U.S. silencing of Guantanamo poetry unjust

Is it possible for prison walls to disappear? For the hundreds of detainees who are confined to cells in U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, poetry has given the prisoners hope to believe they will one day witness their cell wall’s disappearance.

Though it is unclear how many detainees are being held at Guantanamo, Amnesty International estimates that 430 were being held as of late 2006, but the U.S has convicted only two of a criminal offense.

Of the hundreds who are being illegally detained in the torturous environment, 17 have recently created a book of poetry, which was compiled and edited by their lawyer Marc Falkoff. The Pentagon has refused for years to declassify the writings of the book, Poems from Guantanamo: Detainees Speak, and after the book’s publication, the Pentagon refused to clear any additional poems. The poems, officials say, could be a "risk," for they could be encoded with terroristic messages.

The prisoners, however, were initially denied the use of paper and pen, so they stitched their words with pebbles onto plastic foam cups. Eventually, with the help of Falkoff, they were allowed to receive the necessary supplies from time to time.

Meanwhile, across the world, Israeli officials have banned the import of paper into the world’s largest virtual prison, Gaza Strip. Ironic? Officials say they recently decided to ban the import of the product because it could be used to print books containing Hamas’ ideology. It is quite peculiar how both Israeli and U.S. officials claim the reason they find paper and words a threat is because it could potentially implement terroristic ideologies in the minds of individuals.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is calling the absurd act a violation of human rights. Approximately 200,000 students began the new school year on Sept. 1, but without textbooks, paper or books. It’s that simple.

For some of the prisoners, however, who have been held for more than five years, they have found a comforting way to voice their sorrows. Some are devoid of love, while others passionately write of it. They remember the feeling of love, even if it is but a slight memory, for their remembrance is what keeps them from disintegrating into Guantanamo’s treacherous air of nothingness.

One detainee wrote, "When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees, hot tears covered my face. When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed. "

Apparently the Pentagon is threatened by pigeons and tears. How is it possible that detainee Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman, encoded the words above with "terroristic" motives? Or is this another way for the U.S. government to propagate and instill fear into the minds of Americans?

According to AI, in October 2006 the Military Commissions Act was passed, stripping U.S. courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus appeals challenging the lawfulness or conditions of detention of any non-U.S. citizen held in Guantanamo.

Whether the prisoners are guilty is moot; it is unfair and unjust to deny them the right of poetry. It would be an entirely different story if their writings were politically motivated, but their writings are but a mere story, an art form to describe their feelings. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, wrote that he never searched for poetry; it instead was in search for him.

For prisoners – whether in Guantanamo Bay or in the Palestinian Territories – poetry helps ease frustration. It helps to break up the structure of time, and it helps to give prisoners hope that maybe, just maybe, their prison walls will one day disappear.

Hammad, the Opinion editor, can reached via [email protected]

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