Afghan poet Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, after having been wrongly imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for three years, has been released. Now, he wants his poems back:
The Americans can’t return the three years that Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost lost, locked in a cell in Guantánamo Bay. But they could at least give back his poetry.
“Please help,” said Dost, who says he penned 25,000 lines of verse during his long imprisonment. “Those words are very precious to me. My interrogators promised I would get them back. Still I have nothing.”
The story goes on to detail how Dost, deprived for much of his imprisonment of even a pen and paper, would carve poems onto styrofoam cups with a plastic spoon. Once the inmates finally receieved pens and paper, the other inmates would regularly give up their paper allowance so Dost could write his poems:
But invariably the poems were confiscated during cell searches.
Early last year Dost was brought before a military tribunal – which he describes as a show trial – and then flown back to Afghanistan in shackles, with 16 other detainees. The US military said he was “no longer an enemy combatant”. Dost was allowed to keep his final sheaf of poems and was told the rest would be returned on arrival at Bagram airbase, near Kabul. But they were not, and he was set free without apology or compensation. His brother had been freed six months earlier.
Now Dost has written his an account of Guantánamo, The Broken Chains, which is being translated into English. He estimates $300,000 in losses, mostly from confiscated gemstones and cash that were never returned. But his greatest loss was his writing. “It is the most valuable thing to me,” he said.
I believe that the American literary establishment and everyone who cares about free expression should demand the return of Dost’s work, on the off-chance that it didn’t all just get thrown in the garbage. If it did, then Dost should be compensated for it.
Here’s some contact information for some people and groups who might be interested in hearing your thoughts on this travesty:
U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser:
Home: 1820 Branched Oak Road, Garland, NE 68360 (402)-588-2272
Here is some contact information for officials at the PEN American Center:
Larry Siems, Freedom to Write and International Programs Director(212) 334-1660, ext. 105
Anna Kushner, Freedom to Write Coordinator(212) 334-1660, ext. 106
Jackson Taylor, Prison Writing Program Director
David Fenza, Executive Director of The Association of Writers and Writing Programs, can be contacted here:
The Association of Writers and Writing Programs
Mail Stop 1E3
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030-4444
Edward Hirsch, poet and president of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, can be contacted here:
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
90 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Phone: 212 687-4470
Fax: 212 697-3248
Marjorie Perloff, President of the Modern Languages Association, can be contacted here:
The Modern Languages Association
26 Broadway, 3rd floor
New York, NY 10004-1789
Phone: 646 576-5000
Fax: 646 458-003o
Rosemary G. Feal, Executive Director of the MLA, can be contacted here:
Phone: 646 576-5102
(NB: the links I provided are previously published contacts–I’m not putting anyone out there who doesn’t want to be found)
If you can think of anyone else to contact, please leave that in the comments, and I’ll update the post as needed.
The MOQUOL–I Can Save You, America!