Remember Guantanamo Bay?

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I had a chance to meet with some of the folks who have served as mediators to Guantanamo Bay prisoners… and I am deeply disturbed by what I am learning.

Here’s a little update from Guantanamo —

Some of the things I learned…

  • 166 prisoners remain in the prison.  86 have been cleared for release, and yet they remain in prison – some have been there for over 10 years (with no trial).
  • There are now dozens of human rights groups and faith-organizations calling for an end to the indefinite detention and torture of the prisoners.
  • The NY Times calls it a “stain” on America, and wrote:  “The prison should have never been opened.  It was nothing more than Mr. Bush’s attempt to evade accountability by placing prisoners in another country.”  And in 2009 Obama promised to close it.  Now, in 2013, it is still open and the prisoners are being held indefinitely without a trial. It is reported, that some of them were farmers taken by mistake in the countrywide sweeps (the US offered a bounty of $5000 per prisoner). One of them was Adnan Latif, who spent more than 10 years in Guantanamo without ever being charged.  He was a poet, father, and husband – suffered severe beatings and died in prison.  He was cleared for release four separate times yet continued to remain in the prison.  On September 8, 2012 – Adnan died.  Some of his last words were:  “Where is the world to save us?”
  • Another prisoner is Shaker Aamer, the sole UK citizen still at Guantanamo.  Shaker recently pleaded, “I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children.”  He was cleared for release 6 years ago, but continues to wait to hug his kids.
  • Now a total of 9 prisoners have died.  There have been several suicides and dozens of other attempted suicides as prisoners seek to end the brutal life at Guantanamo.
  • Camp_x-ray_detainees

  • In a desperate attempt to bring attention to the situation, the prisoners have gone on a hunger strike which is now in its third month.  As of today, it is reported that there are 97 prisoners on a hunger strike, 16 are being forced fed, and 6 have been hospitalized.  One of the hunger-strikers, Samir Naji described the desperation within the prison as men now weigh as little as 77 pounds — in a recent NY Times article.
  • “The hunger strike,” says Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, “is the predictable result of a failed policy of indefinite detention that is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable. If action is not taken to change that policy, more prisoners will die and our nation’s shame will deepen.”  Here are some ways to keep in the loop:

It all raises some very important questions for people of faith and conscience doesn’t it?

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“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  Hebrews 13: 3

Photo Credit: Pres Panayotov /

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About the Author

Shane Claiborne

Shane ClaiborneShane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way, a radical faith community in Philadelphia. His most recent book, Executing Grace was released in June.View all posts by Shane Claiborne →

  • Drew


    Still waiting for you to respond on Kermit Gosnell. Far more people have been murdered at the hands of Gosnell than have died in Guantanamo, and Gosnell is in your backyard of Philadelphia. While many prisoners at Guantanamo have decided to harm themselves or kill themselves, and while most of the prisoners at Guantanamo are terrorists, none of Gosnell’s victims were able to defend themselves and all were innocent.

    I know it is popular to align with the extreme political left, Shane, but I would like to see you take a stand on this issue, in your own backyard, letting the chips fall where they may. You might lose some friends on the political left but I would hope it is worth it in order to speak out against a tragedy in your own backyard.

    • tim

      Right on Drew

    • 22044


    • James E.

      The Gosnell case is sickening and unjust and criminal. It’s CRIMINAL, and that’s the point; Gosnell is on trial. Gitmo is sickening and unjust and criminal. And no one is doing anything about it. Gosnell is one criminal who is on trial, Gitmo is a country sinning in your name. The two have nothing to do with eachother. By bringing them up together, you’re only trying to mask one injustice that for some reason you’re comfortable with by bringing up a totally unrelated injustice that you consider more important. If you’re right and “most of the prisoners at Guantanamo are terrorists” then put them on trial, let justice be done, and move forward. Or better yet, put every politician and military leader who knowingly allows the Guantanamo injustice to continue on trial, and let justice be done.
      Gosnell is on trial, Gitmo is still open. If Gitmo was closed and Gosnell was open for business, you’d have a point. But that’s not the case and you don’t have a point, you just have the assertion that babies in the USA are more important than adults from the Middle East.

