A small item in the local Cape Times newspaper took me back to reading an update about Tariq Ba Odah, a 36- or 37-year-old citizen of Yemen. As of this week he has been held at Guantánamo Bay prison for 13 years six months. Today Tariq Ba Odah is skeletal, 75 pounds, and medical experts fear for his life.
As reported by the New York Times, over four years ago, in January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force recommended Tariq Ba Odah for transfer to Yemen provided that certain security conditions were met.
Two years ago, actress Mia Farrow recorded a letter written by Tariq Ba Odah from Guantánamo Bay to his CCR attorney. “My eleven years of time spent in solitary confinement is trying to kill the eleven years of childhood I spent in . . . Saudi Arabia. Now I live on just the imagination of my childhood.” You can view and listen to the recording here.
You will not want to listen if you do not wish to hear about methods of torture and humiliation practiced under the authority of the US government at Guantanamo.
No case was ever made against Tariq Ba Odah, and his right to repatriation has long since been affirmed. Now he is utterly harmless, perhaps beyond recovery. Yet listening to his letter, this is a man who lives by his faith in Allah, is peaceful, harbours no will for retribution, and longs to see his family and country of his upbringing.
From a distance the picture looks like a priest praying in a chapel with a nun descending the stair on the left. I am taken aback as I ponder the figure in white, now illumined through the unyielding mesh of a cage. It is a strange trick of the Image, and yet it strikes me forcibly as not too far from the real message and spirit of Tariq Ba Odah.
If ever there was one of whom we could say “‘Hope Sings,” here is such a man. As his letter professes, Tariq Ba Odah has made choices for true life, the life of the spirit, even while languishing near death in Guantánamo.