March 4, 2013
"We try to be patient but we can’t go on; All we can do is cry and mourn." - Faris Aamer
The story is well-known and easy to summarise in short sentences that are repeated by anyone who fights for Shaker Aamer to be released from Guantanamo Bay - "No charge. No trial. Cleared for release. Yet he remains locked up in Guantanamo." The impact this 11 year ordeal is having on Shaker is witnessed every day by his captors. But the impact on his wife and four children, one of whom has never met his father, is not recorded by armed soldiers and uniformed medics with their drugs and psychological games. The detention of Guantanamo detainees affects the wives of the prisoners and their children, we should draw strength form their redoubtable bravery to overcome the most appalling anguish and survive to continue their quest for justice and the return of their loved ones from captivity.
Meet Faris Aamer, age 11.
Shaker Aamer's wife was pregnant with Faris when Shaker was arrested in Afghanistan and gave birth to him when he was in Guantanamo. Faris does not know his father and he longs to be able to come home and show his father his schoolwork, buy new shoes with him and celebrate Eid with both parents - everything many of us take for granted. Undoubtedly, there are those who are born without the presence of a father figure in the home, but Shaker is alive, his family have waited every day for 12 years for his return, and unlike a miscarriage of justice that is unrecognized, the U.S. government has cleared him for release in 2007 - they accept his innocence and that he was never a terrorist, but he is still kept locked in a cage on an island thousands of miles from his loved ones. No one wants to interfere with the dignity of such families, but a small stream of light has to be shone on their suffering otherwise their silence will mirror that of their husbands and fathers entombed in coffin made from steel bars.
Faris Aamer has to build an idea of his from stories told to him by others. In 2010, a well known journalist recounted the heartbreaking incident of Faris asking his mother whether the man who had come to their house to assist with the gardening was his father. In 2011 Faris wrote a letter to President Obama, pleading for the release of Shaker. Supporters of Shaker Aamer often have to deal with the arguments of the opposition - "he is a terrorist; they would not keep him there if he was not guilty of something; if he is returned to the U.K he will engage in terrorist activities; he is dangerous" - we have heard it all before, and as exhausting as it is to fight back, Faris must deal with these comments on a daily basis at school. From a young age Faris has been bullied but he pushes through and in 2011, aged 9, pleaded with President Obama - "I feel sorry for my dad because he gets tortured I have never seen him and I want to really see him and only you can let him free so please let him free I want to play with him so let him free." Earlier this year, a poem written by Faris was released by the Save Shaker campaign, in which he describes, "All day and night I fear for his life, how can I not cry, my Dad might die."
Meet Johaina Aamer, age 16.
Johaina was 4 years old when Shaker was arrested. With limited memory of her father, she grew up feeling the loss of her father and is going through the crucial years of her life without him. Speaking to Al-Jazeera in 2010, Johaina Aamer stated, "He (Shaker) is innocent and I don't know why he is being held there and I want him to come home." Every parent wants to be able to reassure their children, to give them the answers they want and to tell them everything will be fine, but Zin Aamer cannot give her children the answer when they question why their father is still being held there: no one can. It is incomprehensible. In 2010, Johaina delivered a letter to Gordon Brown, describing the impact that Shaker's detention has had on her mother as a psychiatric patient. Since their father’s arrest, the children have watched their mother suffer,. There can be no doubt that this experience can only have had a serious detrimental affect on the children , but their courage with that of their mother and grandparents has allowed them to survive this horrendous ordeal because of their sheer determination and their Islamic understanding . Combined with a love of their father these qualities have led them to continue to fight for their fathers return.
Meet Mikhail Aamer, age 14 and Saif Aamer, age 13
Mikhail Aamer was 2 years old when his father was arrested in Afghanistan. In the letter that their youngest brother sent to Obama in 2010, Mikhail, Saif and Johaina added: "We were relieved at your closing Guantanamo Bay Prisons program, but we are very sad that Guantanamo did not close at the time you promised. Please, we want our father to come home." Former Guantanamo detainees have spoken of the hope that they felt in Guantanamo Bay when news of Obama's pledge to close the camps reached them - in a world where any sign of hope is stripped from the prisoners, they grasped onto what he said for there was no other definite end date they could look forward to. Then, they spoke of the anguish they felt when they realised his pledges would not be fulfilled and they would continue to be forgotten. But Obama's failed promises also caused unbearable suffering for the families of the detainees who had hoped they would see their loved ones - children who longed to be reunited with their fathers, children who just want to meet their father.
This struggle has gone on for too long. The wider world must know that the torture of the War on Terror extends far beyond the prisons and camps, however they chose, as we all do, to turn a blind eye to this inevitable fact. The fight has not stopped for the Aamer family since Shaker was arrested in 2001and the pain does not get easier with the passage of time. Each day that passes is another reminder of the capabilities of the U.S. and U.K. government in keeping an innocent man imprisoned in one of the worst prisons in the world. It is to the everlasting credit of this family that they have coped with a tragedy that no family should have to endure. Of course we can imagine worse horrors such as murder of extended families, the collateral damage of Iraq and Afghanistan that never appears on the news channels. However with such abominations there is grief and a finality that has to be tackled. With Shaker there appears to be no end to the suffering – either his or that of his family. There is no end in sight, no turning point which will mark a new future, just a suspended state of affairs which is calculated to cause maximum harm. What could be worse than not knowing when the pain will end and if your husband or father will return? The only thing that has kept the family going is knowing that one magical day their prayers and dreams will come true – that they will receive the momentous news that their father has finally been released from his torture cell, that he is on a plane and their joy will be uncontrollable. Their painful memories will fade and their hearts will climb to heights unsurpassed in all their lives.Whats a joyous and wonderful day that will be for all of us that cherish freedom and the rule of law – most of all it will be the greatest day to remember for a mother and her four children in south London.
Let us all pray and work to make that day a reality.