Tonight I had the privilege of attending a talk by the courageous James J. Yee. Yee is a convert to Islam and a former US Army chaplain, his primary ministering taking place in Guantanamo Bay. Upon witnessing the atrocities being committed against Muslim detainees, Yee voiced his objections against the unjustified government actions. Soon after, he was charged with espionage despite his highly honorable and exceptional commitment to the US Army.
It’s sickening to be reminded that such an arbitrary government-sponsored permanent prison, notorious for its dehumanizing, humiliating, and illegal torture tactics, still exists. Among one of President Obama’s many promises in 2008 was the closing down of Guantanamo as soon as he got into office, but this issue has not only fallen on the wayside by government officials but also by the American and global public as well. The silence of the international community in regards to this shameful institution is deafening. And sadly, the clock is ticking- last month, detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died at the prison without having ever been charged with a crime.
I remember the anger and grief I felt as an Arab-American teenager when the Guantanamo Bay pictures first made it on the news. All I saw was people that looked like me, stripped naked, forced into humiliating positions, being attached to electrical wires like animals, getting gawked at and intimidated by laughing armed soldiers, all because of their religion and the color of their skin. They were forced to curse their beliefs, were physically and mentally tortured in the most merciless of ways, and were literally abused and persecuted to the point of insanity.
My history teacher told our class of young and impressionable students, “It’s okay- they’re terrorists.” The bewildering part is that a majority of these detainees don’t even know what charges they’re being held for, nor are being allowed a trial for whatever charges they can scrounge up. The government made it perfectly legal for these men to remain indefinitely detained without trial; men that are fathers, brothers, sons, rounded up on the streets of their homeland for looking “suspicious.”
That’s the sad part about the society we live in these days: with one magic word – “terrorist,” “Al Qaeda,” or “Taliban” – the government is able to take whatever action it wants with little to no questions asked.
Yee’s story is a powerful one. His fearlessness in the face of adversity for telling the truth is an example of how we should all be agents of justice. He recognized injustice and, despite great hardships, refuses to let anyone forget about it. We cannot allow such cruelty as the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp be forgotten in the pages of our history, and we must always remember that that history is still being written, and the pen is in our hands.