Gitanjali Gutierrez. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Gitanjali Gutierrez. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Creative and intellectual thought was abuzz at this weekend’s TEDxBermuda conference. Professors, lawyers, scientists and activists mixed with artists, musicians and poets in the first conference of its kind on the island. Ted is a non-profit organization that began in 1984 dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”. Ted stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and experts in each field make presentations and answer questions from a live audience which are then broadcast for free on the Internet. Organizer John Narraway told us that he planned to organize a second conference in October and hinted that they could become a regular fixture on the island’s community calendar. Sarah Lagan and Amanda Dale attended the conference  and reported on the numerous speakers.

Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have had to endure the irony of access to cookbooks in their library.

This was one of the insights provided by human rights lawyer Gitanjali Gutierrez at the TEDx Bermuda conference.

“This gives you some idea of the Alice in Wonderland mentality at Guantanamo,” she told the conference.

Ms Gutierrez represents Mohammed al Qahtani, the alleged ‘20th highjacker’ of al Qaeda’s 9/11 US terrorist attacks, but said he was “the exception, not the norm” of Guantanamo detainees.

“When most of you hear Guantanamo you probably think about terrorists,” she said.

“He (al Qahtani) is the exception not the norm. The vast majority of men or boys at Guantanamo have never engaged in terrorism.”

She said that since 2002, 800 men and boys have been imprisoned, ranging from 10 to 80 in age and from 40 different countries. Up to 170 are still detained.

Despite the conditions there — which have included sleep deprivation and being shackled in stress positions — she has found humanity.

“It was the last place I thought I would encounter the resilience of the human spirit,” said Ms Gutierrez.

She said many of the 40 detainees she has met since 2004 feel like “caged animals”.

But she also gave examples of their human spirit.

She spoke of a father and his 17-year-old son, who had been detained separately and not allowed to meet.

Both were due for release but “no one would take them”.

“Finally a country agreed to take the son but not the father,” she said.

“A meeting was agreed for them to meet, to say hello and then goodbye. They were given one hour and were permitted two hugs, allowed to embrace twice.

“They did not know if they would ever see each other again.

“The meeting occurred and as they were eating their food and had their first embrace, they turned to the guards watching them and offered them food.

“I don’t know if I would have that capacity to share that food but they did.”

Speaking on the ‘dehumanization’ of Muslims post-9/11, Ms Gutierrez said this followed that of Native Americans and African Americans in US history.

But it was up to all of us to effect change.

“It’s been social movements by informed citizens that have created change,” she said.

“Dehumanization occurs in all kinds of different places and can be challenged by all kinds of different people.”

Grassroots movements were crucial.

“It’s not the work of politicians, it’s our work,” she said.

TEDxBermuda 2011