24 Jul
Bill Herrera Beardall 1970

Posted by admin in the Vietnam archive

beardall-herrera-plantation.jpg Professor Helphand,

My name is Bill Beardall and I am an Assistant Director of Facilities Operations at NC State University. My areas of responsibilities are Grounds Management, Fleet Services and Waste Reduction and Recycling.

I am writing in regard to an article written by Virginia A. Smith, published in our local newspaper, The Raleigh News and Observer, on the 28th of April [2007] It was a review of your book ‘DEFIANT GARDENS’ Making Gardens in Wartime. The subject matter caught my attention and was well reviewed by Ms. Smith.

It also caught my attention because I planted a garden while in Vietnam in 1970. It had a calming affect on me to come back to my ‘hootch’ where, as a Marine Helicopter Pilot, after a long day of flying missions in the I Corps area to see a little bit of green growing by my doorway. What you see in the first attachment is early in my garden’s life. The bananas grew much taller, the periwinkles as well. The watermelon actually produced fruit, although by the time they were beginning to show any size, the Marines pulled out of Vietnam. The bananas were a reminder of home, I am a Latino, born and raised in the Republic of Panama and spent my childhood growing up in the rain forests. I acquired the bananas while flying resupply missions for the Korean Marines, south of my base at Marble Mountain Air Facility, Vietnam. I casually expressed an interest in the bananas they had near their staging LZ’s. The men knew me by my call sign and by the fact that when they needed it I went above and beyond for them. Days later as I finished a day’s work for them I returned to their site and they had prepared 3 lovely banana trees in pots for me. I was thrilled, I was able to gather up some soil to supplement the sand around the my hootch. Persistent watering kept them flourishing, much to the amusement of my squadron mates and the Vietnamese workers in our area. The Portulaca, periwinkle (seeds from ‘the world’ (the US) were for color, easy to grow, and satisfied my artistic need for a change from the olive drab of our flight suits and aircraft. The watermelon was simply a challenge and a wish for the wet lushness of the fruit. As small as it was, it was my oasis. Many a day or late evening I would sit on my ‘patio’ drink a ‘cocktail’ and enjoy the setting of the sun in the West. I could almost block out the medevac choppers going out and the sound of the artillery in the distance. I have never forgotten much from that war and never my oasis. I thought I would add one more story to your list. I am adding your book to my must read list.

Thank you for reminding me that even one small little garden can create a sense of peace and hope in the midst of a war and a warriors heart.

24 Jul

Posted by admin in the Prison archive
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Oregon

4 Apr 2007.
Hello Dr. Helphand,

Our daughter is incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, here in Oregon. Just one thesis paper away from a law degree before her sentence was handed down last August, she now distributes and collects inmate clothing. The job is an promotion because for months, she worked her way up in the kitchen feeding 1300 prisoners exactly the same proportions, three times a day, so riots wouldn’t break out. It’s another world. But you already know this; your research has revealed it through the gardens you studied, planted and tended during times of war or imprisonment.

T he recent review in the WSJ, caught my eye and I ordered your book. I sent “Defiant Gardens” to our daughter at the prison. Spoke with her today - your book is an inspiration . Thank you. Women, other inmates, are lined up to read it after she’s shared passages out loud with them…

Nelsons Mandela’s words,

“To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.”

Or from the ghettos and camps,

“These defiant gardens were an attempt to create a kind of peace in the midst of madness and order in the prevailing chaos.”

You have hit the mark with your insight. I would love to meet you someday and so would my daughter. She is sending the book back to me after she completes it this week, so we can keep it as a humbling reminder of lesser times. (Books sent to prisoners are stamped upon inspection with a blue approval seal on the inside cover; the inmate’s name and SID# make the book unique.) I am ordering a another copy to be donated directly to the prison library so your words can be enjoyed by those who might appreciate it the most.

Congratulations on your success.

Thank you,

Heidi Sause

9 Apr 2007

Dr. Helphand,

Coffee Creek has reinstated a garden just this year. It was
discontinued previously because the garden failed a security audit.
Inmates were secreting in drugs - or the audit team felt the
opportunity to do so might be enhanced with the prison garden present.

