The Lament of the Damned Detainee

By Gus Tyler

Published June 04, 2004, issue of June 04, 2004.

The recent scandals about the maltreatment of prisoners in Iraq have raised the question of whether such wartime captives have any rights. According to the Geneva Convention on the prisoners of war, they do. And the rights they have would have made impossible the hair-raising abuses they suffered at the hands of their American jailers. But — a big “but” — they are not being held as “prisoners of war” but as “detainees.”

If you consult a dictionary to find out just what a “detainee” is, you may be frustrated. It may not be there. It is a word of very recent vintage. It was invented to serve a purpose. Under the rules that are laid down in the Geneva Convention, prisoners-of-war are entitled to certain rights, including human and humane treatment. But as detainees, they are not protected by any rules or regulations relating to prisoners of war. They are at our merciless mercy.

What follows is a poetic lament, composed with rhyme and reason, that might have been written by one such detainee.

The Lament

of the Damned Detainee

I am a battered old “detainee,”

A word that rhymes with Richard Cheney.

The word’s not in the dictionary.

It really is quite fictionary.

They picked me up on some suspicion,

They thought I had an evil mission.

I told them that they were in error,

They said I was a man of “terror.”

They tossed me pronto in a prison,

A state from which I haven’t risen.

They said they did it ’cause it’s wartime,

And for some guys it is a sore time.

They made me strip and stay all naked,

I never thought I’d ever make it.

I said, “This is a mean invention,

Contrary to a great convention.”

They said, “Don’t count on old Geneva,

The law they wrote will simply leave ya

With the feeling you are zany.

No ‘prisoner’ you — one damned detainee.”

So, now I’ll turn to dear old Rummy,

And say, “I know that you’re no dummy.

I know you said that you’re unhappy,

Because you treated us so crappy.

Now here’s your chance to do some justice,

The thing you do is simply just this:

Make me a ‘prisoner,’ no ‘detainee,’

And get approval from Dick Cheney.”



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