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Nancy Cohen-koan

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Let These People Go

Posted: 05/28/2013 11:11 pm

I suppose I was preparing for tonight's event by watching Zero Dark Thirty last night or for the last few nights because... well, it didn't move me, though very well made indeed. Tonight though I'll re-watch Warren Beatty's brilliant Bulworth.

The Culture Project, which produced The Exonerated, among other highly political shows, tonight hosted the Center for Constitutional Rights in an evening dedicated to the injustice that is the Guantanamo Prisons and the plight of those still incarcerated. It was a powerful evening, especially following on the heels of President Obama's last speech, where he made it clear that many men are eligible for release and transfer, but those transfers are not being enacted upon. And the plight of these poor souls is made even worse due to the one hundred men who are starving themselves to death.

Vanessa Redgrave and Mia Farrow read a selection of words from some the detained men. One man, taken as a baby at 17, wrote sweetly of wanting to receive letters with hearts and stickers of hearts and showed such delicate concern for his family and consciousness about his own change while in prison. He was so young and now he is fasting and talking about how in some way as his body disappears, his faith and inner strength have become his pillar. There was an exquisite poem by another detainee, and I'm only sorry that I was so enrapt that I didn't take down their names.

A film with prisoner ISN 310, Djamel Ameziane's Decade in Guantanamo tells the history of this prisoner, an Algerian Berber who left home to escape regional violence. We meet his employer in Vienna where he worked at a fine Italian restaurant and heard only glowing words about this man. When Austria changed its immigration laws, Djamel moves to Canada, and again, hear a wonderful report on his stay there from the building's super. It seems, at least in this film, that his crime was not being able to get asylum and so he was forced to go to Afghanistan where he was "sold" by Pakistanis to the U.S. government in what is referred to as a bounty program. Apparently many innocents, from young ages to 92, were sold as terrorists, perhaps providing for officials some justification for the war and other atrocities.

The film show Djamel's brother, a successful businessman living in Canada, pleading for the return of his kin, offering to financially support him and give him back the life that was stolen. The delicate paintings that Djamel made in prison speak to the sensitivity of his nature making his incarceration even harder to accept.

Following the film, a panel with Ari Melber of MSNBC and The Nation joined J. Wells Dixon of CCR, the attorney representing Mr. Ameziane. Also on the panel were Scott Horton from Harper's Magazine and Daniel Lakemacher, the conscientious objector formerly stationed at Guantanamo. Lakemacher spoke about how prisoners were treated as non-humans and that the contractors, perhaps those who built the prisons, told them that the prisoners were the lowest of the low and trained the guards on how to ignore their humanity.

It wasn't spoken of but filthy lucre comes into this, from the Pakistani informants willing to sell out innocents for a price to the huge machine that is Guantanamo prison and the money that it has generated for those running it.

But the evening, as I imagine many evenings, went to Ms. Redgrave, so beautiful and speaking speaks so eloquently and with deep passion that comes from the core of her being, her heart. She pointed out that President Obama spoke of "our value" the other night when he should have said "our laws." Detaining innocent men, torturing them, giving them no dignity... these are against our laws; that is, if we are still a democracy.

As Ms. Redgrave says, these are frightening times. And what is most frightening is that so many Americans are asleep. It's time to wake up, speak out ... it's the right thing to do. It won't change the years so many men have lost in Guantanamo, but it is a move towards humanity, what is right and the law as the Constitution states.

 

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