Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anniversary highlights US shame

Twelve years ago on January 11, 2002, the United States government opened a prison camp at the land it occupies in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay. The prison's purpose, from the beginning, was to be a holding area beyond the reach of either national or international law.

The government's effort to escape the constraints of law was wrong in the panicked days immediately after 9/11; that our gulag remains open 12 years later is simply evil.

There are still more than 160 men held at by the United States at Guantanamo. The majority have been "cleared for release" -- many for several years. But still they remain incarcerated while the Obama administration dithers. At various times over the last year, over 100 have been on hunger strike, willing to die if that is the only way achieve freedom. The U.S. military force feeds prisoners and, of late, has begun to refuse to disclose whether the hunger strike continues. The purpose of Guantanamo has always been to disappear the inmates at the pleasure of their captors; that vile purpose continues.

Shaker Aamer is the last remaining prisoner with close ties to the United Kingdom. Though he was born in Saudi Arabia, he was a legal British resident. While working for an Islamic charity in Afghanistan in 2001, he was captured by Afghans and sold to US forces as a suspicious Arab. The British legal group Reprieve reports what happened to him in a US prison near Kabul.

Forced to stay awake for nine days straight and denied food, he dropped 60 pounds in weight. US personnel would dump freezing water on him. This treatment, combined with the bitter Afghan winter, caused Shaker’s feet to become frostbitten. He was chained for hours in positions that made movement unbearable, and his swollen, blackened feet were beaten. He was refused the painkillers he begged for.

Shaker began to say whatever the US wanted, whether it was true or not. Satisfied with confessions made by a man desperate to end his torture, the US military transferred Shaker to Guantánamo Bay in February 2002. Despite the hardships he has endured, Shaker remains the kind and supportive man he was when he was captured, with a reputation for looking out for his fellow prisoners.

When the military police beat up a prisoner while he was praying, Shaker initiated the first hunger strike at Guantánamo. …

Although Aamer has been cleared for release under both the Bush and Obama administrations, he remains in the prison, on hunger strike. Last week the Guardian published a letter from Aamer:

The language that they use here at Guantánamo reflects how they treat us prisoners. Just the other day, they referred to me as a "package" when they moved me from my cell. This is nothing new. I have been a package for 12 years now. I am a package when en route to Camp Echo, the solitary confinement wing. I am a package en route to a legal call. "The package has been picked up … the package has been delivered."

It is not enough that we are called packages. At best, we are numbers. I worry that when I come home that my children will call for "Daddy", and I will sit unmoving. I am 239. I even refer to myself as 239 these days. I am not sure when I will ever be anything else. It is much easier to deny human rights to those who are not deemed to be "human".

I have been reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) so I could mark it with the violations the US government commits against us in this facility at Guantánamo Bay. I have been studying each article and on virtually every occasion I have noted how the US military is doing the opposite. …

Code Pink shared a further statement from Aamer on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of our gulag.

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of Guantánamo Bay. It has been a blot on the reputation of America, and will remain that until, first, it is closed, and second, lessons are learned from it that can help prevent any repetition in the decades to come.

It will soon be 12 years that I have been in Guantánamo. I arrived on the day my youngest child Faris was born (February 14th, 2002). Even then, I had already spent some two months in US captivity, undergoing terrible mistreatment. Those are twelve years that are lost to me forever.

What I have missed most has been the opportunity to do my part to fill up my four children’s reservoir of love. The early years of a child’s life is a parent’s best chance to show them what love is, before they become more distant with approaching adulthood. Losing this, my opportunity and obligation, is my greatest regret.

However, we must look forward, rather than backward. …

I must say one thing to people out there about January 11: My biggest fear is that someone will do something stupid on the anniversary. When anyone does something wrong on the outside, we on the inside have to pay the price for it. When there was that incident in Yemen, the Americans banned the Yemenis from going home – even though it had nothing to do with the Yemenis here in Guantánamo Bay. I am grateful to those who support us. But if anyone wants to demonstrate on our behalf against the black stain that is Guantánamo, please do it in good faith and good humour, and above all practice no violence.

As a British resident, it is not surprising that Aamer speaks fluent English. I wonder what others in Gitmo would say?

The foul atrocity against the rule of law that is Guantanamo should never have begun and must end.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Sad,useless waste of a life.

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