Guantanamo: The Play

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Last night, I went to see Guantanamo: Honor-Bound to Defend Freedom, a new play based on testimony by Gitmo detainees, along with their lawyers and families. Despite the fact that there was hardly any physical movement in the whole play, and very little dialogue, the audience appeared thoroughly engrossed—I have never heard so few coughs and seat-shifts in an auditorium. Even though the media has been covering Guantanamo and the policies surrounding it for some time, there’s still no substitute for first-person accounts. Based on a few conversations I overheard after the play, it seemed many people learned things they haven’t seen in the daily news.

One of the key points made in the play was that Guantanamo is actually something of a distraction. Indeed, as policies of “extraordinary rendition” have come to light, it has become clear that those in Guantanamo are, in contrast, being treated quite well. Anyone whom the administration wants to torture for information is most likely not being held at Guantanamo. In that sense, it has drawn our attention away from other, lesser known and often more egregious detainment policies.

So who is in Guantanamo, and why are they there? It may be a possibility that, as Michael Ratner’s new book discusses, Pentagon officials aren’t revealing the names of detainees in the hopes that they can turn them into undercover agents when they go back to their home countries. Apparently this is what happened with many IRA prisoners in Britain. As well, Ratner theorized that the widespread tactic of humiliating photos taken of detainees could be part of a blackmail to goad prisoners into working for U.S. intelligence. Though, as the play reveals, the number of detainees with actual intelligence value is meager at best. Additionally, widespread mental illness as a result of the conditions in the camp make it doubtful that they could ever become competent spies.

The play therefore drove home the message that Guantanamo is largely of symbolic value. But it’s not just the American public that might make the assumption that Guantanamo must be full of “bad guys.” Testimony from one British detainee, Jamal al Harith, revealed that he was brought in for interrogation and told that his record was clean, that military intelligence couldn’t even find a parking ticket on his record. But instead of accepting that he may, in fact, be innocent (as seems likely, since he has been released without charge after two years detainment), interrogators interpreted this clean record as further evidence that al Harith was somehow even more sneaky and sinister than previously imagined.

The scenery on the stage rarely changes, prisoners in the background, in their cages do little aside from sleep, wash, pray, and read the Koran. The only reading material allowed to the Guantanamo prisoners is the Koran. Given that the broad U.S. assumption that they are all radical, fundamentalist Muslims, it seems strange to have prisoners, with nothing to do all day, left in a cell to read the religious text over and over again. You’d think the administration would have the military throw a copy of Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy to its captive audience.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate