Saturday, July 28, 2007

Guantanamo Poetry - five commentaries

This past week I received an e-mail from Jeff Charis-Carlson, Opinion Editor for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. He noted an earlier post in which I referenced the book, Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak that UI Press has published and brought to my attention a series of op-ed pieces on the subject that have appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. I promised him I would take a look at them and I did. There were some interesting point offered in these editorials.

Jeff Charis-Carlson himself writes of his reactions to reading these poems and relates it to the haunting feelings that surface from reading Psalm 137, a song of exile in which the psalmist denounces those who captured him.

Shams Ghoneim, in another op-ed writes about the contrasting values on which America was founded and the code we are operating on with respect to the detainees at Guantanamo. She writes of Moazzam Begg's poem, "Homeward Bound," in which she can sense his hopelessness and sorrow. Begg received a letter from his 7-year-old daughter in which the only line that avoided the censor's pen was, "I love you, Daddy."

Joseph Parsons noted the poet Adrienne Rich has expressed that poetry can remind us of what we are forbidden to see. Parsons believes"Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak," is not about these accusations of maltreatment... "Its only ambition is to provide a glimpse into the lives, hearts and minds of the men held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo -- something we have been forbidden to see....as they pine for their families, their homes and all they hold dear."

Spring Ulmer writes, that words are dangerous things and "Poems from Guantánamo," had to be liberated from the Pentagon's "secure facilities," where most detainee writing remains in confinement, as it is considered "a security risk." I was struck by Ulmer's story where a year ago, after reading detainee Jumah Al Dossari's descriptions of torture (smuggled out and published online), she began writing letters to Dossari, only to have them returned by the military, marked and brutally ripped open as if to frighten her.

Tung Yin is a law professor at the University of Iowa, specializes in constitutional law and national security law. He writes of the poems giving human voice to the problems caused by applying the war model to non-state actors. He distinguishes the differences between traditional wars between nations, and that between the United States and al Qaida/Taliban. In traditional war, the enemy easily is identified, whereas in this conflict, the enemy hides among civilians. Because al Qaida members deliberately conceal themselves and because even the Taliban fighters did not wear traditional uniforms, there's higher likelihood that the United States would have incorrectly identified a person as the enemy. And in traditional war, it may be unknown what date the war will end, but it is known that the war can end when there is an armistice. In this conflict, it is unlikely the United States would negotiate with al Qaida, and we never may know if we have succeeded in destroying it as a threat to this country extending indefinitely the detention of these individuals without any due process.

I applaud the Iowa City Press-Citizen for dialogue it has contributed to the discussion of the Guantanamo poems.
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