Friday, April 03, 2009

Christ re-crucified - many times

The day the new library opened, Clare, browsing while waiting for me to finish posting my review of the internet facilities, picked up and started to read a book, which she then brought home and read snatches to me in the days that followed. Needless to say, I ended up reading it too, and have jsut finsihed. 'My Guantanamo Diary' by Mavish Rukhsana Khan is an account of an Afghan American woman who, whilst studying law became a paralegal volunteer interpreter for habeus corpus lawyers working pro bono with detainees.

She tells the story of the Afhgans she met, and of her struggles with the military and their political overlords to retain access to prisoners over the five years she was involved in visiting the camp in Cuba. She also visited prisoners' families in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to obtain evidence which could be used in the hearings which were used to determine their status, or should I say to confirm their status as 'enemy combatants', and keep them outside all standard legal procedures. Most shocking was her revelation that a high proportion of detainees were in every sense innocent civilians sold into captivity, routine degradation, and torture by people lured by $25,000 bounties offered for the capture of terrorist suspects by the Bush administration. This amount of money was more than some would hope to earn in a lifetime. Political rivalries came into it, old scores were settled by the simple expedient of turning over someone to the security services - Pakistani ISS figure frequently in these tales -

Perhaps not enough has yet been written or discussed about the appalling violation of human rights and travesties of justice that went on under the Bush administration. The author did not doubt there were some dangerous terrorists incarcerated there, but maintains that even criminals have a right to fair trials, and more basically to know exactly what they are charged with and why they are detained. She met and was able to research and verify the stories of many innocent detainees, classed as hostile combatants. Accounts of their privations and torture, are appalling, outrageous.

The absence of an transparent juridical procedure open to public scrutiny all in the name of 'state security' is so contrary to American constitutional practise that it's no wonder that hundreds of American and international lawyers threw their considerable resources into the provision of free legal aid for Guantanamo inmates. While the book was being prepared for publication last year, some of the detainees were released, and since then, many more. Now under Obama there are signs of hope that this shameful chapter in American history will come to a close. But will those involved in the secret services and intelligence 'community' ever be held to account for evils to fellow human beings as appalling and unjust as those perpetrated by the nazis?

Yes, the book made me angry, but also much more than that.

Firstly a portrayal of traditional Afghan culture, which is nothing like the usual caricatures one reads in popular media about tribal society. Secondly, the depth of faith expressed by detainees, that enabled them to retain a sense of their own humanity, even when abused, violated, shamed, and subjected to the defilement of their religion and their bodies by indecent and contemptuous acts. All were allowed a copy of the Qur'an. It could be taken away from them as punishment of course. Some witnessed their holy book desecrated - thrown in the toilet bowl, torn up and used for polishing shoes in front of them. Some resisted the slide into insanity by learning the Qur'an off by heart, a prodigious feat, normally the reserve of the very devout. That was something nobody could take away from them. Their God and their religion became their refuge, the one assertion of freedom which could not be stripped of. Even if they were shackled in such a way that they could not perform prayers in the normal way, thy could still recite suras from memory.

One can only admire their spiritual courage. But more than that. A number of them would still express no hatred for their captors, and refused to tar all Americans with the same brush. It was amazing to hear how one man had constantly spoken of his faith in Allah to his guards, and in the course of several years, had won two converts. One from 'Christianity', one from atheism. No doubt many of those soldiers would regard themselves as Christian and maybe even religious, and not all the guards were evil to their prisoners. But the fact that so much inhumanity was meted out, both by individuals and by the system shows that faith in violence is so much stronger in the hearts and minds of many than faith in God.

The stories of those innocent men and their sufferings - a paediatrician, a currency market trader, a police chief, a goat-herd among them - reminded me of Jesus in his passion. Reading this was a good preparation for Holy Week. A reminder that without real faith in God, humanity is quickly lost. Preaching faith in God remains one of the most important projects for saving our world from its shadow self.

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