Guantanamo Bay prison guard converts to Islam because of the living faith of Muslim detainees

Terry-HoldbrooksBy Kay Campbell, All Alabama, 5/26/2013

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Terry Holdbrooks Jr., 29, wears the beard of a bald Amish guy, the tattoos of a punk kid, and the twitchy alertness of a military policeman. Take him to a restaurant, and he'll choose the chair with its back against the wall. Take his photo, and he'll prefer to look away from the camera.

Part of that wariness Holdbrooks learned while guarding detainees from 2003 to 2004 at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. holding tank for military prisoners on the southeastern point of Cuba.

And part of that wariness he developed after he converted to Islam while stationed at Guantanamo. That was after months of midnight conversations with the Muslim detainees, and his conversion prompted several of his fellow soldiers to try several times to talk some "sense" into him so he wouldn't "go over to the enemy," as they put it.

Holdbrooks told the story of his conversion and of his observations of the controversial detention center to an audience of about 80 people at the Huntsville Islamic Center in Huntsville Saturday night, May 25, 2013. The camp, he said, tramples on every human right the U.S. has said it supports. The current hunger strike by 102 of the 166 prisoners has crossed 100 days. Many of those men were cleared to go home five or six years ago, Holdbrooks said. Their home countries tell their lawyers the U.S. won't release them, and the U.S. tells them their home countries won't receive them.

"They've lost hope. They've decided it's better to die," Holdbrooks said. "One of them is down to 70 pounds."

Holdbrooks is traveling with Khalil Meek, a co-founder and executive director of the Texas-based Muslim Legal Fund of America. They are raising money for that non-profit civil rights organization, which helps pay for legal help for Muslims who are American citizens and who have been accused of vague crimes or placed on no-fly lists and other restrictions under the increasingly broad "anti-terrorism" provisions.

Even more than raising money for legal defense, Holdbrooks said, he wants to stir Americans to action. Holdbrooks' self-published account of his experience at Guantanamo, "Traitor?," was published this month -- a 164-page single-space account whittled by an editor he worked with from his 500-page manuscript.

It's available for sale online at www.GtmoBook.com.

"I tell this story and I wrote the book so idiot-simple that anyone could read and understand that the existence of Guantanamo is something to be ashamed of," Holdbrooks said. "I just want to share information with people in depth and then let them make up their mind."

"I may have become a Muslim, but I am not a traitor."

12-year-old 'terrorist'

At Guantanamo, Holdbrooks mulled over the information Army instructors had taught about Islam as he'd watched the so-called terrorists day after day. What he'd been told wasn't lining up with what he observed. The detainees read their Qurans. They kept the daily schedule of prayers. They remained undiscouraged under horrendous pressure.

One of his duties was to escort prisoners to interrogations and then return them to their cells. He knew the kind of stresses and tortures they were undergoing in repeated questionings. He had dodged their thrown poop when anger ripped down the row of mesh wire cages. When detainees were punished with the "frequent flier program," he'd moved men from one cell to another every two hours, round the clock.

"How can you wake up in Guantanamo and smile?" Holdbrooks asked them. "How can you believe there's a God who cares about you?"

"I am happy to have spent time in Guantanamo," said one detainee, the man who became his mentor, after his release. "Allah was testing my 'deen' (faith). When else would have I have five years away from all responsibilities, when the only thing I had was my Quran, and I could read it and learn Arabic and mental discipline?"

"Fortunately for us," Holdbrooks said. "Most of them are bigger men than some of us would be."

As Holdbrooks got to know the detainees, as he learned their stories during his long night shifts, he came to see the detainees as individuals. Many were men who enjoyed talking about the same things he does: Ethics, philosophy, history, religion. Many let him know what they thought of the 9/11 attacks: That they violate the teachings of Islam.

"Here, I had all the freedom in the world, and I'm miserable," Holdbrooks said. "They have nothing, and they're happy – it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out something's going on." (Full article)

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