Guantanamo Bay prisoners plant seeds of hope in secret garden

With their bare hands and the most basic of tools, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have fashioned a secret garden where they have grown plants from seeds recovered from their meals. For some of the detainees - held without charge for more than four years and who the US say are now cleared for release - the garden apparently offers a diversion from the monotony and injustice of their imprisonment.

Using water to soften soil baked hard by the Caribbean sun and then scratching away with plastic spoons, a handful of prisoners have reportedly produced sufficient earth to grow watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a tiny lemon plant, no more than two inches high.

The revelation of the garden has now been seized on by campaigners, seeking to close the prison camp in Cuba, who have urged supporters around the world to send them seeds which they will in turn seek to send to the prisoners. They have termed their campaign "Seed of Hope".

The existence of the garden - apparently prohibited by the US military authorities - was revealed by the Boston-based lawyer Sabin Willett who was informed of it by one of his clients, Saddiq Ahmed Turkistani, held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

Mr Willett said that, last year, the US military deemed Mr Turkistani was no longer an "enemy combatant" but that he remained in legal limbo because no country was prepared to take him. Mr Willett said lawyers had regularly pressed the authorities of Joint Task Force Guantanamo [JTFGTMO] about establishing a garden but that they had refused.

Mr Willett told The Independent that he was explaining this to Mr Turkistani on a recent visit when he was told the prisoners already had a garden. " I could not believe it," he said. "I knew they had no tools. If you take in court papers you have to take the staples out. The look on his face as he told me how they had unscrewed the mop handles and used buckets of water [to build the garden] was something wonderful."

Mr Turkistani said he and other prisoners held in part of the prison known as Camp Iguana softened the ground with water overnight and then used the spoons to dig. Every day they managed to loosen more soil until they had enough for a bed for planting. "We have lots of time here," he said.

Gardening has long been associated with POW camps. At the Harperley POW Camp, in County Durham, built by the British for German and Italian prisoners during the Second World War, gardening was encouraged, along with educational classes and football.

Mr Willett said that, when he put the request to JTFGTMO, he was told gardening was not permitted. "These people have been put in such a hellish situation and yet, somehow, they have found a way to create life, literally," he said. "They have had to take the seeds from their meals and then scratch at the soil in order to get that going." Mr Willett, who first wrote about the garden in The Washington Post, said he had not personally seen the prisoners' garden but had been told of it by three different detainees.

Mr Turkistani's plight is especially pitiful. An ethnic Uighur who was living in Afghanistan, he had been jailed by the Taliban for three years and then freed by the Washington-backed Northern Alliance in late 2001 before being transferred to US custody. Last year, Mr Turkistani, who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay. His lawyers say he is guilty of no crime and should never had been seized by the US. He was accused by the Taliban of being involved in a plot to kill Osama bin Laden - an allegation he denies.

But the future of Mr Turkistani and the eight other cleared prisoners - five Chinese Uighurs, a Russian, an Algerian and an Egyptian - who live in the less restrictive Camp Iguana, remains uncertain. He does not hold Saudi citizenship and the US does not want to send him to China because of the discrimination against Uighurs there.

The UK-based campaign group Reprieve has urged people to send seeds. They have established a PO Box, details of which can be found on the group's website www.reprieve.org.uk.

Reprieve's legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "The massive might of the US military is intent on holding prisoners in an environment that is stripped of comfort, humanity, beauty and even law. Yet the prisoners held there have overcome this with a plastic spoon and a lemon seed. It is the beginning of the end of Guantanamo Bay."

Spurred by the fact that only a handful of detainees have been charged, there have been repeated calls for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, which was established for prisoners captured in the so-called "war on terror" . A UN Human Rights Commission report published in February called for its immediate closure.

JTFGTMO yesterday failed to respond to queries. Last year, a Pentagon spokesman said of Mr Turkistani's case: "The government is serious about finding a place for resettlement for the Uighurs and will continue diplomatic efforts to accomplish that goal."

The Pentagon said this week that around 140 of the 500 prisoners held at Guantanamo had been reclassified and were no longer considered enemy combatants.

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game