New York City Theater
45 Bleecker St.
What "Guantanamo" is all about is the flouting of human rights. After 9/11, in a panicky attempt to strike back, our government went after terrorists in its own style. Hundreds of men who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were scooped up indiscriminately, like fish in a net, and brought to the American base in Cuba. There they have been held, some up to three years, with no charges brought against them, no normal judicial procedures, no trial by jury. Many have no idea why they are there. It can be likened to a scene from Kafka's "The Trial."
"Guantanamo" was originally staged in England, moving ultimately to the West End, before making its way across the seas and is now presented by the Culture Project at off-Broadway's 45 Bleeker Street.
This particular piece of American history is recorded through a series of monologues-the stories of the detainees. Shackled men stand or sit or lie in their cages, attempting to write letters home. While the play's first half tends to be wordy, monotonous, the second half gains dramatic strength, as the prisoners deteriorate, some sinking into near madness. Ultimately, this docudrama (written by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo from spoken evidence) becomes devastating.
To summarize, as stated in the program notes: "The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as matters stand at present, will be tried by military tribunals. The prisoners have no access to the writ of habeas corpus to determine whether their detention is even arguably justified. The military will act as interrogators, prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and when death sentences are imposed, as executioners. The trials will be held in secret. None of the basic guarantees for a fair trial need be observed."
The play is particularly timely, providing background material which may not be found in the news stories as the war crimes trials for the detainees in Guantanamo Bay now begin. There is no question that this is a political drama, meant to rouse outrage in its viewers. And at times "Guantanamo" feels like a lecture to the already-converted. But as the play gathers momentum, with individual testimonies posed against the defensive statements of government representatives, it is a powerful plea for justice.
-- Irene Backalenick