Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I walked to the Jack and Jill windmills on Sunday with my daughter. The views from the Downs path leading from Ditchling Beacon are wide and heartening. We walked through a flock of sheep and herd of cows with their calves. At times the sky was a spectacular deep grey but we weren't rained on. Earlier, I'd dug up potatoes and picked more broad beans, my favourite vegetable. The early raspberries haven't come to much but the later ones are looking promising. There are already ripe blackberries, which surprised me and another odd feature of this summer is how advanced the Bramley apples look.

But I've been infinitely more bothered by reports of the video showing Omar Khadr sobbing under interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. As I listened to the Radio 4 news on the way back from my mum's yesterday, to an interview with one of his lawyers and some of the audio from the interrogation, I thought about my own kids, about all I've read by great writers on incarceration, state violence, political dirty tricks and I wondered how this child could have been locked up so young and abused in this way. The lawyer's descriptions of the pre-interrogation treatment (described so callously as the frequent flyer programme) are unlikely to ever leave my mind.

How can Guantanamo exist anyway? I happily boycotted South African goods during apartheid because of state-perpetrated violence. Are we asleep now?

In Brighton, police are allowed to break up groups of teenagers in a park under a little publicised by-law covering more than two people gathering together. It is not applied to large groups of mothers and toddlers who meet there for picnics. It is not applied to informal football matches. It is not even applied to street drinkers. But it is applied to young people.

We are in danger of demonising teenagers to such an extent that they are dehumanised and we forget they are children, still. Have we lost our imaginations to such a degree that we cannot remember how it was to be 14, 15, 16? At 53, sometimes, I struggle to take myself back there...particularly when my own teenagers are being intransigent or irritating. But I can still remember the extremes of those years - the elation, the almost indescribable sense of being alive, and the self-doubt, the fears.

Children should not be locked up. Full stop. And with equal certainty, Guantanamo prison should not exist. We must challenge lazy politicians, we must make connections, we must be vigilant. It is time to do some homework on our rights. Poems From Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak was published by the University of Iowa press last year.

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