It pains me to begin to contemplate what must be going through his mind. After years of being wrongly held in GTMO, abused, disrespected, mocked, put down and beaten, he returns home to devote his life to helping others. Who would have thought that it would be his ambition to help others that would land him back in a situation like GTMO again? May God protect him and see him through this ordeal. It pains me but it does not worry me, please let me explain why.
I have nothing but fond memories of Moazzam. He was one of the first detainees that I can clearly remember, as he was a native English speaker, and was willing to help facilitate day to day functions in the Camp. The Army had sent us to GTMO with poor training and understanding of our tasks and duties, and when we would be lost or confused, attaining a clear answer was not always an easy task. General Miller was constantly changing the rules of engagement, and as such it was difficult to know what to do and how to do it when we first arrived. Moazzam saw that I was having trouble getting the routine down and establishing a flow, and did not hesitate to offer his wisdom and advice. Now obviously, I being an American Army soldier was not going to take advice from some lowly terrorist, but as it would turn out, when I checked his suggestions against the most recent update of the rules of engagement, he was spot on. I would be willing to assume a good number of us guards learned how to work in GTMO from the detainees, not from the soldiers we were replacing, or the poor training we had prior to our arrival.
Moazzam would literally toss aside the veil that the government had blinded us with. If there were only a means by which I could find out how many guards were affected in a positive way by Moazzam, it would be astonishing and certainly speak volumes for his character.
Moazzam was reliant on the Evans Gambit opening when he played chess. I know this because after I had grown comfortable enough with my environment and duties, as well as my supervisors having grown comfortable, he and I began to play chess. It was not simply he and I that would play chess, but rather guards and too – even our superiors would get in on the fun. Moazzam was very skilled in his game, and I sadly cannot recall a time that I beat him. In my defense I also had an entire block of men to attend to and focus on, while he simply had himself to worry about. Being able to competently speak English in GTMO was an obvious plus for Moazzam, but his willingness to help build bridges with everyone was certainly more valuable. Moazzam would play chess with some of the worst guards in the Camp. Men who were known for taking joy in the abuse of detainees would be getting frustrated and walk away at a loss, as Moazzam played chess with them, beat them, and taught them a lesson that these men are not terrorists, they are just fellows like us. Moazzam would be busy playing chess with you in his actions, but in his words he would be challenging your belief structure about the validity of GTMO, and the brainwashing we had been given. He would force us to see the detainees as people and not objects. Moazzam would literally toss aside the veil that the government had blinded us with. If there were only a means by which I could find out how many guards were affected in a positive way by Moazzam, it would be astonishing and certainly speak volumes for his character.
When he was not guiding me on how to perform my tasks, or engaging in chess games with my peers and superiors, Moazzam was usually helping to keep the peace in GTMO. The men in GTMO were cosmopolitans, essentially, and behaved as such, some better than others. Most detainees viewed what was being done to them as nothing more than a test of their faith, and it was exactly this reason they were able to behave like adults and turn the other cheek so to say. Some however reacted to the abuse and torture they were undergoing, and would take it out on the guards after the interrogators had finished gaining nothing. I can understand their sentiments. With the guards being readily available to retaliate against, as well as usually deserving of, said retaliation, I hold no ill feelings for their acts. Moazzam however would not let this happen when he was able to diffuse the situation. He was a keeper of peace, and would go out of his way to settle matters down so that both guards and detainees had as pleasant a day as possible.
Let me share with you a very clear memory of Moazzam doing just that. It must have been in October or so of 2003 that we were told we would be giving flu shots to all of the detainees, a day that I will never be able to forget. We had started off in Camp 4, as it contained the most docile and well-behaved of the detainees, making it the logical place to begin. Things went smoothly for the first few blocks, but about the time we arrived and had administered shots to the detainees of Whiskey block, things went south real fast. One of the older detainees had fainted from the shot we had given him, perhaps due to dehydration, perhaps due to the sight of blood, I do not know for sure. Nonetheless he fainted, and the others were quick to capitalise on this moment. "They are killing us, do not get the shot. They want to kill us, we must fight back. Do not get the shot, it is a lie, it is poison." The detainees began to yell from the top of their lungs in each of the 19 languages of GTMO, and word spread across the block in a moment or less. Camps 1, 2, and 3 turned into a riot, literally, and as we finished Camp 4 and made our way over into the other Camps, we could see that this was not going to go well at all.
The detainees were nearly all refusing to have the shot administered. Many of them were not allowing us to open the cell door or cuff them, and would attempt to fight us if we attempted to enter. General Miller in his infinite wisdom simply alerted the other units on the Island, and before I really understood the magnitude of what was going on, there was about 300 to 400 guards in the Camp. Most of the men had donned their riot gear and were entering the cells by force. This was called an IRF or Immediate Reaction Force and was only meant to used as a last resort. For an IRF to occur, a guard and detainee must have had a problem, which had to have been escalated to a Block Sergeant, who must have also had to escalate it to the Camp commander, and only then was an IRF authorized. When an IRF would occur, it was the duty of the Camp officer to administer a mild amount of OC spray to subdue the detainee ahead of time, and it was required that we have these captured on film. Unfortunately, we swept up dozens of cans of OC spray at the end of the night, this being indicative of our excessive use of force. The Specialist who was working in the DOC that night had forgot to take the lens cap off of the camera, by accident. Usually he forgot a battery for the camera, or film, this night it was the lens cap.
As we would IRF each detainee, the others would see what was coming, and prepare for it. Wrapping damp towels around their face and bracing the door so as to prevent us from entering was the standard precaution they would take, but when 5 men in riot gear form a chain of force against one man who is weighing in at a meager 150 lbs, the 5 men will surely win. Try as they might, each detainee was going to get a shot. Block after block we were having to enter each cell by force to administer the shots, and as the night progressed so did the fatigue. I am thankful that this is the closest I ever came to combat, as it was literally a daze while it was happening. Finally we made our way to Oscar block where Moazzam was, and the block was quiet. This was an isolation block, so it is possible that they did not know what was going on, we thought, and we realised when we entered the first cell that they were well aware. Moazzam however, with great efforts and persuasion had calmed the block majority to be compliant with us, and simply take the shot. He had yelled as well as he could to each of the detainees to relax and not fight. I would be willing to assume that he probably even cited examples of how this needless violence and aggression was not how the Sahaba (noble companions of the Prophet Muhammad) would have behaved, as Moazzam was quick with wit and reason. He made a strong impression on me that evening.
It pains me to think what he must be going through now, but because I know Moazzam, it does not worry me. I know that despite how bleak things may look for him, and whatever charges the UK may decide to toss his way, he will simply understand that this is a test of his faith
It pains me to think what he must be going through now, but because I know Moazzam, it does not worry me. I know that despite how bleak things may look for him, and whatever charges the UK may decide to toss his way, he will simply understand that this is a test of his faith, and he will take it head on, and behave like the gentleman he has always been. Moazzam has been motivated by his experience in GTMO to help improve the world around him and afar. When a Muslim sees injustice, a Muslim should do what they can to stop the injustice, and that is just what he has been doing for years now. A world that does not allow for helping the weak or oppressed is a world over run by big governments and corporate interests, and a world where the commoner has voluntarily given up their role in the legislative process.
Whatever the charges that may be pending against him, I trust and pray that he will persevere.
Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr. enlisted in the US Army in 2002 and was deployed to Guantánamo Bay detention camp (GTMO) in June 2003. His work with the detainees led to him accepting Islam just six months into the job. He has written a book entitled Traitor? which discusses his time in GTMO. He is an advocate of closing GTMO and relinquishing the land back to Cuba.
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