The administration has selected five inmates (out of 1300) to be the
gardeners of this new plot. I believe they were chosen randomly by
lottery?? My daughter hopes the prison will eventually use the ‘Joy
of Gardening’ as a good behavior incentive, so more women can enjoy
the peace and she too can earn the right to dig in dirt - watch seeds

At least one other inmate has raced through your pages - Cory says
the woman has passages memorized and quotes them to other prisoners.
What a gift you provided and the timing was perfect in anticipation
of this year’s garden. I do hope you can follow up with the Oregon
prisons to potentially develop gardening as a type of reform and
correction to very NEEDY individuals. The prisoners have so few ways
to promote positive behavior and learn a hobby or skill to use in
their lives post incarceration. Maybe gardening could become a link
to a healthier lifestyle?

Please feel free to contact me any time. I don’t want to interrupt
you on such a busy schedule. Thanks for writing back!



April 20, 2007 Sandpipers, Crows & Wilbur

Earlier this spring the women in Minimum had “pets” for a brief period. Those fleet footed, spotted sand pipers, who squeal and divert possible predators way from their nest by acting hurt, settled at the Creek. Last year, the birds built a nest in an inopportune area without success of perpetuating the family line.

This year the ladies noticed the nest in the same location so they decided to move the clustered twigs, bit by bit to a ‘better’ spot. They’d push the nest a few feet toward safety each day. 400 women shared similar and hopeful anticipation of little chicks hatching. Warning signs were posted and orange traffic cones established a safe-zone perimeter around the fragile nest. Lawnmowers stayed well away from the batch of eggs. The nesting birds even made the prison’s newspaper; they were all the rage. Inmates became so attentive some women began feeding the pipers with small chunks of people food, which attracted the crows, who then found the piper eggs…

Disappointment is second nature on the other side of Graham’s Ferry Road.

After the next generation of birds died, Cory’s treasured ‘pet’ is now a puny begonia plant named Wilbur. She inherited the living thing from G’Ma, the granny put in prison for identity theft. The plant resides at Cory’s work place, Inmate Processing and enjoys six-hour trips outside to absorb sunlight to do its photosynthesis routine. She’s hoping for blossoms, curious to know what color the plant will offer. The mini-garden gives her a sense of satisfaction to see growth and life, instead of capture and death.

24 Jul
Dr. John Creech, WWII

Posted by admin in the POWs archive






Material courtesy of Dr. John Creech

24 Jul
Topaz Times 1942 - 1943

Posted by admin in the Japanese - American Gardens archive

The following articles that appeared in the camp newspaper, The Topaz Times in Utah.


September 17, 1942

Topaz is more than just an engineering marvel. It is more than just an isolated settlement for evacuees. It is the sum total of dreams, deep thinking, courage, and faith—it is a living personality. Topaz is born of the great Mother America.
We are again the pioneers, blazing the road into the wilderness of our social frontiers. Not that we alone march, but that we follow the ever guiding pillar of the divine wisdom and light—it is our strength.
When the first contingent arrived here after the long journey from the western shore, we were welcomed personally by Mr. and Mrs. Ernst, the project director and his wife. We knew then that we were in a big, warm family. Let us do our uttermost in making this Center a bit of His Kingdom on earth.
Rev. Taro Goto

January 23, 1943. Agriculture – Survey

LANDSCAPE – The landscape and gardening section of the Agricultural division has contributed much toward the beautification of the City. Under the supervision of Tom Takaki and Nobuo Kawabata, chief foremen of the section, landscape plans for Topaz have been developed, and the planting of specimen trees around the hospital, administration buildings, civic center and residential block areas has been undertaken. It has been largely instrumental in the construction of the ice-skating rink which is now open to the residents. A small nursery is in operation at the southwest corner of this City under the direction of H. Hayashi and S. Neishi, veteran nurserymen of San Francisco. A sketch of the Topaz plaza to be located in the area between the administration and hospital buildings has been designed as a primary step in the landscaping of this area.

March 5, 1943 Topaz to Have Picnic Ground

Preparation of a picnic ground for recreational use by residents commenced this week, it was announced by Tom Takaki of the landscape and nursery section.
Approximately 10 acres of ground were selected in an area located in Section 21 which lies adjacent to the east fence, one-half mile from the city. At present, there are 11 large poplar trees in the selected site to offer an abundance of shade.
The planting of approximately 500 willows and 110 tamarisks will start next week and these will serve as windbreaks, screens and shades, besides adding a large measure of beauty to the surrounding scenery. The tamarisks bloom in the late summer with pale, lavender-colored flowers.
Open barbeque pits equipped with grills, and tables and benches, will be placed in advantageous locations. As soon as weather permits, a lawn will be grown to cover that part of the area.

