Thursday, June 25, 2009
Well, it sometimes takes hearing something directly from someone who experiences it, doesn't it?
Last night we went to a wine tasting at a unique place - a cafe, complete with art gallery, bookstore, studio (that used to be one of my dreams!) and I met a man who is retired military nurse. He served in Guantanamo. There is a lot of controversy here over the president wanting to close the facility in Guantanamo Bay that acts as a holding prison for many suspected (and known) of terrorism. We listened a long time and felt that this man was sort of debriefing -
Certainly he had suffered a lot of abuse from the prisoners that he treated as best as he could to honor his oath to his profession and his country. He was abused by prisoners - many are mean beyond our comprehension, many are deadly and finely tuned killing machines -- he related stories that were frightening and those afraid of maiming and death were not necessarily just prisoners, but those whose jobs it was to take care of the prisoners. It is interesting to me that the stories of the prison staff's injuries and attacks on them by prisoners and the daily stresses on the staff of dealing with what they had to deal with did not make the news.
He, the nurse, was abused by his own countrymen as well because he did meet the requirements of his oath to treat those injured and sick according to his nursing oath. After all, some reasoned it is easier to kill a direct threat so the daily threat and fear does not erode your life away, but we are supposed to be more humane than that, especially those who are sworn to heal: the doctors and the nurses.
He related that the prisoners received the best of food, the newest and best of medicines and medical care that many of our own citizens can't afford. He related that workers could not play their own music if it was patriotic or religious, but the sounds of prisoners worshipping five times a day would echo day after day after day through the facility staff's heads and there was nothing they could do about it but endure it while being deprived of their rights to worship and listen to what they wanted to openly. Their rights were stripped while the prisoners weren't, in that particular situation at least.
He spoke of fear on a moment to moment basis as prisoners sought to kill and/or maim even those who were trying to care for them in a medical situation. Their networks would often extend to soldier's families being threatened even here in the U.S.
And he spoke of his love, photography, and showed us photos of beautiful sunsets - places he had found refuge from the horrors of serving men trained to kill and hate, and made art in order to heal from his ordeal. This man, this medical corps nurse, had been in many places, served in several modern day wars, including the Gulf War and Kosovo. The threat of daily harm and mental pressure for guards, medical staff and other staff in that prison from the prisoners was the worst he had been under he felt.
I really hope those prisoners aren't dispersed into our various prison populations on the mainland. We'll see. And I hope our new friend eventually heals. He will - because he is a healer himself.
I have a new perspective on the situation there. The terrorists came to our country first, killed 3,000 at least of our citizens. I'm not saying the response was right, I'm not saying certain acts of cruelty that our soldiers are accused of were wrong or right, (after listening to this man, I could only imagine the stress and pressure our soldiers face every day and still could never have a good understanding of it - sometimes we retaliate in incorrect ways, but none of us are exempt from that - it is a matter of scale). What I am saying I am thankful for being given a first hand account from someone who "has been there."
Right now everything associated with Guantanamo is being so strongly criticized and some politicians are considering dispersing the ever present danger that is resident there to prisons in other states, at least last I heard. Some of those prisoners were there because in war, prisoners of war are a result. This is one side of the controversy from a non-combatant personnel that often is not heard.