Jan. 11 marked the beginning of the 20th year of the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Activists marked the anniversary in Washington, D.C., and other communities around the country, highlighting the plight of the detainees, many of whom have been cleared for release for years. Below are remarks made by Veterans For Peace member Dud Hendricks in Augusta, Maine, Jan. 15.
In 1966, I volunteered for and served in Vietnam. I would return to Vietnam in 1998—this time with a group of veterans, figuratively bringing olive branches of peace. For three weeks we rode bicycles with veterans from the other side of that war. Side by side. Surprisingly, they seemed quite human; friendly and gracious even! I returned again and again, 2008, 2010, 2012. I have twice visited My Lai, the site of the single most horrific atrocity of that misbegotten war where American troops gunned down over 500 unarmed women, children, and elders. As we’ve come to know, that murderous slaughter was not an aberration. On one of those returns I visited the homes of families that included victims of Agent Orange as well as several orphanages where other victims were residing—you could hardly call it living. On that visit, seven years ago, I learned that 2-3 million second- and third-generation victims of that dreadful pox were institutionalized, unable to take care of themselves. Today, the figures remain the same.
The more I became aware of the victims of our war-making, of our militarism, of this country’s behavior about the world, the more intrigued, you might say obsessed, I became. I visited Inuit in Greenland who had been displaced by the construction of Thule Air Base. Those people were given three days to vacate their sacred birth-land, the home of their ancestors’ burial grounds, and have never been permitted to return. I have stood in London’s Parliament in solidarity with the Chagos people of Diego Garcia as they sought, from the U.S. and the U.K. the right to return to their island in the Indian Ocean from which they had been removed so that we could build another air base from which we launch planes to bomb lands in Asia and the Middle East. Those people have never been permitted to return. And I’ve visited with Marshall Island refugees, some of the more than 10,000 who live in Springdale, Arkansas, where they have found employment in the chicken-processing industry. Escapees from their once idyllic islands, essentially forever irradiated by our atomic bomb testing in the last century.
They, all of them, are not us, they are others. We are worth more; they are worth less. Not unlike the poor souls who sit in Guantánamo.
The late John Mohawk, a Seneca scholar, informs us that there has long been a consensus among American academics that no historian dare counter—the myth that the campaign this country waged for American freedom and liberty from England separated it from all other nations on earth. And by virtue of that history America had acquired the mantle of carrier of liberty and democracy throughout the world and that, therefore, was excused from all the rules that apply to everybody else—throughout the world. We can do anything we want—to anybody! Forever! We’d have to agree, that is the way we have behaved. Our modus operandi. The Agent Orange, the White Phosphorous of Fallujah, the extraordinary rendition, the drones, the enhanced interrogation/torture at Bagram. The sanctions on Cuba, on Iran, on Iraq, on North Korea, on Nicaragua, on Libya, on Ethiopia, China, ad nauseum. As if we have some moral authority! The whole sordid body of atrocities! Indeed, we are the exceptional nation! How else would you describe us?
Then There’s Guantánamo
And then there’s Guantánamo. Guantánamo represents the poster child of our unique exceptionalism. Incarceration without being charged! For years, for decades, forever?!
What kind of country is this?
Guantánamo—20 years! Stephanie Savell, co-director of the Costs of War Project, writes, “This is a moral failure of epic proportions, a stain on the nation’s human rights record, a strategic blunder, and an abhorrent perpetuation of Islamophobia and racism.” Guantánamo! Thirty-nine still incarcerated, 27 of them not having been charged! Now, we learn, the Pentagon is reportedly building a new $4 million courtroom. Guantánamo costs taxpayers $540 million/year. Those figures, unfortunately, explain where the pressure comes from to maintain this disgraceful symbol of America. The defense industry, of course, along with a compliant Congress.
Guantánamo! An enduring symbol of the injustice, abuse, and disregard for the rule of law.
Guantánamo! Shut it down! We must keep working to shut it down!
Dud Hendrick is an Air Force veteran of the U.S. war in Vietnam (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) and a member of Veterans For Peace. He has traveled widely to meet with and to speak about the victims of U.S. foreign policy. He resides on Deer Isle, Maine, and can be emailed at email@example.com