Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or President Obama and the Detainees of Guantánamo?
By Cynthia Park, Security with Human Rights intern, AIUSA
I was ten years old when the first Harry Potter film debuted. I loved it not only because it brought the fantasy of magic to life, but also because I related so deeply with Harry and his friends, who were about my same age.
The 9/11 attacks happened that same year. I vaguely remember it, and I certainly didn’t understand at the time how that day — and the U.S. government’s response — would shape my life. While I explored adolescence and entered into adulthood along with Harry and his friends, the U.S. government pursued a series of policies that violated human rights in the name of national security. And now, as the public readies for the debut of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the next Harry Potter-universe film, it also readies for the presidency of Donald Trump, a person who campaigned on the promise to commit the same kinds of abuses — and more.
One of those abusive policies is Guantánamo: a prison that the United States built on an island in Cuba on January 11, 2002. Hundreds of individuals have been held there since then without charge or fair trial. Although President Obama promised to close Guantánamo when he took office in 2009, it remains open with 60 individuals still inside its walls, unsure if they’ll ever leave. Some of them have been there since I was ten.
There’s a prison described in the Harry Potter books that reminds me of Guantánamo. It’s called Azkaban. J.K. Rowling describes Azkaban as a terrible place, “set on a tiny island, way out to sea,” where its prisoners become “trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheery thought.” Azkaban is characterized as a place where “[t]he very walls of the building seemed steeped in misery and pain,” and prisoners could never escape. J.K Rowling reportedly conceived Azkaban from former U.S. prison, Alcatraz and “Abaddon,” a Hebrew word meaning “place of destruction” or “depths of hell.”
The individuals at Guantánamo have access to the Harry Potter books in the prison library, and the series is reportedly highly popular there. At least one former detainee has made the same comparison. Shaker Aamer was held at Guantánamo for more than 13 years without charge, and was released last year after years of campaigning by Amnesty International and others. After he returned to the United Kingdom, he gave a post-release interview in which he said :
They got an island in Harry Potter, it says ‘Azkaban.’ Where there’s no happiness and they just suck all your feelings out of you, and you don’t have no feelings anymore. And truly that’s how I felt all the time. This is Azkaban. This is not from this world. Because that’s what they tried, you know. They want to make you feeling-less. They want to deprive you from everything, anything.
I never would have guessed that relating to Harry Potter characters would be a commonality I share with the people being detained at Guantánamo. But the story continues to resonate, and the problem of Guantánamo — the real-life Azkaban — persists.
In just a few weeks, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the new President of the United States. While we don’t yet know exactly what his policies will look like, we do know what he has said about Guantánamo and torture:
· “I would absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding” February 7, 2016
· “Nothing’s nice about it [waterboarding], but it’s your minimal form of torture.” March 22, 2016
· “Guantánamo Bay — which, by the way, we are keeping open! And we’re going to load it up with some bad dudes. We’re going to load it up.” (February 23, 2016)
· “We’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable almost.” (June 30, 2016)
These ideas are unacceptable. Here’s what you should know:
· Nearly everyone at Guantánamo has been there for more than ten years, without charge or fair trial.
· Nearly half of those in Guantánamo went through the CIA “black sites,” where torture occurred.
· Zero senior U.S. officials have been held accountable for torture.
Waterboarding is torture, and torture is a crime. Indefinite detention without charge or fair trial violates international law. The 60 individuals who remain at Guantánamo must immediately be charged and given a fair trial, or else released. There are no other options, and President Obama’s time is running out.
We cannot allow the U.S. government to return to a policy of torture in the name of national security, or to keep Guantánamo open forever. Azkaban must remain fiction, and not a real place.
It’s not too late — President Obama still has time to fulfill his promises and close Guantánamo. Show your support today.