      • Drew


        Take what I am saying at face value. What I have said is that Shane seems to be overlooking a major issue that is less than ten miles away from where he lives and has established his Simple Way community. The only reason I can think of that Shane would ignore the issue is because of his alliance with the extremist political/secular left and is perhaps worried that he would anger them. If something major happened in my backyard, I would surely want to discuss it. I am not trying to diminish the importance of a debate on Guantanamo (although I’d be careful to blindly believe what the terrorists are telling us about their innocence and peacefulness). What I am trying to do is ask why there is deafening silence on this issue from the liberal community (secular, political, religious).

        • Drew,

          There isn’t “deafening silence” concerning Kermit Gosnell. If you turn on NPR in Philly it’s reported on pretty much every day. NPR is not a conservative news agency by any means. Shane’s post isn’t about Gosnell, it’s about Guantanamo Bay. I expect he’s just as horrified by that. He can’t write a post about every topic every day. Guantanamo is horrific and unacceptable, Gosnell’s actions are horrific and unacceptable. The main difference, as James suggests, seems to be that Gosnell is at least on trial for it and will be judged by a jury of his peers, whereas Guantanamo is disturbingly distant from our conversation and no-one wants to take responsibility. Our theology concerning the sanctity of life shouldn’t stop when people are adults. We should definitely do what we can to protect innocent children, but we should also be fighting for real justice for adults as well, innocent or otherwise.

          • Drew

            Again, take what I am saying at face value. I’m not advocating that we focus on one issue at the exclusion of another. I’m not advocating that sanctity of life stops when folks are adults (I am against the death penalty). What I cannot understand, though, is Shane’s willingness to align himself solely with the extreme secular and political left in this country, then go silent on an issue in his own backyard that the extreme secular and political left refuses to talk about.

            I’m not expecting Shane to write a post about every topic every day.
            However, you cannot say that you “expect he’s just as horrified.” He
            might be, might not be, we don’t know, because it has never been
            mentioned once on this website or in anything that I’ve seen Shane put
            out there. It’s not like this is a minor issue or far removed from his
            reality, either; this happened just miles away from where his ministry

            You can say that there is adequate coverage, but it runs contrary to the reality of the situation. A lot of the coverage has been about the lack of coverage. Some outlets and some individuals have done a good job, but overall the coverage has been dismal. I suggest reading “Why the Bias of the Gosnell Trial Goes Beyond the Media” posted on Relevant Magazine’s website as a starting point.

          • Sheryce

            I guess I don’t understand your focus on Shane Claiborne specifically. Let’s say he never, ever addresses abortion ever (even though I’ve heard him address it more than once). Who cares? Maybe that’s not the issue God’s called him to be vocal about. Who are you to say otherwise?
            You can totally be upset about the lack of coverage on the case. So, if God’s calling you to it, you be the mouthpiece. You write the petitions. You write the articles. You do it. Stop getting mad at people you don’t know personally for not focusing on your pet issues.
            I’m not mad about what he doesn’t address, I’m thankful for what he does address and how God uses him in those areas. Just like every other human being in existence.

          • Drew

            Your question as been asked previously and I have answered previously. Please read everything I say before responding. Again, my reason for asking why Shane has not commented on the story is because Shane comments on many national news stories and this story happened in his own backyard just miles and minutes away from his ministry and where he lives. If someone lived in Fort Hood, Texas, and commented on national stories, could I reasonably expect them to comment on the Fort Hood shooting?

            This has nothing to do with me getting mad (I’m not mad) and has nothing to do with my pet issues (while I care about abortion, my pet issue is the general welfare of women and children) and has nothing to do with me being ungrateful for Shane (I like Shane).

