In the Wandsworth Guardian, Paul Cahalan has regularly covered the story of local resident Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. In December, he wrote a detailed article about Shaker’s court case, in which his lawyers were seeking access to evidence in the possession of the British government, regarding his torture in US custody in Afghanistan before his transfer to Guantánamo, and today he has undertaken an exclusive interview with Shaker’s wife Zin, who has rarely spoken to the press.
The interview is available here, and I reproduce it below, because it provides a powerful insight into the suffering of the wives and children who have no idea when — if ever — their husbands and fathers will be released from the peculiarly aberrant regime of indefinite detention without charge or trial established by the Bush administration, and maintained, in all its key aspects, by President Obama.
Shaker’s story is featured in the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself), and both Polly and I, and released prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, will be raising awareness of Shaker’s plight during a UK tour of the film, which begins at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre next Tuesday (February 16). Further details of the tour can be found here.
Wife of Battersea Guantánamo detainee speaks of her family’s torment
By Paul Cahalan
The wife of Shaker Aamer has spoken for the first time about the “psychotic episodes” she developed after her husband’s capture, and explained how his imprisonment has robbed her of a marriage and denied her kids a normal childhood. Mrs. Aamer said “there was no colour in her life” since Shaker left, but said she believes she will see her husband again. The pair met through a family friend and were married in 1997, she said, and had a happy four years together before Shaker [and the family] went to Afghanistan, [and he was then seized and sold to US forces, after making sure that his family escaped safely].
“We liked each other and then we got married and my favourite memories are him playing with our children,” she said, adding the couple’s children Johina, 12, Michael 10, Faris, 9, and Saif, 8, had lost out on happiness. “The thing I miss most about him is his laughing and funny character which entertained us all the time. Since he has been away there is no colour in life. My children’s eight-year chance of being with their father has passed.”
Mrs. Aamer’s dad, Saaed Ahmed, said his daughter developed her illness after Shaker — known by his family and friends as Sawad — was jailed. He said: “She is psychotic. In the beginning she was under the care of doctors at Springfield Hospital [which treats mental illness]. A nurse visited her every month, every day when she was bad. It started two years after his arrest and comes every three or four months. She hears voices in the night calling her. She hears her husband and sometimes religious figures.”
Mrs. Aamer said: “I feel very upset and sad in this illness. I cry a lot and the children tell me to be patient and to believe that he is coming back very soon. I think of my children and if Shaker was home life would have been a lot better. My children do not believe the news stories but we believe we will see him at home, because he was cleared for release two years ago and we don’t understand why he is still there.”
Mr. Ahmed added his daughter and the children write to Shaker, but said they were not sure he received the letters, as communication from him was sporadic. He said: “In one of the letters he wrote to me he said, ‘they are playing with my mind. I cannot trust anyone, not even my lawyer’. Another time we heard that a Saudi national had died, we thought it was Shaker, but we were relieved when we found it wasn’t. He has been in Guantánamo for years and we are being punished. We are suffering too much. The one thing I want to see is his smiling face.”
Mrs. Aamer said her husband had no links to terrorists. She said: “I know my husband, he is a dynamic person of a really good heart. He never believed in harming anyone though he did feel very sorry for the oppressed. He loved America and look what they are doing to him, breaking his love and trust in them. He is suffering from so many illnesses there without medical help and on top of that being tortured.”
What keeps her and the family strong is “faith and trust in God” and the hope one day they will be reunited with their father, husband and son-in-law. Mrs. Aamer added: “We talk about how much we remember about him. I try to be strong for them because their father is in prison. Staying strong and keeping our hopes up for eight years has definitely been extremely hard. I am in contact with the British Government but they are not doing much for his release. It is very difficult for my children to have a life of continued absence of their father.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
it makes me feel very sad to read about what shaker’s family going through,i knew shaker from guantanamo he is always thinking of other prisoners.one day i was with him in the punishment block”isolation” they have punished me by taking away my matress blanket, and all i was left with was an iron bad in a cold cell they punish me for a month.at that moment shaker wanted to help me get my things back so he decided along with other prisoners to start a hanger strike as a protest to help me get my things back.and after 4 or 5 days the hanger strike started to spread through other camps which forced the guards to change their mind and give me my staff back.it makes fell so sad to see shaker and other prisoners remind behind the wires of the outside law,and i think those people are still suffering in guantanamo because we allowed it to continue when we allowed obama after bush to carry on with the indefinite detention without charge or trial policy and that is the biggest challenge facing every citizen of the world who believes in human rights,that make it their duty to bring the husband to his wife and the father to this kids ….and to hold those top people who sign executive orders responsible for hijaking democracy and human rights…shaker and others will one day come home, but the question is.. will it be because we have pulled hard ?…
On Facebook, Huda Gharir wrote:
That article brought me to tears, she is in so much pain. Families are torn apart. Even if he returns home, too much will be different. The whole family dynamic is over. You become strangers to one another. Not only do the detainees suffer but their whole families and friends and anybody who cares.
Thanks, Ahmed and Huda.
And Ahmed, I’d also like to thank you for sharing with me and the readers here some insights into life in Guantanamo. They are always much appreciated.
[...] information about Shaker can be found here, here, here and here, and you can also email David Miliband and write to Prime Minister Gordon Brown via an [...]
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