April 8, 1943 Gardening for City Progresses

With the advance into the spring season, gardening work is being rapidly pushed at the Topaz nursery, it was revealed recently by Tom Takaki, foreman of the Landscape and Nursery section.
Under the supervision of S. Neishi and H. Hayashi, experienced nurserymen from Oakland, approximately 10 acres of ground located in the southeast corner of Section 11 are being used for culturing the many varieties of plants. Already numerous kinds of early summer blooming flowers have been planted. These are expected to furnish the hospital, churches, dining-halls, and administrative buildings with an abundance of cut flowers this summer.

April 22, 1943 Landscaping Progresses

Several thousand plants were procured recently through various sources to be used for the spring beautification program, which is now progressing at maximum speed, according to Tom Takaki of the Landscape and Gardening section.
A truckload of plants were donated to Topaz by R. Dobson and Neil Crossland of Holden, located 45 miles southeast of here. Included in this lot were numerous varieties of fruit trees, shade trees, shrubs and berry plants, most of which were immediately planted around the hospital buildings.
Also received last week was a shipment of 2,200 shrubs of many varieties from Logan to be used for landscape purposes around the dining halls and in the community gardens.
In reference to the backyard gardens Takaki announced that information pertinent to the methods most favorable for local growing conditions is available to residents at the Agriculture division.

April 24, 1943 Women’s Mirror

CREATIVE BEAUTY—Though Nature wasn’t generous with Topaz in giving out her verdant gifts, the women here have combatted [sic] the ugliness and drabness of the surroundings by directing their creative impulses towards the beautification of the home. Making home life cheerful and comfortable for the family, especially the children, is one of the achievements of the mothers here.
Artificial flowers fashioned from crepe and wax paper, and crocheting thread, with its vibrant color and personality, enhance the rooms of any apartment.
But flowers contrived by art is [sic] an inferior substitute for the genuine blooms. We, who have lived near the rolling green hills of California with its [sic] lush poppies and wild plants, the scented gardens, immaculate lawns and thriving flower beds of the bay area, yearn for Nature’s expression of greenery.
Happily, though on a small scale, we can induce greenery to grow near the windows of our barracks.

September 30, 1943 Beautification

A program for community beautification, calling for trees, shrubberies, lawns and athletic fields, is now being formulated by the City’s landscape designers under the direction of Roscoe Bell, chief of the agricultural division.
A staff of 3 landscape architects have practically completed their designs, which will be submitted to the Community Council as soon as possible.
The present plans, according to Bell, are as follows:
Each Block: Each block will be provided with its own miniature park in the space opposite the rec [sic] hall, and it will also have trees, shrubberies and lawns, to be laid out in accordance with the desires of the residents of the block. Considerable leeway is being provided for expression of individual initiative and taste, and the final appearance of the City will depend largely upon the amount of effort the residents are willing to expend for beautification.
Athletic Fields: The main athletic field will be situated in the broad stretch of land adjoining the City blocks on the south side. In it will be located a skating rink, baseball diamond, softball grounds, football field and possibly a golf course, according to present tentative plans. The open space to the east of the City blocks will probably hold tennis courts.
[…] Staff: Working on the plans are Tom Takaki and Don Akamatsu, both graduates, in landscape architecture, of the University of California, and Joe (name illegible), landscape designer.
Start: Residents were asked to wait until the Community Council has approved the general plans before beginning any extensive work on their blocks so that provisions may be made for rough grading and such necessities as walks, paths and service areas.
Some 10,000 cuttings for shrubberies suitable to Topaz’s climate and soils are now available and will be planted this fall.
Hope: The trees and shrubs, together with the improvement of roads and streets, will largely eliminate the dust clouds that now plague the City.

24 Jul
SSG Poukka 31 Dec 2004

Posted by admin in the Iraq archive

This note was in answer  to my e-mail regarding their garden:

.. the garden idea was just something we thought we’d try, the Iraqi people grow a very big variety of produce. Our garden was grown right out in front of our house. Permission was not needed. The soil is not sand as everybody seems to think, it is more of a brown dirt, and when watered it gets very hard, almost like clay. When it is driven on over and over, it turns to a fine powder, about like flower, and when you drive on it it flows from the tires like water. We didn’t have a very good crop, our sunflowers and cucs did very well but couldn’t get onions to do much, and the corn got really big but evidentally it didn’t pollinate. . .