          • Sheryce

            “Again, my reason for asking why Shane has not commented on the story is because Shane comments on many national news stories and this story happened in his own backyard just miles and minutes away from his ministry and where he lives. If someone lived in Fort Hood, Texas, and commented on national stories, could I reasonably expect them to comment on the Fort Hood shooting?”

            I don’t think that invalidates any of what I said. If a newscaster lived in Fort Hood, Texas, then you could reasonably expect them to comment on the Fort Hood shooting on their news show.
            Shane Claiborne is not a newscaster. He comments on (I assume) what he feels like God has called him to comment on. It’s strange to come in and demand otherwise.
            It’d be like if you were doing a talk on, let’s say, diabetes. Now you’re a medical doctor who comments on various diseases you’ve studied and focused on. And I come in and say “BUT PEOPLE GET CANCER IN YOUR BACK YARD EVERYDAY WHY DO YOU NOT TALK ABOUT CANCER ARE YOU JUST TRYING TO APPEASE THE DIABETES PEOPLE.” It’s rude, and it’s a little strange.

            “This has nothing to do with me getting mad (I’m not mad) and has nothing to do with my pet issues”
            I gotta tell you, by saying “The only reason I can think of that Shane would ignore the issue is because of his alliance with the extremist political/secular left and is perhaps worried that he would anger them” you really, really, seem to be saying otherwise.

            As I said, I’ve heard Shane Claiborne address abortion more than once, but still, he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t owe you anything. If this is something you think is important (and it is), and you want his take in it, maybe kindly send him a private email, rather than barging into a space he’s created for one issue, and accusing him of a few things we really can’t possibly know without knowing him personally.

          • Drew

            It’s clear to me that you are still not trying to understand where I am coming from or what I am saying. Both of your analogies are strawmen. Then, you call me angry, I say I am not angry, so then you call me angry again. I’m not using ad hominems, I’m not attacking anyone, I’m not typing in caps – the only reason you have to think of me is angry is that I dared to voice dissent.

          • Drew

            I wanted to do some more research just to make sure I am not completely out of line. I will present to you four facts:

            Fact One: Using map software and the exact address of Gosnell’s Clinic and Shane’s Simple Way ministry, they are located approximately 8 minutes or 2.5 miles away from each other. Not only the same city, but the same area of the city.

            Fact Two: Shane has no mentions of Gosnell on Twitter, at least not within the past six months. Again, I’m not saying Shane should write a lengthy essay on Gosnell, but literally I have yet to hear anything (although I could be wrong) from Shane about Gosnell, even on a medium (such as Twitter) where he posts daily.

            Fact Three: Shane does mention other stories about Philadelphia, but they involve his guns into plowshares program, school closings, foreclosed homes.

            It’s clear that Shane is ignoring this story.

      • Pro-life Feminist

        Hi Drew,

        This is a very interesting dialogue. I want to politely interject with something that is heavy on my heart while reading the comments following this article. You may be interested to know that partial birth abortion IS CURRENTLY LEGAL in some states, as decided by a doctor on the vaguest terms imaginable. I’m not going to write several paragraphs, because I like to get directly to the point and keep it simple:

        If we regard human life, and we value the rights of a living being enough to evoke compassion on grown-up criminals who are being mistreated, then that same compassion should automatically well up inside of us when we become aware of the barbaric (and legal) process of aborting babies fully or partially inside a woman’s body. This is outrageous, unjustifiable, and I only wish more people took an interest in the facts of this “choice” that we provide to women. I am 100% for equality in every way, which leads me to suggest that if women are to be treated fairly, then they should be charged with murder when terminating a life, just as a man would be in a case such as this.

    • James Love

      I don’t think speaking out for the right to a fair trial, or people being held falsely when charges have been dropped is exlpicitly “extreme political left.” I think it’s what most of us would call American, or hell, human.

      • Ephirius

        Prisoner’s of war don’t receive the same sorts treatment that citizens do when they commit crimes. This is basic knowledge. To oppose this is certainly “extreme political left”, because it has in mind the destruction of all human traditions which have brought us this concept.

