Ex-Guardsman denounces Gitmo

By Ryan Loew / Lansing State Journal

The deciding moment that transformed Chris Arendt into the anti-war activist he is today came while he was in basic training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. U.S. forces had invaded Iraq, and the news only amplified the anxiety of a young man who joined the Michigan Army National Guard with hopes of earning money for college.
But Arendt, now 24, never went to Iraq. Instead, the Charlotte-area native served as a guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba - an experience he described as "terrifying."
He's since become a vocal critic of the global war on terror, gaining some national attention when he was featured in an article in Esquire magazine last year. And he's about to take his opinions on the road in the United Kingdom.


Arendt, who was honorably discharged as a specialist in the Army National Guard in 2007, said he will participate in a month-long speaking tour put on by Cageprisoners, a London-based human rights organization.
As part of the tour, he said he'll travel with two former Guantanamo Bay detainees, speaking with community groups and college students around the U.K. One of those former detainees was one of the men he watched as a guard, according to Arendt.
He said he'll be able to offer insight into his experiences at the detention facility, which the Bush administration opened shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to hold enemy combatants, people suspected of ties to al-Qaida or the Taliban. The Guantanamo Bay prison has been harshly criticized at home and abroad for the detentions and the aggressive interrogations that were conducted there.
'Waste of time'
Arendt was stationed at the camp from December 2003 until November 2004 - "an awful waste of time," he said. "It was terrifying. We were stuck down with people (detainees), and we didn't know if they were guilty; we didn't know what they had done or anything," Arendt said.
His duties as a prison guard mixed the mundane with the horrifying, he said. "If they need a toothbrush, you give it to them," he said. "If they need toilet paper, you give it to them.
"If they're hanging themselves, you cut them down." Kari Vivoda, Arendt's mother, said her son's experience at the camp made him more solemn and introverted. "Chris has never been the kind of soul that wants to harm another thing," Vivoda said, "and when he went to Guantanamo Bay, I was concerned for him. I knew that was going to be a really hard thing for him to deal with mentally."
Doing this for others
This will not be the first time Arendt has spoken publicly about his experience. He has participated in several speaking engagements in association with the Iraq Veterans Against the War advocacy group.
"We're not anti-troops," he said of his involvement in the group. "We are the troops, and we're doing this for our brothers and sisters."


Originally published at Lansing State Journal