Saturday, January 24, 2009

Interview on Guantanamo Testimonials Project

At The Talking Dog, there is the following interview, which you can continue at that website;

Dr. Almerindo Ojeda is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Davis, and the Director of that university's Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas and in particular, the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, which has compiled hundreds of statements of various kinds from those involved with or affected by Guantanamo Bay, including detainees, soldiers, attorneys and others; a number of those statements are interviews from this blog. On January 22, 2009, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Ojeda by e-mail exchange.

The Talking Dog: The first question (to which my own answer is "across the street from the WTC"... and still the same answer on weekdays when I go to work in downtown Manhattan) is... Where were you on 11 September 2001?

Almerindo Ojeda: I was walking towards the Peet's Coffee in my
hometown of Davis, California. I walk there almost every morning (two
miles each direction) to think things over, plan the day, do a little exercise and, of course, have my morning espresso. As soon as I arrived to Peet's that day, I found my wife. She had driven to Peet's and proceded to give me the shocking news. By then, both towers had been hit. We jumped into the car and drove back home. No morning espresso that day...

The Talking Dog: As a professional in linguistics, what was
your source of interest in the area of human rights in the Americas? What was your interest in focusing on Guantanamo in particular?

Almerindo Ojeda: None as a linguist. But I am a human being
before I am a linguist. To answer your question, I got interested in doing something about human rights as soon as the worthiness of torture began to be debated in polite company in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I had some experience, to be sure, with human rights violations. Even if only indirect ones. I was born and raised in Peru, which had its own human rights nightmare in the 1980s and 1990s. At this time, a brutal insurgency movement (the Shining Path) provoked the Peruvian Armed Forces into a savage response. After the insurgency was quelched, an old Philosophy professor of mine got appointed to head the
truth commission charged with investigating the human rights violations
of those decades. That appointment was profoundly inspiring for me. I also lived through the Central American wars of the 1980s. During these wars, a good friend of mine was murdered in Salvador. His name was Ignacio Martín Baró. He was one of the six Jesuits whose murder led
to the end of the conflict. That too, left a mark. Having said that, I must admit that giving testimony is a verbal act--so testimonies are familiar territory for a linguist. I must also admit that I am enjoying the linguistic specimens of Guantanamo propaganda I am collecting. Take for example the noun 'detainee,' which suggests a minor inconvenience, like being detained in traffic. Or the verb 'captured.' It describes what happens to fugitives, possibly of justice, and hence to criminals. Or the locution 'total voluntary fasting'. It's Guantanamese for 'hunger strike'. It places the discussion in a religious (if not fundamentalist) context. Or 'reservation,' which is Guantanamese for 'interrogation.' It makes it sound like you are about to go to a restaurant. The list is endless. DoD manuals instruct Guantanamo personnel to refer to suicides as 'self-harm' incidents--an understatement that places suicides in the same category as biting your nails or slapping your forehead.

Interestingly, language is not entirely pliable, and sometimes fights back. Guantanamo personnel speak of 'going to reservation,' a phrase which we would never use for making good on a reservation made at a restaurant (and betrays the attempt to veil the reference to interrogations, which are something one would 'go to').

The rest is at The Talking Dog.

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