Facebooking your ‘Ex’

Posted by Guestblogger Alison.


What do you think of this? Apparently a guard from Guantanamo prison has been reunited with some of his ex prisoners via facebook.   The first messages that began the exchange:

"You look different without a cap."

"You look different without the jump suits."


Brandon Neely, a prison guard at Camp X-Ray – the high-security detention camp run by the US in Guantanamo Bay, had left the US military in 2005 to become a police officer and was struggling to come to terms with his time as a guard at Guantanamo.


Guantanamo, of course, has been highly controversial since it was set up in 2002 by President George Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to house suspected "terrorists". But it has been heavily divisive and President Barack Obama has said it has "damaged [America’s] national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda".


Neely obviously leans more towards Obama’s view of what Guantanamo means to America.  He says that his guilt over what he saw and did during his time as a prison guard prompted him to get in contact with some  of his ex-inmates via facebook.  "I was pretty new to Facebook and decided to type in their names to see if their profiles popped up and I came across Shafiq [Rasul]’s Facebook page. I decided to send him a little e-mail," says Mr Neely.


He contacted Rasul as well as Ruhal Ahmed, both of whom were among several hundred foreign terror suspects held at the centre where Neely was a guard. Neely recalls how when he and Mr Ahmed chatted through the bars at Guantanamo, they had a surprising amount in common.  "It was no different from me sitting at the bar with a friend of mine talking about women or music," says Mr Neely. "He would say, ‘you ever listen to Eminem or Dr Dre’ and he threw off a little rap and it was just funny. I thought how could it be somebody is here who’s doing the same stuff that I do when I’m back home."


After receiving the facebook message, Ahmed said, "At first I couldn’t believe it.  Getting a message from an ex-guard saying that what happened to us in Guantanamo was wrong was surprising more than anything." To Mr Neely’s astonishment he received a reply and the pair began an exchange of e-mails. It was at this point that the BBC asked if both sides would be prepared to meet in person. They agreed.  


During the meeting they discussed their time at Guantanamo, each from a different perspective and certain incidents that they needed to get closure on.  For example, Neely said he was deeply ashamed of an incident in which he "slammed" an elderly prisoner’s head against the floor.  Neely recalls that he thought he had been under attack because the man kept trying to rise to his feet. But weeks later he discovered the prisoner thought he was being placed on his knees to be executed and believed he was fighting for his life. Ahmed was speechless, but eventually said he forgives Neely for the actions he took as a guard.


So what does this mean about the relationship between guards and inmates from Guantanamo?  Evidently not everyone who worked at the prison believed in the noble purpose of the institution or at least in how that purpose was being carried out.  And the relationship between the men illustrates on some level how similar we all are as humans, despite our roles and past actions.  The story can undoubtedly be used as an example of the perhaps “false enemies” that war creates.


But what of the ethics of prison guards contacting their former inmates?  Is there an issue surrounding the privacy of inmates upon release?  What if the relationship between this guard and inmate were not a friendly one and a guard wanted to look up a past inmate for other reasons?  Is it solely up to the inmate to protect themselves in this face-moving, cyber-dominated world, despite the complexities of protecting one’s privacy?


 Is there not some problems that an organization may have with an ex-employee getting ahold of someone who was once so vulnerable to them in this manner?  This particular story does not seem to beg for legal protection or discipline the way a less benign interaction might, but it sure points to the ever-present nature of Facebook as well as the human need to use such tools to reconnect with people from our pasts.  What do you think?

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