Sunday, January 9, 2011

The "Witness to Guantanamo" Project

Those opposed to torture should be aware of an important new online resource, the Witness to Guantanamo Project, which is documenting primarily via video interviews of former detainees and other legal and human rights figures the actual crimes of torture and other abuse implemented by the U.S. in its rendition and detention programs in the "war on terror."

The following is taken from their website, and is followed by an example of the kinds of testimony the Project is taking.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, Peter Jan Honigsberg, a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, began teaching a class about the war on terror, international security, civil liberties and human rights. The questions raised by this class led him to travel to Guantanamo and also delve deeper into the issues. He published several articles and a University of California Press book entitled A Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror. In light of his experiences, his writings, his interactions with former detainees and their attorneys, and the public's desire for information, Professor Honigsberg was compelled to establish the Witness to Guantanamo (W2G) project.

The project is currently conducting in-depth, filmed interviews with former detainees and other witnesses to document human rights abuses and rule of law violations that took place at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Witness to Guantanamo is the only project that is systematically filming and preserving in-depth narratives of former detainees and other witnesses. By creating an archive of these videos, W2G will collaborate and partner with other projects around the United States and the world to educate the public and mobilize pressure to hold U.S. government officials and private actors accountable for human rights transgressions and violations of U.S. and international law. (Please see "Links" section.) Memory building will counter denials of the abuses that took place at Guantanamo and help prevent the repetition of U.S. policies and practices that facilitated violations of the rule of law. W2G's first filmed narratives have already helped transition former detainees from being faceless, nameless victims of abusive interrogation policies to individual human beings with personal stories of survival.

The project's methodology reflects the Shoah ("catastrophe") model. After some groups denied the reality of the Holocaust, director Steven Spielberg began filming video accounts of the experiences of survivors. Over 52,000 Holocaust survivors have told their personal stories and the collection is now archived at the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.

No one has systematically chronicled the abuses and rule of law violations at Guantanamo from the perspective of former detainees as they speak in-depth on camera, telling their own personal narratives of their experiences in Guantanamo. All the interviews will be translated into English and transcribed to reach the broadest audience possible. It is our intent that the video archive grow into an invaluable resource for present and future generations of activists, scholars, historians, journalists, students, documentarians, lawyers, former detainees and the general public. Eventually, individuals will be welcome to apply to use the interviews to support qualitative and quantitative social science research; select footage for documentary and other media-related projects; create educational units on Guantanamo for elementary through graduate school students; and inform and educate the public. The diverse potential uses of the archive will be limited only by the imagination.
The following is from an interview with one of the Guantanamo guards, Terry Holdbrooks, who describes the training he received prior to deployment to Guantanamo. To download the full interview transcript, one must go to this webpage, and click on the appropriate PDF link. The interview can also be seen on video here.
Interviewer: Did you have any sense, or did they tell you what kind of prisoners you’d be working with?
What kind of men these detainees were? Outside of all the catch‐phrases we’ve heard, you know, “the worse of the worst,” and “a bunch of towel heads and dirt farmers” and such... it’s the only reasonable explanation, is that they didn’t want us to trust them, they didn’t want us to develop any type of a friendship or relationship with them whatsoever. As I’ve said before, prior to us leaving, we went to Ground Zero. The day we were leaving, we went to Ground Zero. And I can only imagine the purpose behind that was for propaganda. You know, take us to the place where 9/11 happened, and tell us that Islam and Muslims are to blame. Take us to Guantanamo, well obviously everybody’s going to be riled up. It’s going to be an effective means to getting the job done.

I think a lot of people initially were buying into the propaganda of it. And fortunately, by the end, I can say that maybe only half of them were still buying into the propaganda. Um, I myself, as soon as we got to Ground Zero, I remember particularly reading one comment that somebody had written on the wall, “This is the worst tragedy to happen to all of mankind.” And, as I was reading this comment, I just kind of snickered and started laughing. And, you know, my company’s behind me, and they look and they’re like, “What are you laughing about? This is Ground Zero. 2700 people died here. This is a tragedy.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s a tragedy. It’s not the worst one ever.” Like, “What are you talking about, yes it is.” I’m like, “The Holocaust wasn’t worse? The Armenian genocide? The Crusades? These things didn’t matter?”
The website requests donations to help them with their work. I recommend supporting this unique and important work.

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