24 Jul
SGT Carl J Quam Jr Iraq North Dakota National Guard

Posted by admin in the Iraq archive

iraq-sergeants-justin-wanzek-and-carl-quam-jr-pose-with-their-corn-crop-at-fob-speicher-in-iraqphoto-sgt-amy-dobler.jpgiraq-photo-sgt-amy-dobler.jpgThis note was in answer  to my e-mail regarding their garden:

I came up with the idea, along with Sgt Wanzek, because we were missing home, farming, and the joy of growing something. We had a spell when supply lines were all but cut by the insurgents, and I said we might be able to grow our own vegetables, since the MREs dont have them and the supply trucks werent making it to our FOB. Friends of myself and SGT Wanzek, named Nathan and Stacy Hoehn in Valley City, ND, had the seeds donated by the Valley City Nursery. The Hoehns also sent over some garden hose and a sprinkler, the sprinker we didn’t use. We learned from the locals to irrigate with deep trenches and let the water soak into the dirt in between. At 140 degrees air temperature, I suspect the water would have evaporated before it hit the ground. Sgt Wanzek has garden experience and my wife, children and I put one in every year. It is good family time and maybe in a way, the garden helped me kind of cope with missing them. I caught myself drifting back to home with the 4 of us all spending quality family time in our garden. We are both very proud of what we accomplished, as Sgt Dobler’s article said, we had enough corn, beans and carrots than we could eat and started giving them away. We got a lot of looks from people and they thought it was quite an idea. I do have to add that this was done in our spare time. At the time of garden prep, planting, weeding and watering, Sgt Wanzek and myself, along with the rest of our crew, were running 4-6 combat patrols a week, in 100-140 degree weather. When we came back to our area, we had a hard time getting motivated to work and weed, but we did. Like I said, it was good therapy to relax after a day of dodging roadside bombs, RPGs and escorting semi trucks full of unexploded ordinance over the worst stretch of road in northern Iraq. The best pictures are the ones Sgt Dobler took, but both Sgt Wanzek and I would be more than proud if you use them. We are currently in Kuwait, now, waiting for a flight home. WE MADE IT!!!!!!! That is all that matters to us anymore. Out of Iraq and out of danger. . .

24 Jul
Gardeners shed blood to beautify Baghdad

Posted by admin in the Iraq archive

By Hannah Allam, McClatchy Newspapers
Dec. 26, 2006

jaafar-hamid-al-ali-baghdadparks-supervisor.jpgJaafar Hamid al Ali, supervisor of Baghdad Parks, in Zawraa Park, the only operating park in the Iraqi capital.BAGHDAD — The flowers appear overnight, and in the unlikeliest of places: carnations near a checkpoint, roses behind razor wire, and gardenias in a square known for suicide bombings.

Sometimes, U.S. armored vehicles hop a median and mow down the myrtle, leaving Baghdad parks workers to fume and reach for their trowels. When insurgents poured kerosene over freshly planted seedlings, landscapers swore a revenge of ficus trees and olive groves.

It’s all part of a stealthy campaign to turn the entire capital into a green zone.

Jaafar Hamid al Ali, the Baghdad parks supervisor, leads the offensive. He’s got a multi-million-dollar budget, along with 1,500 intrepid employees and a host of formidable enemies. There’s the fussy climate, salty soil, and nonstop violence that killed 30 of his workers in 2006. Every fallen gardener, Ali said, is a martyr in the struggle to beautify Baghdad.

“My principle is, for every drop of Iraqi blood, we must plant something green,” he said. “One gives disappointment, the other gives hope.”

Ali, 62, cuts a dapper figure among Iraqi bureaucrats. One recent chilly afternoon at his headquarters at Zawraa Park, the only operating park in Baghdad, he wore a knee-length hounds-tooth overcoat, a navy Yves St. Laurent jacket, and spit-shined shoes. Someone had scribbled a flower on the nameplate that hangs on his office door.

He’s a French-educated former professor who can recount by memory the history of flora in Iraq. The supposed site of the fabled hanging gardens of Babylon lies just 50 miles south of where he works.

