Sunday, June 13

Experience: I was a magnet at Guantanamo Bay | Life and Style


I He was one of the first Muslim imams in the United States Army. The clergy defend the right of US military personnel to practice their religion. This means providing religious support, receiving services, and advising the commander on religion, ethics, and morals.

I grew up in New Jersey as a Lutheran and was still a Christian when I graduated from the military academy at West Point, but I met someone who opened my eyes to Islam and its similarity to the other Abrahamic religions. I became 1991.

After West Point, I left the army to follow my own spiritual path, live in Syria, and learn to read the Quran correctly. At the end of the decade, the United States Army, perhaps outside of political correctness, was looking to recruit imams, so I had my first assignment at Fort Lewis, Washington.

A few years later, they asked me to go to Guantanamo Bay. My wife was from Syria, she had no family in the United States, and we had a daughter. We were establishing ourselves. But the army insisted and I was flattered that they offered me the challenge. Right after the first anniversary of September 11, I embarked to Guantanamo to become the magnet there.

It was November 2002 when I arrived, but the air was hot and humid. At Camp Delta, the permanent detention camp, prisoners were held individually in cage-shaped cells made of strong steel mesh. It was something the outside world had no idea about at the time.

I worked from sunrise to sunset in chaotic circumstances, where prisoners were abused and humiliated on a daily basis.

On my daily visits, prisoners often told me what they had to endure in interrogation sessions. I witnessed some of the broken teeth and bruises that many returned with. Despite the physical abuse, most of the direct complaints I received were about religious persecution. The guards desecrated the Qur’an and made the prisoners bow down in the center of satanic circles. The official military line was that the torture did not occur at Guantanamo. As an insider, I knew this was a lie. Some guards were cool, while others were abusive.

He knew who the likely abusers were because when he arrived on the scene, they alerted the other guards with a shout of “Chaplain on the block.” There were three prisoners held in a separate location, Camp Iguana, because they were only between 12 and 14 years old. The guards were excellent.

I conducted the Muslim prayer service in the chapel every Friday and led a vibrant American Muslim community. This raised suspicions and FBI agents showed up at the chapel to monitor us.

When I started filing formal reports on how prisoners were being abused, they accused me of being on the side of the terrorists. It became clear that the officers in charge wanted him out: he was marginalized and under surveillance.

Towards the end of my tour, I took two weeks off, intending to return to Fort Lewis to prepare for the return of my wife and daughter. I left the base and took a plane to Naval Station Jacksonville in Florida.

When we landed, the FBI took me to a room and questioned me. They accused me of espionage, espionage, aid to the enemy, mutiny and sedition.

After being incarcerated in Florida for six days, I was transferred to the Consolidated Naval Brigade in Charleston, South Carolina, where I spent 70 days, most of it in solitary confinement. Along the way, I was subjected to the same sensory deprivation and shackles that I had seen at Guantanamo. It was a terrible experience.

Although I was acquitted of all charges and returned to Fort Lewis, it was clear that they did not trust me.

The Bush administration failed my country and the world in the most serious way. They established the prison in Guantanamo Bay believing that it would be outside the law. They knew from very early that most of the prisoners were innocent, but they kept them there because releasing them would be bad.

He had high hopes for Barack Obama when he said he would close the prison camp, but those hopes were dashed. It is Joe Biden’s obligation now to fulfill Obama’s promise.

Today, I work with veterans and use art to help them come to terms with the horrors of war. In part, I left so I could tell my story, to tell the truth about Guantanamo. I’ve been doing it ever since.

As told to Oscar Rickett

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