It's not unusual for a new Muslim to share his story but the man who spoke last Friday at the Islamic Center of Bloomington was quite unusual. He used to be a military guard at the Guantanamo Bay prison where America says it is keeping the world's most dangerous terrorists.
The man's name is Terry Holdbrooks and is now a devout Muslim. Here is his story:
Holdbrooks was born in 1983 in Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up at his grandparents home because his parents marriage broke up when he was 7 years old. During his teenage years, he loved hard rock music, alcohol and tattoos. He briefly researched many world religions looking for the truth but reached the conclusion that all religions were evil and chose to not believe in any God.
He joined the military in 2002 as a way to escape poverty. He was first assigned to the 253rd Company of Military Police and in 2003 he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to work as a guard at the prison camps. Before leaving for Guantanamo he says that the army made the new prison guards attend 2 weeks of training that taught them that the prisoners "were Al Qaeda and Taliban, people who hate America and hate freedom". Adding "We were not taught anything about Islam. We were shown videos of September 11 and all we kept being told was that the detainees were the worst of the worst – they were Bin Laden's drivers, Bin Laden's cooks, and these people will kill you the first chance they get."
He was given the job of taking prisoners to interrogation rooms, watching prison cells making sure detainees do not exchange things between themselves, cleaning, etc. He says he witnessed atrocities committed by his fellow American soldiers that he never thought were possible.
He reflects on his time at the prison camps "Gitmo was supposed to be a cushy deployment since we were just going to babysit detainees. But it changed me... I saw people put in stress positions for eight hours until they defecated themselves, then the guards would come in and emasculate them... I saw prisoners shackled to the ground with the air conditioner set high, then doused with cold water. Menstrual blood was smeared on their faces and they were forced to hear the same music on repeat for hours."