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.

24 Jul
From Dump To Gardens

Posted by admin in the Guantanamo archive

GUANTÁNAMO (city) , Cuba, May 14 2007 (IPS) - When Irania Martínez said she would make that rubbish dump productive, people said she was crazy. Today the greenery, hundreds of trees and sense of order that reigns in the place confirm that she is in her right mind, and the project is a model that could spread all over the country.

“The benefits have been huge, thanks to Martínez and CEPRU (Ecological Processing Centre for Solid Urban Waste). Before, we didn’t even have proper streets. It was all mud. Now it’s clean and we have electric light,” Belkis Abdala, who has lived for 15 years in “barrio” (neighbourhood) Isleta on the outskirts of the eastern Cuban city of Guantánamo, told IPS.

Abdala and her family live right in front of what used to be the dump, and they recall when Martínez arrived some six years ago. “Irania went to work on the land, spending her own salary, with the help of three neighbours who worked for free, and our own humble support,” she said.

“All the woodlands you see now used to be a rubbish heap, full of black smoke, stench and flies,” said Abdala, who also noted that “many of the local residents found work at CEPRU.”

Barrio Isleta, with over 500 residents, went through a parallel process of change along with the transformation of the old rubbish dump, thanks to seedlings from Martínez’s trees growing in many a local patio, and the organic compost that nourishes their home- grown gardens.

Martínez was sent to barrio Isleta as head of the Agriculture Ministry’s urban agriculture movement. She has been the head of CEPRU since its foundation, and acknowledges she is “self-taught” and has a “strong character”.

“We started this on our own. Everybody said I was crazy, and some people were against the project. But I’m no weakling, and when I’m sure about something I go ahead and do it, mainly out of intuition and love of nature,” she said. Now she hopes to resume her studies in agronomy, which she abandoned in the 1990s.

About that time, the dump was formed and spread over an area of six or seven hectares. More than half of it has already been recovered, with a forest containing some 3,000 trees, nurseries for seedlings to continue reforesting, and places for processing wastes or preparing organic fertiliser.

There is a workforce of 35, nine of whom are women. “I’ve got six waste processing areas, but we can only operate three of them with the personnel we have. We need more workers,” Martínez said.

In CEPRU, nothing is wasted. Everything is put to some use. An average of 150 to 160 cubic metres of urban waste arrives every day from the barrios on the outskirts of Guantánamo. The first job is to separate organic waste from inorganic materials.

The inorganic waste is classified by lots, such as X-ray film, shoe soles, perfume or nail polish containers, toothpaste tubes, cardboard, paper, tinplate, car tires, radios, TV sets and a great deal of plastic waste.

“We sell off as much as we can as recycled raw materials. Other stuff we use ourselves, for fencing or signs. Tires, for instance, can be used to make thousands of different things, even roofing tiles. A sensible use must be found for every kind of waste,” Martínez said.

Further income is derived from the sale of organic compost, but the price is five or six times lower than the real cost of production.

“CEPRU will only be sustainable once an environmental economic study has been carried out. Our work is being recognised, but no one has sat down to do the sums,” she said.

The CEPRU project has had a striking impact: burning of rubbish is now minimal, proliferation of insect vectors harmful to human health has been curbed, forest species populations have begun to recover, and degraded ecosystems are being protected and rebuilt.

CEPRU receives an estimated one ton a month of high- and low-density plastic waste. Instead of being burned, as it used to be, it is re-utilised in various ways.

Experts say this practice has eliminated the release of toxic gases. The reduction represents a six percent drop in the province’s total emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like dioxins and furans into the atmosphere.

CEPRU is one of the foremost projects supported by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF/SGP), managed in Cuba by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP).

According to SGP estimates and other investigations, the project successfully reforested three hectares of land and grew some 1,000 seedlings a year. Forty households in the community participated in the reforestation effort.

Waste decomposition time was halved, production of organic compost increased by 60 tons, and the uncontrolled burning of 150 tons of rubbish a month was eliminated.

At least five new jobs for women were created. Working conditions were improved for the entire staff, who were given training courses which also benefited 50 percent of the residents of barrio Isleta.

Martínez says that organising groups like CEPRU in every Cuban province would be a method for providing training for personnel at other rubbish dumps, in order to reproduce their successful experience. “If the funding for such a nationwide project is not forthcoming, at least we could set up groups for the eastern, western and central regions of the country,” she said.

The twenty or so large rubbish dumps in Guantánamo province are now trying to put CEPRU’s techniques into practice.

by Patricia Grogg