Inmates' words: The poems of Guantanamo
The publication of an anthology of works provides a harrowing insight into the torments and fading hopes of prisoners. Leonard Doyle reports
Published: 21 June 2007
The words of the celebrated Pakistani poet were scratched on the sides of a Styrofoam cup with a pebble. Then, under the eyes of Guantanamo Bay's prison guards, they were secretly passed from cell to cell. When the guards discovered what was going on, they smashed the containers and threw them away, fearing that it was a way of passing coded messages.
Fragments of these
"cup poems" survived, however, and are included
in an 84-page anthology entitled Poems from Guantanamo:
the Detainees Speak, to be published later this year by
the University of Iowa Press.
THREE OF THE POEMS
Humiliated In The Shackles
By Sami al Hajj
When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.
When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.
Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.
The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely around the world.
They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.
They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.
Their temptations seize
My attention like lightning in the sky.
But their gift is an empty snake,
Carrying hypocrisy in its mouth like venom,
They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.
But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.
America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.
To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.
Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.
I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?
After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?
My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.
I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors'.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.
Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.
An Al-Jazeera cameraman, Sami al Hajj, a Sudanese, was visiting his brother in Damascus after the 11 September attacks when he got a call asking him to go to Pakistan to cover the impending war in Afghanistan. Instead, he ended up in Guantanamo where he claims he has been severely and regularly beaten, scarring his face.
Jumah al Dossari
Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden, before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the "protectors of peace".
Arrested in Pakistan and held in solitary confinement since 2003, Jumah al Dossari's mental wellbeing is worrying his lawyers. The 33-year old Bahraini national has tried to kill himself 12 times since his incarceration in Guantanamo. On one visit, his lawyer found him hanging in a bedsheet noose, with a deep gash in one wrist. In a letter Mr Dossari wrote in 2005, he said: "The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people and I have been destroyed."
Is It True?
Osama Abu Kadir
Is it true that the grass grows again after rain?
Is it true that the flowers will rise up again in the Spring?
Is it true that birds will migrate home again?
Is it true that the salmon swim back up their streams?
It is true. This is true. These are all miracles.
But is it true that one day we'll leave Guantanamo Bay?
Is it true that one day we'll go back to our homes?
I sail in my dreams. I am dreaming of home.
To be with my children, each one part of me;
To be with my wife and the ones that I love;
To be with my parents, my world's tenderest hearts.
I dream to be home, to be free from this cage.
But do you hear me, oh Judge, do you hear me at all?
We are innocent, here, we've committed no crime.
Set me free, set us free, if anywhere still
Justice and compassion remain in this world!
Shortly after 11 September, Osama Abu Kadir travelled to Pakistan to perform charity work in Afghanistan with the Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamat. The US claims Tablighi was providing fighters for jihad in Afghanistan and arrested Mr Kadir near Jalalabad in November 2001. In his native Jordan, he was known as a dedicated family man who worked as a truck driver. In Guantanamo, he is known as prisoner number 651.