        • James Love

          So, what I am hearing you say is this: even if someone has been declared innocent as some (not all), actually, very few, I will gladly concede very few have been, their rights as a normal human being can still be trumped? Take for instance the case of Adnan Latif mentioned above. I didn’t JUST rely on this article or even the NYT article as that was a critique of another poster. I did a little research and it was found that this dude is mentally ill. Looking at the symptoms he manifested, he was more than likely schizophrenic and possibly epileptic. He was declared not only innocent, but was also determined prior that EVEN IF HE WERE GUILTY, he was beyond the ability of care for Gitmo. In January 2008 it was decided he should be transferred out of care of the facility. He died in September 2012 there. That is not normal.

      • Drew

        No, prisoners of war have different rights than citizens.

        • James Love

          Though I cannot, and thus will not try to combat this statement, it does call to question why the rights of soldiers or any other prisoner of war can be denied. That is just basic human rights. If someone’s guilty, that is all well and good. If someone is an imminent threat and there is proof, I agree with that as well. However, I call into question the ability to say, “This man/woman has no rights because we are calling them a POW.” And that is not an explicit condemnation of America…that applies to any and every power (because even entities that are not countries hold POWs) that determines someone is justly held because they were captured. It is just inhumane…even if it is acceptable.

  • otrotierra

    Thank you Shane Claiborne and RedLetterChristians for having the courage to speak out against blatant injustice and suffering, no matter how politically upsetting it is to do so.

    • Digger

      Now if they would courageously speak out against the blatant injustice and suffering of the many thousands of vicitms of these 166 men. Speak about the massive amount of suffering that hasn’t taken place because these men have been locked up. The good outwieghs the bad by thousands of times. I, for one, cheer their imprisonment. Let’s also applaud President Obama for sacrificing a promise he made to free them, realizing the greater good of leaving these men locked up.

      • Dougra2000

        These men have been cleared of all wrong-doing. They are not guilty of any crime. They are now stateless. They are not being detained because of what they might do. But, it is reasonable to think that they have a right to the resentment they feel for the treatment and torture they have received.. So cheering their imprisonment is a bit rich.

        • Digger

          All 166 have been cleared, Dougra? Is that what you are claiming? That all 166 men are innocent, wrongly imprisoned men? I want to be clear on what you are claiming before I reply to you.

          • J Vickers

            I believe the article said 86 have been ‘cleared for release’

      • eitzen

        Digger, one thing is locking up criminals, keeping them from society for a few years for whatever crime they committed. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s perfectly correct. A completely different thing and very inhumane is torture and keeping people in prison much longer than acceptable or necessary. If someone has been cleared for release, it means he or she can and should leave, not be kept there for another decade. The article does not say they’re all innocent, it’s just calling for an end to the completely unnecessary torture.

        • Digger

          eitzen–I agree with you. So does the United States. We’ve tried to release many of these people. This internet site isn’t going to give you that information because RLC wants you to believe a certain set of things.
          Where can we release them? Certainly not in the United States. Not in their home countries either–they won’t take them. That’s why most are still in Gitmo. Keep in mind, none of them are innocent. The one’s cleared have not committed any violent terrorist acts, but they’ve all been in and around organizations hostile to the US and their allies.
          For most, if a country is willing to have them, the US will release them.

