A Few Stories from Guantánamo
When we read Andy Worthington’s website telling the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners, we are shocked and dismayed and above all sick at heart. Stories of goat-herders, carpenters, farmers on their way to buy tractor parts who happened to be in the vicinity of an attack on US troops and who were wearing olive drab jackets--an item found in large numbers at the bazaar. Stories of people picked up because they had been named by local rivals. Stories of people sold to the US for the bounty being offered for “terrorists.” Stories of people working for the Karzai government arrested, beaten, and sent to Guantánamo for years. In some ways these are stories of error, incompetence, and over zealousness on the part of US military and intelligence personnel. But that would be to discount the actual horrors of what was inflicted on the bodies and minds of the prisoners when the rule of law and common human decency is made a mockery of.
Then there is the story of Shaker Aamer, British resident--sold for bounty--and still in Guantánamo without charges and although technically “cleared for release” since 2007 is nevertheless been in solitary confinement on and off during his time at Guantánamo--including the last two years.
Now 43 years old, Shaker Aamer was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001 after traveling there with his family to run humanitarian aid projects, including running a girls’ school and various well-digging projects. He is an extremely charismatic individual, who exerted such an influence on his fellow prisoners, encouraging them to stand up for their rights, that the US authorities called him “the Professor,” and decided, erroneously, that he had to have some sort of connection to al-Qaeda.
Why is Aamer still in Guantánamo? According to Andy Worthington-- and other independent reports-- “Those closest to his case have been obliged to conclude, for many years, that he is still held because, as an eloquent, charismatic man, and the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights, he knows too much, and these fears are further confirmed with the knowledge that he stated that, on the night of June 9, 2006, when three other prisoners died in Guantánamo in disputed circumstances (the authorities claimed that it was suicide, while soldiers who were present have suggested that the men may have been killed), he was tortured to within an inch of his life.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, a London-based legal action group, visited Aamer recently and on November 23rd reported that “I do not think it is stretching matters to say that he is gradually dying in Guantánamo Bay.”
Abdullah al-Yafi is from Yemen. A Muslim who heard on several occasions over the years the call of religious leaders in the mosques he attended to go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran. One of these leaders, Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi, moved him the most. A Google search reveals that Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi spoke out against Osama bin Laden, whom he accused of using money for weapons, not following his religion, fostering partisanship and divisions, among other things. Abdullah al-Yafi was not encouraged to attach himself to bin Laden and there is no evidence he did.
What he said he did, after much soul searching and considerable struggle, was to sell his farm in Yemen and go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran. He had been there for over two years when the US invaded. Like many civilians, he fled the US bombing, going with a group of other Arabs and a guide to the Pakistan border. Between the bombs and the bounty hungers looking for Arabs, the trip was harrowing.
When he reached the border, he was apprehended by Pakistani border guard/bounty hunters who sold him into US custody. He was sent to Guantánamo where he has been tortured and is still in prison all these years later.
The US has published statements given under torture by other prisoners that al-Yafi was “seen” at a compound at Kandahar and is somehow connected to bin Laden. There is no credible evidence that any court of law would admit that Abdullah al-Yafi is anyone other than who he says he is.
Abdullah al-Yafi participated in the prolonged prisoners’ hunger strike of 2005 during which US guards chained the prisoners in restraint chairs as un-sanitized tubes are forced down their noses to feed them. Al-Yafi is said to have arrived at Guantanamo weighing 165 pounds and weighed 109 as a result of the hunger strike.
Although Abdullah al-Yafi was cleared for release by a judge in April 2007, he is one of the 26 Yemenis who Obama’s “Guantanamo Review Task Force” determined should be held indefinitely without charge or trial.