Ottoman rulers established the first official public parks, some of which remained open well into the 1920s, Ali said. In the 1930s, the Baghdad city council built a few more parks and for the next four decades worked toward a goal of allotting 160 square feet of green space for each resident. By the 1970s, they’d reached 85 square feet per person.

“Our ambition was to hit the international standard by the 1980s,” al-Ali said. “But then came the Iraq-Iran war.”

Frequent power interruptions during the eight-year war left Baghdad residents with no way to heat their homes in the winter. Ali, by that time a high-ranking parks employee, had overseen the planting of a large forest in the Furat neighborhood. It took 12 years for the acacia, casuarina and eucalyptus to mature, he said, and just one night for locals to chop down half the forest for firewood.

“I found them still dragging the wood away,” he recalled. “I had a stroke. I had to go straight to the hospital.”

He recovered, but Baghdad parks did not. The Gulf War in 1991 dealt a fresh blow. Ali watched with fury as Saddam Hussein rewarded his generals by issuing presidential orders that turned the people’s parks into his cronies’ private gardens.

By the time U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam in 2003, there were just 5 square feet of park space for each Baghdad resident. Acacias and tall date palms still lined many avenues in the capital — until insurgents began firing on U.S. troops from the brush.

Coalition forces razed acres of palm groves, Ali said, partly for security and partly to widen the passageways for their hulking armored personnel carriers. Airport Road, once one of the loveliest of thoroughfares, remains a barren ribbon of knee-high palm stumps.

“We had big hopes of restoring greenery to Baghdad right after the fall of the regime,” Ali said. “Unfortunately, the friendly forces contributed to destroying what very little was left.”

Ali had written off parks work as futile and had become a successful businessmen and a member of the Mansour neighborhood council. Yet he couldn’t shake thoughts of his boyhood home, with a courtyard in the middle. His father tended the family’s grapevines, flowers and fruit trees. The fragrance still wafts through Ali’s memory.

In 2004, he succumbed to his passion, took a pay cut and signed a contract to become supervisor of Baghdad parks. The task seemed ludicrous to many Iraqis living in the throes of war, but he couldn’t bear to see his city hidden behind blast walls and coils of concertina wire. The gray, bullet-scarred tableau gnaws at the soul, he said, and makes war seem permanent.

“This,” he declared, “is the right time for flowers.”

Ali spent most of that first year simply refurbishing the city’s nurseries, which had been destroyed by looters in the days after Saddam’s ouster. He ordered seeds from Syria, and his staff performed tests to find the hardiest plants to withstand the rigors of war.

The parks’ shoestring budget didn’t allow for much visible improvement. But 2005 brought the serendipitous appointment of a new Baghdad City Council chairman, who happened to be an agricultural engineer. Ali had found a kindred spirit.

The budget allotment for parks was increased, and Ali immediately set his sights on Baghdad’s abandoned, litter-strewn traffic squares and medians. Workers planted two million flowers, shrubs and trees in the past year, he said, exposing themselves to gunfire and car bombs in the process. Insurgents intimidated many gardeners into leaving their work; others were killed.

“The so-called resistance doesn’t want cleanliness or gardens. They want Baghdad to stay like this, neglected,” Ali said. “It just makes us more defiant.”

Still, the obstacles are myriad. At the Zawraa Park nursery, just opposite from a military recruiting center that’s a favored target for bombers, workers said they frequently pick bullets and shrapnel from their fragile cuttings. Explosions have shattered the office windows three times in recent months.

Outside the compound, Ali spent a fortune on the latest in sprinkler systems only to see them go dry because the lack of electricity severs the water supply. Within a week, he said, the plants wither up and must be replaced. To keep them alive, workers have to call in water tankers and spray the flowers the old-fashioned way.

None of this appears to daunt Ali. Even as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis flee the war, he talks of flowering trees, picnic areas and playgrounds. While corpses float on top of the Tigris River, he’s more concerned with the rich soil underneath. He’s putting the final touches on a long-term plan to build 15 new parks in some of the most violent neighborhoods of Baghdad. Another proposal calls for the construction of a “green belt” that will surround the capital with trees, six rows deep.

For now, the fruits of the parks department’s labor are visible mostly in relatively safe Shiite Muslim neighborhoods such as Karrada and Shoala. That’s changing, Ali promised, with a new campaign that targets the predominantly Sunni western side of the capital known as Karkh.

