In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, one thought kept running through my mind. I wondered whether the terrorist attacks of that day signaled a loss of freedom we would never recoup. Would we ever be able to live free of fear that a terrorist could strike close to us, at us? Would we lose that part of this nation that makes unique the land of the free? Would we ever truly feel safe, and free, again?
Even as I had no answers to those questions, another kept forming — could I do anything to ensure that freedom would not die?
My answer was to believe that I could. After talking about my thoughts with my dad, a sergeant major in the Arkansas Army National Guard, I decided that I could do more, that I needed to do more.
I enlisted in the Guard. I did so with every intention of finding myself deployed somewhere to defend freedom in some way.
At that point, freedom to me meant being able to go where I wanted to go, do what I wanted to do and not be afraid of some bad guy wanting to harm me or my family.
I would learn that freedom is more than something to keep and maintain.
The U.S. government is holding more than 600 men at Camp Delta, a makeshift prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. From the outside, the camp looks like a large animal shelter, except that most animal shelters don’t have razor wire-topped fences, armed-guard towers and infantry-patrolled perimeters. Green netting blocks views from outside the camp, and once inside, perspectives aren’t much clearer.
The men kept behind those walls — “detainees” in the government’s parlance — are technically suspects, subject to interrogation for as long as the government sees fit. That’s why they’re at Guantanamo, foreign soil. Were they held in the United States, these men would have rights. At Guantanamo, they have none.
They have been held, some of them, for more than three years. Yet, until recently, none had been charged with a crime. They have been questioned at length, but had barely been given access to counsel. Many hadn’t had even that luxury. They have been labeled as threats, but many are likely only unlucky — caught in the wide net of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts that feature a round-em-up-now-sort-em-out-later mindset.
In recent months, allegations of abuse have sprung from Camp Delta. Many of the allegations have not seemed to generate much angst for Americans. But they should. American military personnel there stand accused of mistreating detainees in various ways — keeping them awake for days on end, making sexual advances with female interrogators and using dogs to harass. These are allegations at this point, none yet proven. As I signed a document a long time ago that pledged that I would not reveal classified information I came across while in Guantanamo, I cannot speak to these allegations. I will say this — I trust that the American people will not rest until they learn the truth about what the government, our government, does in their name at home and abroad, even on a Caribbean island.
Several miles from Camp Delta, on a lonely point that overlooks the endless ocean, sits a shabby museum. Its dusty rooms include old photographs of soldiers from the past, examples of local art and culture and pieces of Guantanamo’s history.
Surrounding the museum are decaying boats, wooden crafts salvaged from the sea. Placards on these tiny boats note that Haitian refugees had used them to find their way to Cuba in their quest for freedom.
Some of the boats arrived with their precious cargo alive and well. Some of the boats washed ashore empty. It would be easy to consider those who made the successful voyage the winners and those who did not, the losers. But how can anyone who dies striving for freedom have lost the gamble?
Two scenes: One, men for whom freedom has been denied. Another, citizens of the world willing to perish as free people rather than die as prisoners.
Freedom is no commodity, traded lightly or for things of little value.
And those who would champion freedom must fight against those who would take it unjustly. Those who would champion freedom must recognize its opponents wherever they may be — on the streets of Port au Prince or at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Rick Fahr is assistant managing editor of the Jonesboro Sun. A shorter version of this piece was broadcast on KUAR.