Something like Guantanamo Voices is a difficult thing to review, much like Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”, it exists as a documentation of the horrors that humans can carry out on each other, like Maus, it’s not intended to be “enjoyed”, its there to educate, using a medium that many (wrongly) associate with being juvenile, and thus circumventing the reader’s expectations? However, unlike Spiegelman’s diary of his father’s experiences of being a Polish Jew during the Second World War, it’s unlikely to be held up as being something that everyone should read, and that’s because it will be far too easy for it to be brushed aside as being unpatriotic by its American audience, an audience who aren’t comfortable with challenging the behaviours of their own country and its leaders.
This comic book/graphic novel is a mirror, its intention is to be held up in front of people who defend their countries actions, not just Americans, but other members of the Allied forces that invaded Afghanistan and Iraq after the events of September 11, 2001. It isn’t an attempt to say the occupations of those countries was incorrect, its entire purpose is to show that just because a nation declares that they are the good guys, it doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t commit atrocities, war crimes and take things way too far, it exists to show us that in amongst all of this, the torture, the secrecy, the breaking of the Geneva Convention, there were also still people questioning everything they saw or were asked to do and it’s hard not to see how political changes and attitudes from that period in history have also led us down the path we’re currently on in regards to Police Brutality.
This isn’t just one person’s tale, and it’s not one-sided either, Mirk has been cautious to collate together interviews from people who served in Guantanamo, people who were supposed to be responsible for its detainee’s (and an important distinction is made early on that people held there were never, ever regarded as prisoners as no charges were held against them) and the detainee’s themselves, stats are used in order to tell the history of the location, including that Cuba has been trying to take the land back from the US since the ’50s.
Now, this collection of interviews could have been collected into a paperback that laid everything out on the table, with no visual’s to give the reader an idea of the conditions at the Detention Centre, but the choice to use the medium of a graphic novel works in its favour, early on we hear the story of Mark Fallon who is listed as being “Former Chief of Middle East Counterintelligence Operations for Naval Criminal Investigative Service”, who thought his responsibility was to be in charge of interrogation techniques used upon the detainee’s, he discovers early on though that the people being held there had been reported to have links to Al’Qaeda, that these links were unfounded and often untrue, in fact, none of the people held was even on the list of people NCIS knew to be members of al-Qaeda. We see first hand his dismay as he finds his powers taken away from him and his attempts to try and prevent evidence being destroyed and its thanks to Gerardo Alba’s artwork that we feel the tension he must have felt at going against the actions of the country he had sworn to protect.
It’s the artwork, then, that makes this stand out amongst other literature about America’s War on Terrorism, an with each interview being illustrated by a different artist, we get a variety of unique styles, some typical Indie comic book whilst some wouldn’t look out of place as political cartoons in a newspaper, and as a whole, the work comes together to create a disturbing look into a political power that will do absolutely anything in order to keep its grip on protecting its “freedoms”.