“… This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of Guantanamo Bay’s legacy— just how easy it is to forget. Even though the camps still house prisoners, the entire place feels like something from a prior epoch, a piece of ancient history, buried now beneath the daily scandals and calamities that have come to define the present moment in American politics.”Omar El Akkad
Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison edited by Sarah Mirk is an illustrated collection of oral histories from ex-prisoners, human rights lawyers, and former military personnel. Omar El Akkad, who wrote the introduction as well as the above quote, described the book as an “antidote to forgetting,” documenting the words of all kinds of people who were impacted by the prison, and highlighting not only the inhumane treatment of the prisoners but also the absurdities of the system itself.
What I found most disturbing was not just the violence perpetuated in the prison, but the mundane ways in which that violence was perpetuated via labyrinthine bureaucracies and the everyday apathy of authority figures. I found myself unsurprised but nevertheless horrified by the prison guards justifying their actions as “just a job,” or baffled by the way the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions struggled to actually charge any prisoners due to all existing evidence being classified.
It’s a sobering reminder of yet another atrocity committed by the United States during yet another xenophobic frenzy, one which has been shoved under the rug by the public to accommodate a new glut of catastrophes. Despite this, the book isn’t quite a history book nor does it function as another scathing critique; rather, it’s a surprisingly gentle— though persistent— reminder that the prison still exists, that it still holds people with no formal charges, and that those people have voices that have not been heard in a long, long time. In this way, Guantanamo Voices does a fantastic job of being, as El Akkad wrote, an antidote to forgetting.
You can find Guantanamo Voices in the catalog here. If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy Grass by by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, or Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West by Lauren Redniss.