Monday, July 9, 2007

Voices from Guantanamo/The Cultural Work of Poetry

The following poems were forwarded to me by the Voices in Wartime education project, which has done some fine work to bring various narratives and perspectives to light that often don't make the front page news. University of Iowa Press is coming out with Poetry from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak (2007). For more information about the book, go to These are a couple of the poems that appear on the Voices in Wartime site. These poems, it seems to me, demonstrate at a basic level why we need to continue to turn the discussion of poetry away from mere aesthetic criteria and discuss the cultural work that a poem can do, to quote Cary Nelson. These poems, if nothing else, invite us into the existential pain of judicial limbo, of indefinite detention, that these men have faced. Whether or not they are found guilty, they have been living a kind of hell, guilty before proven innocent, thanks to their offshore location at Guantanamo.

Is it True?
by Osama Abu Kadir

Is it true that the grass grows again after rain?
Is it true that the flowers will rise up again in the Spring?
Is it true that birds will migrate home again?
Is it true that the salmon swim back up their streams?
It is true. This is true. These are all miracles.
But is it true that one day we'll leave Guantanamo Bay?
Is it true that one day we'll go back to our homes?
I sail in my dreams. I am dreaming of home.
To be with my children, each one part of me;
To be with my wife and the ones that I love;
To be with my parents, my world's tenderest hearts.
I dream to be home, to be free from this cage.
But do you hear me, oh Judge, do you hear me at all?
We are innocent, here, we've committed no crime.
Set me free, set us free, if anywhere still
Justice and compassion remain in this world!

Shortly after 11 September, Osama Abu Kadir travelled to Pakistan to perform charity work in Afghanistan with the Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamat. The US claims Tablighi was providing fighters for jihad in Afghanistan and arrested Mr Kadir near Jalalabad in November 2001. In his native Jordan, he was known as a dedicated family man who worked as a truck driver. In Guantanamo, he is known as prisoner number 651. To read this poem online go to
Death Poem
by Jumah al Dossari

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.
Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.
And let them bear the guilty burden, before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden, before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the "protectors of peace".

Arrested in Pakistan and held in solitary confinement since 2003, Jumah al Dossari's mental wellbeing is worrying his lawyers. The 33-year old Bahraini national has tried to kill himself 12 times since his incarceration in Guantanamo. On one visit, his lawyer found him hanging in a bedsheet noose, with a deep gash in one wrist. In a letter Mr Dossari wrote in 2005, he said: "The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people and I have been destroyed."

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