SOA Watch Vigil: Injustice at Guantanamo Bay

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November 30, 2012 by

The second workshop I attended at the SOA Watch Vigil was “Guantanamo Prison – torture, injustice, and U.S. power.” There was one speaker whose story I can’t seem to forget and who continues to fight to end the unjust actions at Guantanamo Bay. Former U.S. Army attorney Donna Lorraine Barlett spoke of how she had been part of the U.S. Army for over 25 years, working her way up through the ranks. She served in Afghanistan and traveled around the U.S. to various bases, never witnessing any questionable behavior until she received her dream job of becoming a defense attorney.

Barlett was assigned to the Office of Military Commissions where she represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay or “Gitmo,” as she referred to it. Her first detainee she represented was Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi who had been imprisoned for nearly 10 years in mostly solitary confinement. She said the first few times she traveled down to Gitmo to meet with him the officials working there never let her see her client, saying “He doesn’t want to meet with you today.” At first Barlett complied, but her instincts told her something wasn’t right.”

After some investigation she later found out roughly 800 detainees had been imprisoned there since it’s opening, but now only around 171 remain. Of those 171 half are cleared for release but have yet to be freed.

However, Barlett did manage to get past the endless security checkpoints one time to meet with her client. She explained how she went through the wrong entrance and not the usual main entrance she was never permitted to pass through. Going through multiple security clearances she finally was at the cell of Abdullah al Sharbi, speaking to him through a tiny slit in his solitary cell. She said the conditions in the cells were small, dirty and inhumane. When she began speaking to Sharbi she explained he was lying on his little cot, completely unresponsive to her questions. Of course, her success was halted and officials were not happy that she made it to his cell and were heading into the area she was at to escort her out. But before she left she told him, “I’ll be back tomorrow and I’m going to help you get out of here. I love you, I won’t forget about you, I’ll be back!”

The only response the man could make lying on his dirty cot was a simple raised hand in an attempt to wave.

Barlett is now part of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps and is still working toward closing Guantanamo Bay and freeing the innocent men being held their against their will. She often speaks at conferences to raise awareness of the injustices of Gitmo and share her story.   

Read her article on Gauntanamo Bay on USA Today: JAG Lawayer: Gitmo’s decade of shame stains U.S.


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