Karkh Park currently exists only in a blueprint that shows a verdant plot with a shopping mall in the middle, but Ali already offers cash bonuses for field managers who show him progress in the insurgent-ridden area.

Ali beamed as he recounted how parks employees have slipped into the dangerous Doura and Mansour districts armed with seeds that one day will blossom into vibrant gerbera.

“It’s like stealing,” he said. “When we see nobody is around, we run in, plant and escape. You see, when you have the will, anything is possible.”

24 Jul
Wilting Dreams At Gitmo

Posted by admin in the Guantanamo archive

A Detainee Is Denied A Garden, and Hope
By P. Sabin Willett
Washington Post April 27, 2006

The writer, a Boston lawyer with Bingham McCutchen, represents Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani, who is about to begin his fifth year of imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.

I brought flowers to the isolation cell when I visited Saddiq this month. He likes to draw roses and often asks for gardening magazines.

Saddiq is one of the many mistakes at Guantanamo Bay. In 2005 our military admitted that he was not an enemy combatant, but the government hasn’t been able to repatriate him. (By a curious irony, Saddiq’s opposition to Osama bin Laden makes him too hot to handle in his native Saudi Arabia.) So he lives behind razor wire in Camp Iguana, with eight other men whom the military cleared long ago but who are nevertheless forbidden newspapers, visits from loved ones, English-language dictionaries — and flowers.

For some time we lawyers have been asking the military for a garden. Gardens are commonplace in prisoner-of-war camps, and these men aren’t even enemies. They live in a pen, but it has a small patch of ground. Why not? The military refused.

I was trying to explain this to Saddiq, along with other inexplicable things (such as how it is that innocent men can be held for years in an American prison), when he said, “We planted a garden. We have some small plants — watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe. No fruit yet. There’s a lemon tree about two inches tall, though it’s not doing well.”

“The guards gave you tools?”

He shook his head.

“Then — how do you dig?” I was struggling to grasp this.

“Spoons,” he said. “And a mop handle.”

The soil in Camp Iguana is dry and brittle as flint. And I’ve seen the spoons they give our clients.

“But the spoons are plastic — aren’t they?”

Saddiq nodded. “At night we poured water on the ground. In the morning, we pounded it with the mop handle and scratched it with the spoons. You can loosen about this much.” He held his thumb and forefinger about a half-inch apart. “The next day, we did it again. And so on until we had a bed for planting.” He shrugged. “We have lots of time, here.”

“But the seeds?” I asked. “Did they give you seeds?”

After four years at Guantanamo, Saddiq rarely smiles, but his face seemed to brighten then. “Sometimes, with the meal, they give us a bit of watermelon or cantaloupe to eat. We save the seeds.”

One day the sordid history of Guantanamo will be written. There will be chapters on torture, chapters on the how the courts turned a blind eye, chapters on cruelties large and petty, on the massive stupidity and uselessness of the place. Many pages will illustrate the great lie of Guantanamo — that it is a “terrorist detention facility” — with accounts of goatherds and chicken farmers and stray foreigners sold by Pakistani grifters to the United States for bounties. Saddiq may have one of the oddest chapters of all: jailed first by the Taliban as an enemy of its regime, then by us.

For all that, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Maybe the History of Guantanamo will have a few uplifting footnotes. America denied them seeds and trowels and they created life anyway. We tried to withhold beauty, but from the grim earth of Guantanamo they scratched a few square meters of garden — with spoons. Guantanamo is ugly, but man’s instinct for beauty lives deep down things.

When our meeting was over, the flowers had wilted. Saddiq picked up the little nosegay. “May I take these back to Camp Iguana?”

But flowers are contraband. He wasn’t allowed to keep them.

24 Jul
Guantanamo Bay prisoners plant seeds of hope in secret garden

Posted by admin in the Guantanamo archive

The Independent, 29 April 2006 |by Andrew Buncombe in Washington

With their bare hands and the most basic of tools, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have fashioned a secret garden where they have grown plants from seeds recovered from their meals. For some of the detainees - held without charge for more than four years and who the US say are now cleared for release - the garden apparently offers a diversion from the monotony and injustice of their imprisonment.

Using water to soften soil baked hard by the Caribbean sun and then scratching away with plastic spoons, a handful of prisoners have reportedly produced sufficient earth to grow watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a tiny lemon plant, no more than two inches high.

