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31 May 2006

Sending Seeds to Guantanemo.

seedsI have resisted writing anything about the US detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay until now, as I feel so enraged about it that I felt sure I would be able to contribute nothing useful other than a long rant. The abuses of international law, the mistreatment of prisoners, the allegations of torture, the utter distain for people’s human rights and for their dignity constitute a huge stain on the present US adminstration’s already deeply soiled reputation. We all know about it, and, I’m sure, feel the same sense of powerlessness and rage. Then the story of a small garden reached me. I have to say I was deeply moved by it.

gmo1 It turns out that having asked for permission from their US captives to have a food garden and having been refused, a group of prisoners have made their own garden,within the camp. They clearly have no access to tools, even the staples on documents are removed entering the camp in case they are used as a weapon, so they have made a garden using a plastic spoon and a mop handle. Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani, who has been held at Guantanamo for 5 years without charge, told his lawyer;

> “we planted a garden. At night we poured water on the ground. In the morning, we pounded it with the mop handle and scratched it with the spoons. … The next day, we did it again. And so on until we had a bed for planting…We have lots of time, here. We have some small plants — watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe. No fruit yet. There’s a lemon tree about two inches tall, though it’s not doing well. ”

gmo2Those of us used to gardening in places with topsoil might not appreciate the kind of terrain they are working with here. This is seriously arid, dry and sandy, not a promising place for a garden. Once they had made the beds, they had the problem of where to obtain seeds. *”Sometimes”* Saddiq continued, *”with the meal, they give us a bit of watermelon or cantaloupe to eat. We save the seeds”.*

Brings to mind Geoff Lawton’s words, “You can fix all the world’s problems, in a garden. You can solve them all in a garden. You can solve all your pollution problems, and all your supply line needs in a garden. And most people today actually don’t know that, and that makes most people very insecure”. Can you solve the problem of US imperialism in a garden? I don’t know, but I am profoundly moved that people are trying.

gmo3 Reprieve is a London based group “Fighting for the Lives of People Facing the Death Penalty”. They have started a campaign to send seeds to the Guantanamo gardeners. Send Reprieve a package of seeds and a message to the gardeners, (including any advice you might have for gardening in arid conditions) so that Reprieve can submit them to the US military to be given to the prisoners. The seeds and messages will be collected and the US courts petitioned to allow the seeds into Guantánamo. Please only send new (or unopened) packets of pre-packaged seeds, to make it easier for Reprieve to apply for a phyto-sanitary certificate. The seeds should be sent to **Reprieve, PO Box 52742, London, EC4P 4WS.**

Please pass this around. If you do send them some seeds, please write to us and tell us what you sent and what you wrote. I am going to send this to as many people as I know. Please do likewise, I will post the text of the email I sent to all my friends below, so feel free to cut and paste it and send it to whoever you know. Let’s see if we can make a difference here, and stand together with fellow gardeners living in the most intolerable of circumstances.

**Here is the text of the email circular I have begun….**

“Please send some seeds to prisoners at Guantanamo and nurture a garden of hope…

This is a story that moved me deeply, I hope it touches you too. Please forward this email on to as many people as you can, as a show of solidarity with possibly the world’s bravest gardeners. Please support this wonderful initiative, and feel free to post your messages on TransitionCulture.org and share what seeds you sent and why…

In the bleak environment of Guantánamo Bay, some prisoners have begun to grow a garden, but they are not allowed to have any seeds. A more barren environment could hardly be imagined than the dry and dusty military base hemmed in with razor wire.

Reprieve (a London based organisation which campaigns for the lives of people facing the death penalty) is launching a campaign to show support for the Guantánamo gardeners. Send Reprieve a package of seeds and a message to the gardeners , (including any advice you might have for gardening in arid conditions) so that Reprieve can submit them to the US military to be given to the prisoners. The seeds and messages will be collected and the US courts petitioned to allow the seeds into Guantánamo. Please only send new (or unopened) packets of pre-packaged seeds, to make it easier for Reprieve to apply for a phyto-sanitary certificate. The seeds should be sent to Reprieve, PO Box 52742, London, EC4P 4WS. The seeds and messages will be collected and the US courts petitioned to allow the seeds into Guantánamo.

It has been 4 years since the US military base at Guantánamo Bay was turned into a prison out of reach of the law for detainees seized in the “war on terror.” Some of the prisoners, those found to be innocent under the military’s tribunal system, live in a separate section of the facility, Camp Iguana. They have not been released as there is no-where they can be safely released to. These “NEC”s (Not Enemy Combatants) live in a pen that contains a small patch of ground. Here, they have been scratching out a garden in the Guantánamo soil, and some of the seeds are growing.

Their US lawyer, P. Sabin Willett, described the garden in an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post yesterday. He reported that he has been asking that these prisoners be allowed to have a garden, as gardens are typically allowed in prisoner-of-war camps and of course these individuals aren’t even classified as enemies any more.

The authorities have refused these requests, but the prisoners have striven to make a garden without their help. One, Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani, told his lawyer: “We planted a garden. We have some small plants — watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe. No fruit yet. There’s a lemon tree about two inches tall, though it’s not doing well.” They were forbidden tools so they dig with plastic spoons and mop handle. Of course Guantánamo gardeners face soil problems far more severe than those faced by British gardeners with a water shortage; the soil there is dry and hard. But Saddiq had a solution to that as well: “At night we poured water on the ground. In the morning, we pounded it with the mop handle and scratched it with the spoons. … The next day, we did it again. And so on until we had a bed for planting…We have lots of time, here.”
Nor would the authorities provide seeds, but once again Saddiq had an answer, delivered with a smile. “Sometimes, with the meal, they give us a bit of watermelon or cantaloupe to eat. We save the seeds.” Saddiq is beginning his fifth year in Guantánamo.

Reprieve’s legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, represents 36 of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and has seen the conditions on the base, first hand. He said “This is a wonderful story and gives me great hope. The massive might of the US military is intent on holding prisoners in an environment that is stripped of comfort, humanity, beauty and even law. Yet the prisoners held there have overcome this with a plastic spoon and a lemon seed. It is the beginning of the end of Guantánamo Bay.”

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1 Comment

James
4 Jun 9:37am

Thank you for this post. I will reference it, so the story spreads. Stay strong.