was doing and whether or not those who were in Gitmo deserved to be there when he found he had so much in common with some of the prisoners.
From BBC News:
"It was no different from me sitting at the bar with a friend of mine talking about women or music," says Mr Neely. "He would say, 'you ever listen to Eminem or Dr Dre' and he threw off a little rap and it was just funny. I thought how could it be somebody is here who's doing the same stuff that I do when I'm back home."
Ahmed and Rasul's stories are as unfortunate as they are familiar. They were young aid workers in Afghanistan who admitted they had largely come to the country to have fun and use drugs. Neither were jihadists. Neither were "the worst of the worst" as former Secy. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and found themselves spending years in Gitmo.
Since leaving the military, Neely has been a vocal opponent against Gitmo. He's served in Iraq, but the more time he spent away form the facility the more he believed they had imprisoned innocent people.
"The news would always try to make Guantanamo into this great place ... like 'they [prisoners] were treated so great.' No, it wasn't. You know here I was basically just putting innocent people in cages."
Neely's personal apology to Ahmed and Rasul is powerful and heartfelt. But what is even more amazing that despite their horrid ordeal, where they described being beaten and abused, these two former detainees found it in their heart to forgive. The two said it was really the U.S. government that needs to apologize, and with that, Neely and the former detainees parted as friends.
This story speaks to the heart of why Gitmo needs to be closed. The fact that two young men who were not Taliban, who were not soldiers, who were not criminals, could wind up, without charge, beaten and imprisoned for years without trial is a travesty on an epic scale. That cannot and must not continue. More people need to follow the lead of these men and Neely and speak out against the prison and why such an injustice cannot stand.
This is what we are fighting for.
This post originally appeared on New Security Action. New Security Action is a new organization dedicated to fighting for a progressive, smart national security policy. We are fighting to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.