Five Years of His Life, And What You Can Do About It

We've all heard the arguments for transparency and media access in governmental affairs. The once-secret prisons in Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan stand as one of the nation's most shameful pillars of such arguments.

This blog post will add absolutely nothing new to those arguments; there's nothing left to say about the necessity for--and lack of--such transparency that hasn't been said again and again by people much wiser than me. But rather than discuss the shortcomings of the government-media relationship (as I so often have before), today I'd like to discuss one shining government-media triumph: a grim, unflinching, deeply moving firsthand account of an innocent man's detention in U.S. secret prisons titled Five Years of My Life.

I read this book in one night. You will probably do the same. It is a gasp-inducing, gut-wrenching account of treatment so barbaric that you wonder how anyone could possibly have survived, let alone maintained enough sanity to share his story with the world. It admittedly leaves you wondering how much of it is true: did an American guard really beat a legless man's hands (he'd lost his legs to frostbite after being forced to sit naked in the freezing mud for too long, and was left now with dirty, bloody stumps) as he tried to use the wall of his 15-square-foot prison to haul himself onto his waste bucket? We can't know for sure. We may never. But we have much proof already of similar atrocities at Gitmo, and if even only one percent of this account is true, it is one percent too many.

It does not matter if these men are innocent or guilty (surely some are guilty, though our author, Murat Kurnaz, was not); Americans, as George Bush has (somehow, with a straight face) said so often, "do not torture." Yet this account of Americans doing exactly that will stick with you for days, weeks, more. And it should. I wish I could say I was surprised by what I read, but we have learned so much about the deceit and cruelty of which this government is capable in these past years that it's no longer possible to hide behind such naïveté.

So great was my sense of outrage at what befell this man, who was found innocent in September of 2002 (after ten months of detention, interrogation, torture, and humiliation) but still detained, interrogated, tortured, and humiliated every day for nearly four more years, that I immediately got online to seek ways to help those still trapped in this American hell. And in the end, isn't that what media is supposed to be about? It has the power to move people, to motivate, to inspire and call for action. It has the power to shape national consciousness, national policy, national discourse. I cannot encourage you enough to take advantage of this most effective book and be outraged, inspired, and motivated to act yourself.

And to help you along, here are some ways you can contribute to ending the injustice of Guantanamo:

• Visit the ACLU to show your support with free orange ribbons, web buttons, or--most importantly--by contacting your senators and urging them to support legislation to close Guantanamo.

• Visit Amnesty International, where you can sign a global pledge, print flyers, participate in letter-writing campaigns, become involved in a variety of education and community action projects, donate funds, and even take a virtual tour of a Guantanamo prison cell.

• Visit HHUGS, a volunteer organization in the U.K. that provides support to the families of victims.

• Visit CCR, the Center for Constitutional Rights, where you can sign petitions, participate in community volunteer efforts, and donate money or pro bono legal services to support their representation of prisoners at the Supreme Court.

• Visit Cageprisoners, where you can write or donate directly to prisoners and their families and access a wide array of educational materials.