Inside the Bureaucratic Nightmare That Is Reporting on Gitmo

How long wait times and lack of precedent impede efforts to study the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
July 28, 2017

I'm not the first person to investigate the place of games at Gitmo. Which was surprising to me, because in some ways, especially in the beginning, my investigation into the Detainee Library and its games always felt destined to be a failure, or an indulgence.

In my two and a half years researching the books, ideas, plot lines, literary themes, and syllables the U.S. government fed the brains of detainees and called "intellectual stimulation," I barely probed what it fed their bodies or the longhistory of hunger strikes that has plagued the facility; instead, I bemoaned that I couldn't speak to detainees directly, to discuss, for example, their language proficiencies, their literacy levels, if they could speak to others in their same cell block. The ideas that bodies and minds at Gitmo were intertwined or that, as former Gitmo detainee Mundah Habib stated, that hunger strikes could serve as a way to "send a message to the public outside to know what's going on," weren't on my radar.

From the start, I was much more worried about starving minds than starving men. The prison I feared the most, the one I couldn't fathom my own American brethren constructing was one built on linguistic and cultural isolation. The uniqueness of Gitmo, I told professors, wasn't that it was the "legal equivalent of outer space," but that it held citizens of over forty countries. "Can you imagine feeding the minds of people from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Libya, Tajikistan, Spain, Indonesia, Sweden, Iran, Bahrain, and beyond all at once?" I asked them.

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Last modified 

July 31, 2017