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The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers

I’m posting below an essay about Guantánamo, written as a school project by Sammie Killmer, a sixth-grade schoolgirl in Denver, Colorado, who understands more about Guantánamo and the men held there than most adults in a position of influence in the United States.

This is not coincidental, as her father is Darold Killmer, an attorney whose law firm represents five prisoners still in Guantánamo: Musa’ab Omar Al Madhwani (ISN 839), Abdul Rahman Al Qyati (ISN 461), Sa’ad Al Azani (ISN 575), Jalal Salim Bin Amer (ISN 564) and Suhail Abdu Anam (ISN 569) [see here, here and here for more information about these men]. However, as Darold explained to me in an email, “The teacher’s assignment asked the kids to write an opinion piece on an issue that interested them. Sammie chose Gitmo … All of the work is her own, from information that she and I have talked about over the years, from individual research she did, and from an interview she had with my law partner Mari Newman (Sammie was not allowed to interview me for the project).”

I hope you enjoy the perspective of this particular 11-year old girl as much as I did, and I was especially taken by the way in which, cutting through the usual nonsense about the nameless, faceless “terrorists” in Guantánamo, Sammie provided five thumbnail portraits of her father’s clients, as provided by Mari Newman, which do more to bring these particular men to life as individual human beings than anything the US media has managed to accomplish in nine years.

Guantánamo Bay: want to hear an 11 year old girl’s opinion?
By Sammie Killmer

Cuba/Washington DC: What is Guantánamo Bay (also known as Gitmo)? Though at the most Guantánamo Bay had over 775 prisoners, many have been released, but 173 prisoners still remain. This camp was open by the Bush administration since 2002 and President Obama said it would be closed in early 2009 but it still holds 173 prisoners and isn’t closed. It is very disappointing that President Obama said he would have it closed last year and he did not keep his promise. To me it seems that Guantánamo will never close. Many of the prisoners held were and are not terrorists. In fact, many of the prisoners still being held are innocent.

Another problem I have with Gitmo is that some prisoners are on hunger strike and that the guards have the nerve to force feed them. What they do to force food down another person’s throat is just sad. It’s awful.

There are three major camps and seven sub camps. Camp Delta is the biggest camp with seven sub camps. There is also Camp Iguana which use to hold prisoners 18 and younger, but now it holds some detainees set for release back to their home countries. On some websites it claims prisoners at Camp Iguana are allowed TV and to shower twice day, but on the Internet a lot of the articles and information is only the government’s side of the story and not the whole truth.

The number of prisoners left is very, very disappointing: 173 men left at the camp. Also their nationalities are all middle eastern. Over the years the camp has held detainees from Australia, England and other countries, but they have almost all been released. Now the main population is middle eastern men. Some have even been cleared for release.  When you think about someone being cleared to leave camp you think of their last day, but some men have been waiting months and even years because they are set for clearance but the guards and government do not release them back to their home countries.

I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with a Guantánamo Bay Lawyer Mari Newman who has been recognized by the ACLU Civil Rights award for working on this case.

Here is a summary of my interview with her (I did ask for non-classified information):

“How many clients do your firm Killmer, Lane and Newman have?”

“Five”

“How long do you usually meet with them?”

“If their case is going on, all day, but if not half day”

“Are the guards harsh on what they are the permitted to say?”

“The guards are not in the room but there is a camera in the hut and the detainees are chained to the floor”

“Was it hard to get security clearance to go to Guantánamo?”

“Yes it took a long time”

“What briefly was the process to getting cleared?”

“You fill out a very long form with everything about you: where you have lived in the past, past jobs, places you have traveled, everything. A lot of people you know are interviewed”

“How many people are cleared at Killmer, Lane and Newman?”

“There are five of us, Darold, David, Sara, Siddhartha and myself”

“Do you think that all 173 prisoners will be released and Gitmo closed by the end of Obama’s term?”

“No I don’t”

“How would you explain each client?”

“Ok well –

Musa’ab — he was very funny before he was imprisioned in Gitmo. He is still very funny. He has been there since the end of October 2002. He also enjoys soccer.

Abdul Rahman — He is a poet. He is calm. He also loves cream puffs and all types of sweets.

Suhail — He is on hunger strike. He is force-fed. He also likes to read books about all different cultures.

Sa’ad — He is very religious and studies religion. He is shy and quiet.

And Jalal — He talks very fast and likes pictures of very beautiful animals.”

“How do you think Guantánamo affects America’s reputation internationally?”

“Terrible because historically America has been a symbol of freedom and known for our three unalienable rights life, liberty and property and it gives us a terrible reputation.”

We also talked  about how only four Gitmo cases have made it to the supreme court and the supreme court ruled in favor of the detainees in all of them but in the court of appeals many detainees have been ruled against though some have won.

The Guantánamo Bay issue upsets me because it is hard to believe that the US government just thrown people in prison and do nothing with them. I am very disappointed and upset how America has treated many innocent men. I cannot believe it. It’s sad what we have done. I would like to end this with a Ben Franklin quote given to me by Mari Newman:

“Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”
– BEN FRANKLIN

Andy Worthington, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. He maintains a blog at andyworthington.co.uk.

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