Review of ‘Witnesses of the Unseen – Seven Years in Guantanamo’

The book, ‘Witnesses of the Unseen – Seven Years in Guantanamo’, by Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir shines a light on the systemic and institutionally sanctioned forms of racism, abuse, torture and injustice perpetuated by the USA.

How they maintained their humanity in conditions so warped, so Kafkaesque, so barbaric, so brutal, so arbitrary without any seeming means of escape is contained in their recounting of seven years in the USA’s camp of sanctioned torture.  

It is the Boumediene and Ait Idir’s sanity, stability, reasonableness, compassion and deep faith, within a system that is sick to its core and in every aspect deranged that is a real testimony to the human spirit.

To read this book is to be witness to their courage and fortitude in recounting experiences that are beyond most people’s worst nightmares.

We read about these two Algerian men who are living regular lives in Bosnia within loving family relationships, making valuable contributions to society through their charity work, mentoring and friendships and going about their everyday business when they get caught up in the most extraordinary kidnapping, rendition and imprisonment.

A bitter twist of irony is that Boumediene believes that the precedent to these extraordinary events could well have been an act of kindness he showed towards the wife of a fellow Algerian, Bensayah, also living in Bosnia. He gave money for help from a lawyer when she called him in distress that the police had taken away her husband.

The book serves as an education in itself on the extent of the lawless ness of the USA when subjugating the lives of others to serve the interests of the state in a tradition stretching right back to the broken treaties and genocide of the nation’s indigenous people and the forced labour of African slaves. 

It is not an easy read but it is an honour to share witness through these compelling testimonies of a prison, outside of any judicial process, that must be erased out of existence.

Having looked horror right in the eye Boumediene and Ait Idir use their voices, along with other former prisoners, to help ensure that this monstrous prison will not lurk back into the shadows where it can continue to perpetuate its foul legacy.

Through their witnessing we cannot evade what must be seen.

How Boumediene and Ait Idir survive year in year out in such horrific conditions and still hold themselves together is part of the fabric of the book.   Their account describes how loving and supportive family backgrounds, friendships and service to others, their skills in communication, determination and strong and unshakeable faith give them sustenance to draw on through these unbearable seven years.  

Tragically, many of those imprisoned with them don’t survive and this testimony is for them, too. Those prisoners with no voice, men shattered, destroyed, broken and murdered by a system created specifically to do that to fellow human beings.

Shockingly, forty men from the original 779 prisoners remain in Guantanamo Bay incarcerated and trapped in an intentionally created ‘no man’s land’ without any end in sight.

And while the prison remains open those who have been released remain connected to the pain of their fellow prisoners knowing fully, through their own experiences, what those left behind endure.

Witnesses of the unseen shows us where the energy of hatred can lead but alternatively it holds powerful and palpable evidence of a far greater force. That of compassion. The book describes how even under the most extreme circumstances of cruelty the prisoners use any opportunity available to show kindness and support to each other.

This is further testified in Mansoor Adayfi’s videos and articles about the prisoner’s artworks which often express their concern for fellow detainees.  Adayfi is a former prisoner who raises awareness and campaigns for the closure of the camp. He is currently writing his own memoirs of fourteen years held in Guantanamo.

It’s these small acts of kindness and evidence of the strength of the human spirit that keep hope for humanity alive. That Lakhdar Boumedienne and Mustafa Ait Idir are close friends before, during and after such a harrowing experience and can so seamlessly weave their accounts together is further testimony to the bond shared by many who have been imprisoned and since released from Guantanamo.

George Bush, former President of the United States gave the orders for the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre to be constructed on the island of Cuba. The same president, who when Governor of Texas, signed off the executions of prisoners on death row, the majority of whom were black and poor. The president under whose power the shock and awe on Iraq was unleashed setting in motion acts of aggression that imploded into a cascade of violence and destruction that still continues to this day.  

As one injustice, however seemingly small, slips by unchallenged the next one grows ever stronger. What this books shows is that alternatively any act, however small, that demands an end to injustice can gather momentum and become an irresistible current that turns the tide in the other direction.  

Whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, former USA army intelligence analyst and publisher and editor in chief of WikiLeaks Julian Assange both courageously exposed the torture and injustice at Guantanamo prison at great personal cost by bringing to public attention the standard operating procedural manual which included the securing and treatment of detainees.  

As American journalist Glenn Greenwald writes: ‘how oppressive is this American detention system, how unreliable the evidence is on which the accusations are based…. The idea of trusting the government to imprison people for life based on secret, untested evidence never reviewed by a court should repel any decent or minimally rational person, but these newly released files demonstrate how warped is this indefinite detention specifically.’

Huge global internet and media circulation of these classified documents brought the USA war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and the abuses at Guantanamo to the world’s attention. 

One result was that the full might of the USA state apparatus was used to silence and imprison both these conscientious truth tellers in an attempt to stuff back down, choke off and destroy the message and the messengers. 

Julian Assange has been imprisoned in HMP Belmarsh for more than a year, held now as a remand prisoner, to face the rest of an extradition hearing to the USA to be held in September 2020.

He has been persecuted, tortured and silenced with the full backing of a corrupted UK government and a judiciary that has bent laws to join America in sending a warning to journalists worldwide to censor their publishing, if related to information revealing the dark side of the state or else suffer the consequences. 

As Anne Ramberg, head of the Swedish Bar Association said of Assange: Should we extradite to Germany’s Hitler someone who has revealed the existence of concentration camps and genocide?

But the truth cannot be stuffed down and contorted with brute force.  And today worldwide we are seeing the cracks appearing in this crazy orchestrated narrative that is built on sand.

But the truth cannot be stuffed down and contorted with brute force.  And today worldwide we are seeing the cracks appearing in this crazy orchestrated narrative that is built on sand.

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