In the outside world, I thought, the difference between telling the truth and lying, between committing a crime and not committing it, is the difference between being in jail and being free. In Guantánamo, it is a box of candy.
I was eventually released and I will go on trial next month in Paris to face charges that I've never denied, that I spent two months in the Qaeda camp. I have a court date, I'm facing a judge, and I have a lawyer, unimaginable luxuries in Guantánamo. I didn't know the three detainees who died, but it is easy for me to see how this daily despair and uncertainty could lead to suicide.
During my captivity, I saw many acts of individual rebellion, from screaming to hunger strikes and suicide attempts. "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed," said Rear Adm. Harry Harris, who commands the camp. "They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."
I am a quiet Muslim — I've never waged war, let alone an asymmetrical one. I wasn't anti-American before and, miraculously, I haven't become anti-American since. In Guantánamo, I did see some people for whom jihad is life itself, people whose minds are distorted by extremism and whose souls are full of hatred. But the huge majority of the faces I remember — the ones that haunt my nights — are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.
I believe that a small number of the detainees at Guantánamo are guilty of criminal acts, but as analysis of the military's documents on the prisoners has shown, there is no evidence that most of the 465 or so men there have committed hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Even so, what I heard so many times resounding from cage to cage, what I said myself so many times in my moments of complete despondency, was not, "Free us, we are innocent!" but "Judge us for whatever we've done!" There is unlimited cruelty in a system that seems to be unable to free the innocent and unable to punish the guilty.
They are literally in the condition of the inmates of a totalitarian prison/death camp. They have no standing before any law, not even the standing that a criminal would have. They remain there because they were sent there, and there is no intention that they will ever leave.
They live, to the degree that surviving from one day of degradation to the next can be called living, at the whim of their captors, and for no other reason. They live to be tortured, interrogated, humiliated, and dehumanized. That is their role - to be human forms upon which the Cheneyites can experiment with demolishing the limits of humanity.
This is what totalitarianism looks like. This is its core. A state making use of the bodies of people under its control for no purpose except to be doing so. It is its own justification. "Because." The parables of Kafka, the warnings of Orwell, the dystopic visions of films like Brazil pale in comparison to the real thing, mostly because they were created by people who thought it wrong to deconstruct human beings this way. They all held out the hope that somehow those enacting the dissolution could themselves be reached, be made to pull back from the abyss. Such an optimistic view.
The sad truth is that there is nothing to reach. What is happening is not a mistake, an error, a miscarriage of justice. It is the plan. Unlimited power used in an unlimited way. The only hint of restraint is that the afflicted should not be allowed to die except as part of the deconstruction effort. That they may show agency by choosing the time and nature of their death, removing themselves from the experiment, is an intolerable act of defiance. How dare you kill yourself! How dare you presume to thwart the will of the Dear Leader, who wishes you to remain here in perpetuity, subject to his will? How dare you refuse our torture of your mind and body? Haven't we given you a box of candy? You damn terrorists.