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open letter wife guantanamo detainee


July 26, 2014

Open Letter from the Wife of a Guantanamo Detainee

By Mark Wachtler

July 26, 2014. Istanbul, Turkey. (ONN) Guantanamo Bay prison is where we send people who the US government believes are a threat to America. In clear violation of everything America stands for, we imprison and torture people who haven’t been convicted or charged with anything. Most of the men held there have even been cleared for release. President Bush said he would close it, but he didn’t. President Obama promised to close it, but he didn’t. Now, the wife of one of those prisoners has something to say to the American people.

Protesters hold both Bush and Obama responsible for the atrocities at Guantanamo Bay. Image courtesy of CTVNews.ca.

An open letter from Umm Wa’el, wife of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner

(as published by the Huffington Post)

Last week, Obama administration lawyers filed a stack of documents in a case about my husband — including sealed videos of him being taken to be force-fed at Guantanamo Bay. I don’t think I could bear to see those videos. It shocks me, though, that the American people may never be given the opportunity to see for themselves what is happening in their name.

Sixteen of America’s biggest media organizations have asked for the right to air them, judging them to be in the public interest. The government is fighting their request, scrabbling to cover up what is going on every day in the prison.

Indeed, when I read their documents last week, I was struck by how hard these government lawyers have tried to keep everything about my husband from public view, and not just by suppressing the videos of his abuse but by avoiding describing the man himself. At no point amidst all the legal jargon did they write anything about him: who he actually is or why he might be on hunger strike. I want to tell them.

More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo.

This year has been one of the hardest to be without him. Last July we were still living in Syria. The civil war forced us to leave for Lebanon, and then to seek shelter in Turkey. I tried to rejoin my family in Jordan but was immediately taken in for questioning at the border and refused entry because of Abu Wa’el’s detention at Guantanamo. The stigma travels. We’ve made it back to Istanbul now. I’m proud that the children are registered in school, and that their teachers tell me that they have already caught up in their studies.

I had to do all that alone. Abu Wa’el is nearing his 13th year at Guantanamo Bay. When I speak to his American lawyers, I can tell that they are shocked and appalled by his case. I’m not so shocked. I was a teacher in Syria. The government locked me up twice in the past just because of Abu Wa’el’s detention, so I know what it means when politics disregards the law.

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The children always ask me about their father. I cry when I think about the fact that he has missed their whole childhood now. He has missed kissing them, stroking their hair, telling them stories to help them drift off to sleep. Maria has carried his picture around with her for years now. Ahmad keeps telling me that he will travel to free his father when he gets older.

I promised my husband that I would get them to safety, after we lost so many loved ones in the civil war. Abu Wa’el promised me in return that he would come and join us by whatever means he could. So, 12 years after his arrest, with no movement on his case, he decided to stop eating. I hate the thought of him doing this. But I understand. The rest of us are safe now, waiting for him. We’ve dealt with enough over the last decade. It’s time for our family to be reunited and for us to start living again.

None of this appears in the government documents. Abu Wa’el is named simply as “petitioner.” Over 45 pages, the Obama administration’s lawyers use every possible argument to explain why the way they force-feed him should not be examined in detail. At one point, apparently, they even say that the former senior medical officer — the man who once approved forcing a tube in and out of my husband’s nose twice a day — should not be questioned because it would interrupt his annual vacation.

In the past, I wouldn’t have expected this kind of secrecy of America. But over the past few months, I’ve seen it repeatedly. First, the government fought to prevent our lawyers from seeing the force-feeding videos. Now they forbid our lawyers from even discussing their content with other security-cleared lawyers in secret. Then they opposed the request from 16 of their country’s most reputed media groups for access to the material. They are doing their best to make sure that what has happened — is happening — to my husband never sees the light of day.

What is even more confusing to me is that the solution to all this appears to be within the government’s grasp. The U.S. media has recently been reporting that my husband is one of six Guantanamo prisoners who might be resettled, and that the transfer documents are on the desk of the secretary of defense. I read those articles repeatedly. It is hard to believe that our family might actually be one signature away from seeing each other again.

America was shocked by the images from Abu Ghraib. These films from Guantanamo threaten to do the same. The American people should be given the chance to see them, and to decide whether they accept what is being done daily to my husband. I am certain that if they are given the chance, they will see the reality: the simple desperation of an innocent man, held without charge or trial, using the only means at his disposal to get back to his wife and children.

By Umm Wa’el


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