Recently, I raised some questions about the impact of imprisonment at Guantánamo and how it affected those who were released.

For example, I wrote:

As for those who returned to jihad, one would like to know whether they were more motivated to do so as a result of their treatment at Guantánamo, or less. In other words, does lengthy incarceration without charge in awful conditions turn people onto the right path, or the wrong one?

Now comes this article from the New York Times. Reporter Michael Slackman looks at people who were imprisoned under a variety of regimes, and finds that the result was a hardened commitment to their cause.

When political dissidents who challenge authoritarian leaders are locked away in prison, when they are tortured and their families threatened, the goal is to break their resolve, to crush their spirit, to silence them. So how come so many get right back to it when they are finally freed? What compels them to fight on at the risk of great personal sacrifice?

Here’s one of his examples:

In Albania, Fatos Lubonja was 24 when the police knocked on his door. At the time, Albania was a Stalinist police state. The police found his hidden writings, antigovernment ideas he had not yet even published. Mr. Lubonja was sentenced to five years in prison.

By the time the Communist government fell, Mr. Lubonja had spent a total of 17 years as a prisoner. When the new government set him free in 1991, he had options: to cash in on his life as a dissident of the old government, or to speak up against a new one that he said was itself authoritarian.

He said he had no choice.

“It is a matter not only of dignity, it is the sense of your life,” he said in a telephone interview from Italy. “It’s your choice of life, and if you give up you will lose your sense of your life.”

The reasons prisoners commit themselves to a course of what they perceive as principled resistance are rarely given a prime place in the public dialogue. And the more violence plays a role, the more taboo it is to even consider. However, those reasons obviously are the continuing fuel for their crusades . . . That is, for those prisoners who were actually involved with jihad in the first place. And we increasingly learn that many Guantánamo inmates may have been incarcerated based on weak or dubious evidence. Does their experience actually create radical activists? Will anything be learned from this epoch? Will anything change?


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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