The revelation of the garden has now been seized on by campaigners, seeking to close the prison camp in Cuba, who have urged supporters around the world to send them seeds which they will in turn seek to send to the prisoners. They have termed their campaign “Seed of Hope”.

The existence of the garden - apparently prohibited by the US military authorities - was revealed by the Boston-based lawyer Sabin Willett who was informed of it by one of his clients, Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani, held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

Mr Willett said that, last year, the US military deemed Mr Turkistani was no longer an “enemy combatant” but that he remained in legal limbo because no country was prepared to take him. Mr Willett said lawyers had regularly pressed the authorities of Joint Task Force Guantanamo [JTFGTMO] about establishing a garden but that they had refused.

Mr Willett told The Independent that he was explaining this to Mr Turkistani on a recent visit when he was told the prisoners already had a garden. ” I could not believe it,” he said. “I knew they had no tools. If you take in court papers you have to take the staples out. The look on his face as he told me how they had unscrewed the mop handles and used buckets of water [to build the garden] was something wonderful.”

Mr Turkistani said he and other prisoners held in part of the prison known as Camp Iguana softened the ground with water overnight and then used the spoons to dig. Every day they managed to loosen more soil until they had enough for a bed for planting. “We have lots of time here,” he said.

Gardening has long been associated with POW camps. At the Harperley POW Camp, in County Durham, built by the British for German and Italian prisoners during the Second World War, gardening was encouraged, along with educational classes and football.

Mr Willett said that, when he put the request to JTFGTMO, he was told gardening was not permitted. “These people have been put in such a hellish situation and yet, somehow, they have found a way to create life, literally,” he said. “They have had to take the seeds from their meals and then scratch at the soil in order to get that going.” Mr Willett, who first wrote about the garden in The Washington Post, said he had not personally seen the prisoners’ garden but had been told of it by three different detainees.

Mr Turkistani’s plight is especially pitiful. An ethnic Uighur who was living in Afghanistan, he had been jailed by the Taliban for three years and then freed by the Washington-backed Northern Alliance in late 2001 before being transferred to US custody. Last year, Mr Turkistani, who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay. His lawyers say he is guilty of no crime and should never had been seized by the US. He was accused by the Taliban of being involved in a plot to kill Osama bin Laden - an allegation he denies.

But the future of Mr Turkistani and the eight other cleared prisoners - five Chinese Uighurs, a Russian, an Algerian and an Egyptian - who live in the less restrictive Camp Iguana, remains uncertain. He does not hold Saudi citizenship and the US does not want to send him to China because of the discrimination against Uighurs there.

The UK-based campaign group Reprieve has urged people to send seeds. They have established a PO Box, details of which can be found on the group’s website www.reprieve.org.uk.

Reprieve’s legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: “The massive might of the US military is intent on holding prisoners in an environment that is stripped of comfort, humanity, beauty and even law. Yet the prisoners held there have overcome this with a plastic spoon and a lemon seed. It is the beginning of the end of Guantanamo Bay.” . . .

24 Jul
Guantanamo detainees are given chance to garden

Posted by admin in the Guantanamo archive

Associated Press by Ben Fox  March 11, 2007 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A select group of detainees at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been allowed to garden there for the first time, a military spokesman said.

Prisoners in Camp 4, which holds the “most compliant” detainees, started growing tomatoes several weeks ago in concrete soil-filled planters, Navy Commander Robert Durand said.

The military allowed the plants — and provided plastic gardening tools, watering cans, and seeds — at the request of lawyers for detainees, Durand said .

Gardening is intended to provide intellectual stimulation to prisoners, Durand said, comparing it with the military’s library for detainees and literacy programs in Arabic and Pashto, spoken in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Camp 4 holds about 35 detainees who are allowed to congregate, spend 12 to 14 hours a day outside, eat communally, and live in barracks-style housing.

Only those who have “demonstrated long-term compliance with camp rules,” are permitted to live in Camp 4, Durand said.

Guantanamo holds about 385 prisoners on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Most are held in one-person cells and have only limited outdoor recreation.

Lawyers said they appreciated the decision to allow Camp 4 detainees to garden.

“This is welcome news and one small but important step toward sanity,” said Sabin Willett, who represents ethnic Uighurs from western China held at Guantanamo.

Willett said gardens have traditionally been allowed in prisoner-of-war camps and US Army regulations require that “men held in prolonged imprisonment must be given some useful and creative thing to do.”
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

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