'Nice Jewish Girl' at Gitmo

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 07, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 21-year old Marine is the only known Jewish guard at the camp that houses Al Qaeda terror suspects. While the camp’s name is widely synonymous with U.S. abuse of power in the war on terror, Atani is proud of her mission there, and believes it reflects her Jewish values.

So how did a nice Jewish girl find herself in a place like Guantanamo?

Atani said she chose to serve here. For a while she considered joining the Peace Corps, but then decided to join the military instead. Her father was an interrogator in Vietnam, she said during a recent interview, under the blazing sun of Guantanamo, and she wanted to continue in his footsteps. “I also wanted to uphold the Geneva Convention like he did,” she said, echoing the military’s line that the practices at Guantanamo are in line with international treaties regarding the treatment of wartime detainees.

Being a Jewish woman guard in the male-only, Muslim-only detention center confronted Atani with unique challenges. “It’s something you don’t want to let out, you don’t want the detainees to know,” she said when speaking about her faith.

Atani has been on the island for almost a year and had never encountered any problems when dealing with the detainees. But still, she believes “they won’t take well” her being Jewish.

Atani grew up in Houston at a home were religion was largely off limits. “My mom didn’t want to connect to our Jewish roots,” she said. But Atani did. In college she joined a group of Jewish friends and began to attend regularly a Reform synagogue. Life on base made things a little more difficult. There is no rabbi at Guantanamo, and Jewish servicemen and women sometimes gather with a lay leader to observe Jewish holidays. “It doesn’t matter if I don’t go to synagogue, as long as I make time to pray,” Atani said.

Kosher food is also scarce on the island, and the most she could find so far was a jar of matzo ball soup at the Navy store on base.

To those within the Jewish community who are fighting vigorously to close the Guantanamo detention facility, Atani replies that they simply don’t know the situation on the ground and don’t see the humane way in which she and her fellow guards treat detainees. “I think the big thing about the Jewish religion is treating everybody like I’d want to be treated and to know that if I was in this situation, this is how I would like to be treated,” she said.






Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.