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Frida Berrigan: “My Guantanamo Glasses”

Frida Berrigan opens our first WAT Community Circle for the January 2024 Witness for Justice, answering the evening’s question, “What keeps you coming back?”

What keeps me coming back? I guess it is what I call my “Guantanamo glasses.” Witness Against Torture isn’t just a movement, or a community or a grassroots group… it is a lens through which I view the world, a way to mark time and my own maturation. 

We gather in these January days– in some form every year — and the rest of the year, Guantanamo can sink to a background hum. But for me, it is this portal on the edge of my peripheral vision… that reminds me all the time of the moral bankruptcy and violence of all our institutions, of the rank hubris of power and the centrality of fear and scapegoating, racism and religious bigotry in our foreign policy…. And the indomitability of the human spirit through resistance, art and poetry. 

An example of how this Guantanamo portal functions: as I watched Hamas’ violence unfold on October 7 last year, I found myself thinking of the Palestinian men who had survived Guantanamo. How does someone like Walid Ibrahim Mustafa Abu Hijazi or Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan view Hamas’ violence or the Israeli Defense Force’s Brutal onslaught?

What does this war on Gaza, war on the Palestinian people mean to someone rendered triply stateless? These Palestinian men who survived Guantanamo were made stateless by Israeli annexation of their homeland, de-personed and scapegoated as “enemy combatants” by the United States at Guantanamo and then transferred to new nations — Spain and Uruguay in the cases of these two men — where they live without the rights or responsibilities of citizens. I see all of this with my Guantanamo glasses and the injustices these men endured are not in the past, are not isolated to their particular experiences– harrowing and specific as those are. It is present in the “Guantanamo-ization” of the whole of Gaza. 

I’m looking forward to the Guantanamo to Gaza webinar on Wednesday that will unpack these and so many other issues. But I share this little bit because it is part of what keeps me coming back, this lens of violence against resistance of the men at Guantanamo. 

The last thing I’ll say is that despite all our work, despite the huge networks and communities built over the last two decades of organizing, there is a new generation that knows nothing about Guantanamo. I taught a class in the Fall and not a single one of my 18 students had even heard of Guantanamo. They do now!  They got an earful, eyeful, hopefully heart full of this work and this community.

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