  • Digger

    As Christians, I don’t think we should judge ourselves guilty based on horribly one-sided information. Not only is this article completely lacking information on why these men are detained, the article seems to be based solely on information from the NY Times, an outfit utterly hostile to God, Christianity, and the United States. (A key indicator of a news outlet’s disrespect is when they refuse to address officials with their proper titles. Neither Bush nor Obama are refered to as ‘President’.)
    Granted, it is true that Adnan Latif died because he was in Gitmo, but we lack the reason he was there–unless we do the leg work ourselves.
    We don’t learn that Latif claims he was on his way to a medical appointment when he was arrested, nor do we learn that the intelligence reports indicate that he was actually on his way to Al Queda training.
    We don’t learn that Latif was disobedient and unruly, throwing bodily fluids at guards and even his own lawyer.
    We don’t learn that he wieghed 14 pounds more upon his death than when he entered Gitmo; we only read that he “sufferd beatings,” a dubious claim that also neglects to tell us why he was involved in the scuffles that HE started.
    What I really find distasteful are the volume of articles that we read evoking pity for Muslim terrorists, and the dearth of articles evoking the memory of the thousands of humans they murdered.
    I agree with Mr. Claiborne’s headline; we should not forget about Gitmo. We should indeed be the voice that demands compassion. But can’t we do it in a balanced manner–one that doesn’t rely so heavily on God’s self-professed enemies and one that doesn’t neglect the actual victims?

    • Christy Hipel

      How dare you! Are you to be the judge of the people sitting without trial in Gitmo? If that were so at least it would be a step in the right direction. I don’t care if they are guilty or innocent. The fact that they have not had a trial makes it unjust. What makes it even worse is that many of them were deemed to have been wrongly held and safe to let go, but THEY ARE STILL THERE! You basically just condemned all 166 of them with no trial! That is the basic point. The memory of every victim of 9/11 has been held on honour for the past 10+ years. The innocent who are in jail only hurts and shames their memory.

      • 22044

        Whoa…Digger didn’t do any of the things you accuse him of.

      • Digger

        Really, Christy? “How dare I?” Which of my words “condemned all 166 of them”? Was it when I said, “we should not forget about Gitmo. We should indeed be the voice that demands compassion”?
        The point to my post was that we shouldn’t be calling ourselves (Amercians) bad guys without having all the information. The NY Times leaves out a lot of very important information. The author of this article could have easily found some of the detail that would have helped the readers to understand why these people are still locked up.
        Yes, some of them have been deemed safe to go (none who are still there were deemed “wrongly held”), but there are very good reasons why those who are safe to go cannot go (unless you simply want to bring them to the USA and free them on our soil).
        I never claimed that their situation was just. But without having all the important facts, how do you know what the barriers are that prevent them from receiving justice? The barriers to justice are real, and they are NOT just the fault Amerricans.
        Did you even bother to TRY and understand my post before condemning me with no trial? “How dare I?”

        • Which of my words “condemned all 166 of them”?

          I would wager they were your words to otrotierra: “Now if they would courageously speak out against the blatant injustice and suffering of the many thousands of vicitms of these 166 men. Speak about the massive amount of suffering that hasn’t taken place because these men have been locked up. The good outwieghs the bad by thousands of times. I, for one, cheer their imprisonment.” Or perhaps Christy may have seen condemnation when you said “What I really find distasteful are the volume of articles that we read evoking pity for Muslim terrorists.”

  • Hebrews 13: 3 is not really the best scripture reference for this story; it refers to early Christians incarcerated for their faith, not people in legal limbo, awaiting trial or release.

    • Hagere

      Do you really need to explain to us the cultural context of Hebrews 13: 3?

      • Ephirius

        Apparently, yes. It is mangled so far out of context that reading it causes near physical pain. I can only wonder what other horrors of theological mishandling are in this guy’s repertoire.

  • Wow, Shane. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I pray that we, as Christians, can care about and love our enemies (even our perceived enemies) as Jesus taught us in his red letters. How is Guantanamo loving them? What a disgrace. Someday, we will look back on this place with shame, the same as we do the Japanese interment camps, or the annihilation of Native Americans or slavery. Why does Shane have to comment about every atrocity just because he’s raising the alarm about one of them? This is not about sides, this is about Jesus and what he teaches and how we follow him. It’s not about proving we’re smarter than the guy who just wrote a blog, or that we know more about the Bible. How about we learn to listen and stop evading responsibility by deflecting the truth?

  • Drew


    You don’t get it at all and are completely off base. Unfortunately, you are so blinded by your own radical political ideology that everything you see is colored through the lens of politics. Take a deep breath, take off the ideologue lenses, and sit back and read.

