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Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 6.2 (2006) 209-219

A feminist perspective on U.S. human rights violations
Victoria Brittain

The Play

On 24 May 2004 in London our play Guantanamo, Honour Bound to Defend Freedom opened in Tricycle, a small London theater. It is a play using only the words of the families of British prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, their censored letters home, and the explanations of their lawyers of the legal black hole their clients are in. It was to be a tiny snapshot of what the war on terror means. But in fact it has proved to be, for many people who saw it or read it in many countries, a vehicle for understanding the profound world power struggle in which we are all, like it or not, involved.

Among the major themes that arise from it are: the U.S. readiness to flout all international legal norms; the politicization of the U.S. legal system; the effective acceptance of torture as a tool for U.S. aims, carried out both by the United States and by various allied regimes on behalf of the United States; the impact of this within U.S. society; the assault on civil liberties by governments around the world; the demonization of Muslim men by Western governments, media, and societies; the resistance strategies of Muslim women; and the inevitable effects on the next generation of Muslim children.

There were nine U.K. citizens in Guantanamo when we began our work, five were released before the play opened and four were released early in 2005. But eight U.K. residents, most of them originally refugees, remain in [End Page 209] spring 2006, and the British government has refused to take any responsibility for them, despite several having lived in Britain for ten or twenty years, and several have small children in Britain who are U.K. citizens (Brittain 2005). The play ran in two London theaters, one (New Ambassadors Theatre) in the mainstream West End, until September 2004. It was then put on in New York City for four months. It has also been in theaters in other U.S. cities: Washington D.C.; Chicago, Illinois; San Francisco, California; and Tucson, Arizona. The play has been on tour in Sweden (in translation), Italy, New Zealand, Poland, and Germany, and it is under consideration in other theaters in various countries. Hundreds of community hall readings have been done in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, and Pakistan, where readings have been done by non-actors as well as professionals. The most touching feedback we have had was from a secondary school in Lahore, Pakistan, where the young actors had a huge local success and wrote to the authors to say how proud they were to be part of what they saw as a struggle for justice across the world.

The play's characters are British, but they have widely differing original backgrounds: Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Jamaica. In the cases of two Caribbean prisoners, the families are not Muslim, in fact some family members are devout Catholics.

In the cases of the Muslim families, the members who agreed to be interviewed were invariably men, fathers or brothers. The women rarely emerged during an interview, although sometimes they sat silently or sent in tea. The interviews were arranged through their lawyers, and in every case where there was no male family member to consult, the family refused to give any interviews. There is only one woman in the play, a lawyer, Gareth Pierce. Guantanamo is an apt symbol of a male-dominated, militarized culture of ostentatious demonstration of U.S. power, which cannot be questioned, and a society that believes this model should be accepted throughout the world.

Women and Guantanamo

The image of female absence or passivity in relation to Guantanamo has somewhat changed in the years since our interviews were done, in March and April 2004. In one small sign of this, several of the women from...


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