“You are the soul of my life. You are the best of my heart. You are the light of my eyes. You are the oxygen in my lungs, you are the sun on my back, the sweetest taste of my mouth you are everything you are everything I need to live, to love, to be… Do you know how much you are important for my life. If you break I will break, if you become weak I will become weak and if you go I will go. You are my soul twin. I need you to be strong.”
From a letter written by Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer to his wife / family
Shaker Aamer has been held at Guantanao Bay for nearly 10 years. He has never faced trial, or even been accused of any crimes. A story by The Independent revealed that the UK Government has spent £274,345 fighting Aamer in court, including preventing his lawyers viewing evidence that may prove his innocence and end more than a decade in US custody.
What I love about these Aamer’s words is that they help me cut past the tacky, commercial nature of this faux-holiday and be reminded that the emotion of ‘love’ can hold such a powerful meaning for a person and that it can literarily become a life line. It is easy to forget all this as we simply go through the motions and gestures of acts of love. It is easy to loose sight and feeling for the feelings of love, a longing and gentle openness to another, a memory – imaginary, fictitious, but nevertheless concrete in the emotions it creates, the heartbeats it inspires, the courage it gives birth to. Here, in the midst of our American made horror, live and breath souls that feel love and hold onto it every day simply to remain sane, and alive. How many of us can claim to feel such a love?
Shaker Aamer’s only crime seems to have been that he was what Daryl Li has called ‘…Muslim out of place…’ i.e. an Arab man in a country he ‘should not’ be in and hence suspected of being there for ‘terrorism’ activities. A Li explains in his paper A Universal Enemy? Legal Regimes of Exclusion and Exemption Under the ‘Global War on Terror’ that:
The application of a poorly defined category such as “foreign fighter” to a complex empirical reality of many different “foreign” Muslims necessarily occasions a set of particularly thorny, if not outright confused, problems of governance. Just as the standard refrain that one must distinguish between “moderate” (good) Muslims and “radical” (bad) Muslims presupposes the need to know all Muslims, the concern over foreign (Muslim) fighters necessarily renders (Muslim) foreigners into a categorical object that needs to be known and appropriately dealt with. Before long, however, the object of knowledge as constructed – Muslim foreigners – becomes a source of anxiety in itself. This is the problem of what can be called “Muslims out of place.”
The regime of detentions and torture is an extra-territorial one. It is outsourced, globalized and well funded. It is self-sustaining and self-fulfilling i.e. it finds the people it needs to find to keep it alive and breathing. It is a system that compensates for its mistakes with even more mistakes simply to avoid admitting its earlier mistakes. It seeks its demons and claims to find them, but fears to reveal the basis of that discovery. It inflicts concrete inhumanity (torture, or death, or both) on individuals it accuses of inhumanity, while vehemently denying us a right to see evidence, or even bothering to offer it. It takes messages of love, and transforms them into coordinates for murder.
A quick glimpse into its most efficient international face was given to us a few days ago when the Pakistani supreme court finally remembered its responsibilities to the citizenry and ordered the Pakistani intelligence services to produce and explain its detention of hundreds of Pakistani men. In a small news item on CNN we were told that:
Seven men detained by Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, appeared in court Monday in a landmark case that places one of the nation’s most powerful institutions under the scrutiny of its highest court.
The men — who appeared to be in pain and poor health — hobbled into the courthouse, surrounded by dozens of armed police officers and family members. Several of the detainees covered their faces. At least two carried urine drainage bags in their hands.
These are seven of hundreds who have gone missing since 2001 all in the rush to demonstrate Pakistan’s allegiance to the GWOT. Taking a note right our of Dick Cheney’s public admission of having ordered the torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and the USA, Pakistan’s President Musharraf bragged about selling Pakistanis to the Americans.
Writer Malcolm Garcia, in a piece called The Missing, described and the fear that surrounds the people of Pakistan living under the shadow of the great war. And the life and work of Amina Junjua, the courageous woman who heads the Defence of Human Rights organization in Pakistan, and who has single handedly been fighting for the release of hundreds of illegally detained Pakistani men and women, including her own husband Masood Junjua, who disappeared in July of 2005 and has not been heard of since.
Two years ago while working on my own project on the human cost of GWOT, I met with Amina Junjua. At one point during our discussions she reached into her bag and produced a family photo album and handed it to me. As I turned the pages and looked at photographs of scenes from family birthday parties, vacation trips, family visits and weddings, some papers fell to the floor. As I reached to pick them up I noticed that one was a card, with a small hand written note. It said:
To My Loveliest Amina, From Massod
It was a Valentine’s Day card, from the years when they were courting.
And we are complicit in all this. We Americans. An Amnesty International report titled Denying The Undeniable: Enforced Disappearances in Pakistan explicitly points out that:
Many of those unlawfully held at the US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, and those who have been held in secret CIA custody were arrested in Pakistan. Others were unlawfully transferred from Pakistan to countries where they faced torture and other ill treatment.
Many people who have been secretly held in detention centres in Pakistan say they were interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agencies, but also by foreign intelligence agents.
As I read about Aamer Shakur, and his brutal treatment in our gulag in Guantanamo Bay, I could not help wonder how it had all come to this. I could not help wonder how fear and paranoia, mixed with religious and ethnic bigotry (Do we not protests because our drones are only killing ‘foreign’ American citizens, and other foreigners!), came together to create this mess of a situation. I could not help but think how easily it had all slipped from high ideals (rule of law, our values, Geneva conventions, liberty, democracy etc. etc.) to low farce, with dozens of otherwise civilized nations collaborating and participating in this theatre of the ridiculous.
In an powerful Op-Ed piece in (the otherwise pusilanimous New York Times) Eric Lewis demanded an end to these practices, and an end to collabration with the lawless USA, pointing to the case of two Pakistani rice merchants picked up in Iraq and held, without charge, trial or access to legal advice, for seven years (more Muslims Out of Place!)
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits prisoners from being shuttled around like cattle into and out of occupied territories and zones of active combat. “Unlawful deportation or transfer” or “unlawful confinement” of a protected person violates the Convention — so does rendition of detainees into a zone of active combat.
These men were transferred from one war zone to another, yet the United States has cynically pointed to the fact that they are being held in a war zone to preclude any oversight by courts into the detention of these, and hundreds of other, prisoners. America’s treatment of these men violated the Geneva Conventions, and Britain has aided and abetted those violations.
The Independent has published excerpts of letters that Shaker Aamer wrote home. Despite a near decade of torture and a daily regime meant to break his soul, he writes:
My sweetheart, yes I lost a lot of weight, yes I have a lot of sickness, yes I got short sight, yes my bones are aching, yes I got white hair, yes I got old but I love to tell you my heart is still young, my mind still strong, stronger than ever.”
Happy Valentine’s Day.