    Shane lives in Philadelphia, is actively involved in Philadelphia (especially in the downtown, poorer areas), and has his ministry in Philadelphia. He has written extensively about Philadelphia. Gosnell’s clinic is merely minutes/miles away from Shane’s ministry, and serves the same population. The fact that this is happening (almost literally) in Shane’s backyard is the reason I think he would write about it.

    The Boston comparison is absurd. Boston is 5 hours from Philadelphia; Gosnell’s clinic is less than 10 minutes away from Shane’s ministry. No, I do not expect Shane to touch on every issue. Yes, I do think Shane would mention a national story that happened less than 10 minutes away from his ministry and worked with the same people most likely that Shane’s ministry serves.

    As for Guantanamo, if you want to quibble, call them POW’s or enemy combatants or whatever. That was not my point. My point is that the bleeding heart types like to think that every prisoner is innocent after hearing their story. Maybe 0.01 % of them are. 99.99 % of them are in fact guilty. It is irresponsible to have a POW to tell you they are innocent and then blindly report it. As Digger mentioned, a lot of these folks have been released only to commit terrorist acts upon release, or have been disruptive at Guantanamo.

  • Jim

    Here is a quote that could be very fitting. “there is my story, his story, and the truth”. Seems to be very fitting for this type of article. Who really knows the truth? Typically activism breeds sensationalism. Be careful my friends. Stand on the word of God. If He leads you into something, then you must go. If not, stay at home and eat popcorn.

  • Ephirius

    The greatest torture going on here is your utter mishandling of Hebrews 13:3, which is referencing Christians imprisoned for their faith, not enemy soldiers imprisoned as prisoners of war. Of course, you know that already, which leads any thinking man to ask “why would you torture the Scripture anyway”?

    I would wager a guess that it is because you are motivated by an agenda which is not quite a pursuit of the truth. The next time you feel that inkling to write a one-sided article on a political topic and then spin it as the Christian perspective, know that the Christian perspective is much bigger than the naive faith you are advocating here.

  • Luke

    Thank you, Shane, for shining light on this torture center. Please continue to do so – Gitmo is a visible torture center we know about – how many other “black” facilities are out there? The ends never justify the means.

    Again, thank you!

  • There are many unjust situations in the world. I don’t have the right to demand that another author write about the injustices I believe are most important. I find it frustrating that commentators are trying to change the subject to talk about their own priority causes. Should we all do that? Should I use this particular space to demand that Shane Claiborne write about the injustices against indigenous peoples quite near all of our own home towns? Or land grabbing in places where I regularly visit, or crimes against humanity in places where I have friends and colleagues, or prisoners of conscience that have come to my attention? The concern about detention of people at Guantanamo Bay has nothing to do with political ideology and everything to do with the Christian virtue of impartial justice (it would take a lot of space to list all the applicable scripture) and everything to do with law that Christians are supposed to respect (as I read scripture). The situation at Guantanamo Bay is notorious internationally because of very serious violations of all kinds of international law — violations that have been going on with impunity for a decade. The Guantanamo Bay prisoners are human beings created by God and entitled to impartial justice as much as anyone else. And this IS going on in America’s own back yard..

    • Drew

      I’m not talking about an unjust situation anywhere in the world. This occurred in Philadelphia, minutes away from where Shane lives and ministers. I’m not saying this is the most important story. What I am saying is that I am surprised that he has not spoken about a national news story that occurred minutes away from where Shane lives and ministers. I am not demanding he talks about it, but am surprised that he has not and am waiting. This is not a story that happened yesterday – this story has been ongoing for some time now and we have already sat through a trial, conviction, and sentencing. All your comparisons are invalid – I have no vested interest in Philadelphia where Shane is 100% vested in Philadelphia. I am also not concerned about writing about Guantanamo but rather a pattern of focusing on secular liberal causes at the exclusion of everything else.

      Why would anyone ignore a national story that happened minutes away from their home? “Political inconvenience” is certainly one reason.

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