Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts From the World’s Most Infamous Prison

15 October, 2021

Excerpt from Guan­tá­namo Voic­es: True Accounts From the World’s Most Infa­mous Prison

A graph­ic nov­el, edit­ed by Sarah Mirk, with an intro­duc­tion by Omar El Akkad Abrams Comi­cArts (June 2020)

ISBN 9781419746901

Sarah Mirk


First let’s talk about lan­guage — is Guan­tá­namo a prison?

The lan­guage we use to describe our world shapes our per­cep­tion and under­stand­ing. And the lan­guage used to describe Guan­tá­namo is hot­ly con­test­ed. The U.S. gov­ern­ment describes the facil­i­ty as a “deten­tion camp” or a “deten­tion facil­i­ty” and the inhab­i­tants as “detainees.” Human rights advo­cates often call Guan­tá­namo a “con­cen­tra­tion camp.” Jour­nal­ists make all kinds of choic­es in describ­ing Guan­tá­namo (GITMO), from adopt­ing the government’s ter­mi­nol­o­gy to call­ing it an “off­shore prison” or a “prison fortress.” My goals with my lan­guage choic­es in this book are to accu­rate­ly describe real­i­ty and to use words that every­one can under­stand. The word “detainee” does not have the cul­tur­al weight of the word “prisoner”—I’ve been detained many times (by a TSA guard search­ing my bag, by tran­sit police check­ing my tick­et, or by an over­ly long work meet­ing), but I have nev­er been a pris­on­er. I think the government’s inten­tion­al choice of tepid, bureau­crat­ic lan­guage to describe Guan­tá­namo down­plays the years peo­ple have spent and con­tin­ue to spend in cus­tody. In this book, I made the choice to describe Guan­tá­namo as a “prison” and the men con­fined there as “pris­on­ers.” I made this choice after con­sult­ing the Mer­ri­am-Web­ster Dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tions of prison and prisoner:

Prison: a state of con­fine­ment or captivity
Pris­on­er: a per­son deprived of lib­er­ty and kept under invol­un­tary restraint, con­fine­ment, or custody

Guan­tá­namo Voic­es is a graph­ic nov­el, but is it real?

I’ve worked to make this graph­ic nar­ra­tive a non­fic­tion account­ing of real life. The chap­ters in this book are all based on orig­i­nal inter­views I did, as well as inter­views con­duct­ed by Colum­bia University’s Rule of Law project, and jour­nal­is­tic books about Guan­tá­namo. When­ev­er pos­si­ble, the illus­tra­tions in this book are based on pho­to and video ref­er­ences. How­ev­er, because it’s impos­si­ble to doc­u­ment what hap­pened in every scene described in this book and the mil­i­tary does not allow media to pho­to­graph pris­on­ers and many prison oper­a­tions at Guan­tá­namo, the artists have used their cre­ativ­i­ty to fill in the gaps.

The chap­ter here fea­tures the sto­ry of human rights attor­ney Alka Prad­han, defend­ing a man incar­cer­at­ed at Guan­tá­namo, and is illus­trat­ed by Lebanese graph­ic artist Tra­cy Chahwan:


Sarah Mirk is a graphic journalist, editor, and teacher. She is the author of Guantanamo Voices (Abrams, 2020), an illustrated oral history of Guantanamo Bay prison, which Kirkus called “extraordinary… an eye-opening, damning indictment of one of America’s worst trespasses.” She is also a zine-maker and illustrator whose comics have been featured in The Nib, The New Yorker, Bitch, and NPR. 

Afghanistangraphic novelGuantánamohuman rights abusesIraqprisonersYemen


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