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The Witness to Guantanamo Project Completes 100 Interviews

April 03, 2013

Witness to Guantanamo, a project that has traveled the globe interviewing former Guantanamo Bay detainees and others involved with Cuba’s notorious detention camp, has filmed its 100th first-person interview.

Under the direction of USF School of Law Professor Peter Jan Honigsberg, this unique project has created the world’s most extensive collection of filmed first-person narratives about post-9/11 Guantanamo. In these interviews, available for viewing at www.witnesstoguantanamo.com, men and women describe their experiences at the controversial detention center that remains open with 166 detainees more than 11 years after its opening.

The project owes its start to the support of two USF law students. In 2009, a student connected Honigsberg with The Handleman Foundation (now called Left Tilt Fund), which provided funding for Honigsberg and a videographer to conduct interviews in Europe. A second round of funding—this time from the Max and Anne Levinson Foundation—came through another student and provided a rare opportunity to travel to the island nation of Palau and meet with former Uyghur detainees. In addition, USF law students have participated in extensive research for the project, as well as reached out to potential interviewees to arrange for their participation.

As current and future generations untangle the legacy of the War on Terror, Witness to Guantanamo interviews are a valuable resource that offer multiple perspectives. They bring a voice to reports of rule of law and human rights violations ranging from extreme interrogation methods to holding detainees without charges for years, Honigsberg says.

“We have met our original goal of collecting diverse and rarely shared narratives about post 9/11 Guantanamo,” Honigsberg said. “These unique first-person stories shed light on the humanity of the individuals involved. Our interviews capture how Guantanamo has permanently and profoundly impacted the lives of all those we have interviewed.”

Honigsberg has visited 14 countries to interview 45 former detainees and 55 “witnesses.” Witnesses include families of detainees, prison guards, chaplains, interrogators, interpreters, lawyers, FBI agents, psychologists, military officials, and government officials, such as Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Other interviews reveal eye-opening moments for Americans working at Guantanamo. In her conversation with Witness to Guantanamo, JAG Attorney Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley shares how meeting her client for the first time began with fear and ended with a sense of anger. “So I walk into the cell thinking, ‘oh my God, this guy’s a terrorist…’ I walk out saying, ‘this is total nonsense.’ Almost angry because I realized for the first time that whatever I knew about Guantanamo, whatever I read about Guantanamo, whatever information they had about [my client] was likely not true.”

Witness to Guantanamo has received high praise from its participants, some of whom have rarely spoken publicly about what they witnessed or experienced. “It’s exactly people like you who give me the hope we can get through this,” Brigadier General John Adams said to Honigsberg. “What you’re doing with this project is very, very helpful to our country.”