Guantánamo Voices: An Amazing Comic Book Version of the Guantánamo Story

13.10.20

The front cover of “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” and a page from the chapter based on an interview with attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, featuring the campaign to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, drawn by Kasia Babis, a Polish cartoonist and political activist.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

I have nothing but praise for “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” a brand-new book, just published by Abrams, which was written by Portland-based multi-media journalist Sarah Mirk, and illustrated by a number of talented graphic artists.

I should say upfront that I was the fact checker for the book, having been in contact with Sarah for many years. In 2018, I appeared, in comic book form, illustrated by the Australian artist Jess Parker, in Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, a story in the comics anthology magazine The Nib, for which Sarah is an editor, based on an interview she had conducted with me in October 2017.

Previously, I had met Sarah in London in January 2009, when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for an extraordinary tour of the UK, also featuring former prisoner and British citizen Moazzam Begg (released in 2005) and other ex-prisoners, called “Two Sides, One Story,” which was organized by the advocacy group Cageprisoners (now CAGE).

In telling “true accounts” from Guantánamo, Sarah visited the prison on a media tour in 2019, and interviewed nine individuals who know it well: Moazzam Begg and another former prisoner, Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni resettled in Serbia in 2016, who has established himself as a talented writer; three lawyers (our co-founder Tom Wilner, who represented the prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, Alka Pradhan, who is part of the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, and Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, who represents a number of the men still held), as well as Katie Taylor of Reprieve, who heads up the legal NGO’s “Life After Guantánamo” project, Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, who resigned when asked to defend the use of torture, Mark Fallon, the former director of the Criminal Investigative Task Force, which was responsible for interrogations at Guantánamo, who has since become an implacable critic of the prison, and Navy lawyer and whistleblower Matthew Diaz.

All of them provide poignant and powerful accounts of their experiences, which are brought vividly to life by the artists. Particularly noteworthy is the book’s rich “sunset tones” color palette, permeating the entire project and giving it a unique feel, which was envisioned by Sarah, and brought to life by the artist Kasimir Lee.

In a press release to accompany the book’s release, Sarah spoke of how meeting Chris Arendt brought Guantánamo to life for her. Before this, she said that it “didn’t feel like a real place, full of real people,” adding, “That obscurity is by design. As I learned more about Guantánamo, I realized that the government didn’t want us to understand who was imprisoned there or to think of them as actual people. In the stories told by high-ranking government officials, the detainees were dehumanized terrorists — people so violent and savage in their anti-American hatred that they would chew through the fuel lines of an airplane, given the chance. They were so vicious that they couldn’t possibly be put on trial in regular American courts. In the language of the U.S. government, Guantánamo isn’t a prison, and the people there aren’t prisoners — they’re ‘detainees’ in a safe, humane, and legal ‘detention facility’ that has held hundreds of people from around the world without trial for 18 years.”

As Sarah also explained, “The goal of ‘Guantánamo Voices’ is to challenge these false narratives and change the way Americans understand Guantánamo. Sharing the experiences of people who have worked at the prison or been held there reveals the lies that the U.S. government used to create and maintain the prison in the years after 9/11. These myths are rooted in racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. It’s hard to face what we did and continue to do, as a country, at Guantánamo. But understanding this reality is the only way to finally, one day, seek justice and accountability.”

Sarah also explained why the graphic medium is so powerful for telling the story of Guantánamo. As she stated, “Comics have the unique power to make the invisible visible. Visual representations of Guantánamo are tightly controlled and censored because the government subjectively approves all photographs of the prison. Journalists are not allowed to speak with current prisoners, and former prisoners are not allowed to come to the United States, limiting the access of news stories that would focus on their experiences and perspectives. Comics are a medium that can get around this censorship.”

I hope you’ll be interested in buying “Guantánamo Voices.” As Sarah explains on her website, it’s available in the US from Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound and Amazon. For international orders, you can get it from the Book Depository, Indigo (Canada), Waterstones (UK), and Booktopia (Australia), and you can also buy copies directly from Sarah herself.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting “Guantanamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” a powerful new book, written by multi-media journalist Sarah Mirk, and illustrated by a number of talented graphic artists, for which, I should say, I was the fact checker.

    The book draws on interviews with nine people who know the prison well, including former prisoners Moazzam Begg and Mansoor Adayfi, attorneys Thomas Wilner, AP Pn and Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, Katie Taylor of Reprieve, and other important figures in our understanding of how wrong Guantanamo is – Mark Fallon, Morris Davis and whistleblower Matt Diaz.

    A perfect gift for enlightened friends, friends who need enlightening, birthdays and Christmas! A copy should really be given out to every school kid in the US, but I suppose that’s just a dream …

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Hall wrote:

    Are young people learning hard challenging truths or easy hurtful propaganda?

    Sometimes high schoolers still seem too young to begin learning of the messy cruel horrors of national conflicts (indigenous people should be considered as Independent nations), but they are interacting with people from other nations and voting at 18 years old, which is their right if they are old enough to get married & join the service. In this country people are voting in leaders who control the most powerful weapons in the world, which also makes the US & its allies able to hold a terrorizing amount of power.

    In the US as soon as young people are out of high school they can join the $trillion + military whereby they have to keep secrets if atrocities are committed or face possible torture and/or imprisonment as Sgt Manning was kept naked in prison for nearly a year because he revealed the details shown in the film Dirty Wars & numerous media and books.

    Also after high school students may decide to become leaders or at least tax payers who decide how to contribute to their complex and caring society.

    Education should not be just for making more money, but also for developing compassionate healthy societIes.

    Think I will buy a few copies of this book for my education & anyone else who wants to contribute to an educated caring society

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Susan, and for your comments about education and propaganda.

  4. Anna says...

    Sounds great Andy, I’ll try to order from Waterstones via our ‘American Bookstore’ which in fact buys only from the UK :-).
    From AJE, in case you missed it :
    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/19/afghan-mother-waits-for-son-stuck-in-guantanamo-bay-since-2006.
    Indeed, the two remaining Afghans in Guantanamo if not humanely then just logically should be part of any taliban ‘prisoner swap’.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna. I hope you have success in getting the book.

    I saw the AFP story via Al-Jazeera, and have posted my own account, including information about Haroon’s hunger strike, from July, that was largely overlooked: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2020/10/20/asadullah-haroon-gul-the-hunger-striking-afghan-forgotten-at-guantanamo/

    Regarding the peace deal, CAGE recently issued a press release calling for the two Afghans to be released, which included a comment from Abdul Salaam Zaeef. However, I do think that Haroon’s alleged HIG connections should have seen him already released, because of Hekmatyar’s peace deal with the Afghan government, which saw a HIG member and former Guantanamo prisoner brought back to Afghanistan at the start of the tear from the UAE, where the US had sent him for “resettlement” (continued imprisonment) after Guantanamo. As for Rahim, the allegations against him involve Al-Qaeda – and so the US should charge him, and put him on trial, although, conspicuously, they haven’t. It seems that, more reliably, he too was involved with Hekmatyar. Here’s the latest I have on Rahim’s case: https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2017/04/08/us-military-lawyer-submits-petition-to-inter-american-commission-on-human-rights-on-behalf-of-mohammad-rahim-cia-torture-victim-held-at-guantanamo/

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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