He disappeared more than a decade ago, just 18-years-old and teaching abroad, separated from his family for the first time in life. His mother and father, sick with worry, heard nothing. For all they knew he was dead. Then, one day they opened a newspaper and learned their son was being held in a military prison run by the US of A, accused of – but never charged with – being an enemy of the state.
Were Abdurahman al-Shubati a US citizen, his case would be featured on CNN, his face plastered on television screens next to a graphic listing his days in prison without trial. Some go-getting entrepreneur would be selling yellow wristbands with his name and “#solidarity” printed on them. The president, affecting the right level of empathy for the family and strong but stately anger toward his captors, would be telling us: “Never forget” and “There will be justice.”
But Abdurahman was born in Yemen. Which means he’s not entitled to all those rights said to be endowed to us by our creator, at least in the eyes of the US government. And that means, despite being detained since 2001 and formally cleared of any wrongdoing in 2008, he remains trapped in a prison cell at Guantanamo Bay, slowly starving to death. A combination of racism, Islamophobia and simple guilt by association, have caused the U.S. government to keep him locked up.
Since Barack Obama became US president after pledging to close Guantanamo, which his administration is now seeking to expand, conditions at the military prison have only gotten worse, prisoners there who were once promised their freedom complaining of physical and mental torture. Though he has unilaterally waged war, Obama has decided that he can’t – nay, won’t – unilaterally free them. In fact, the opposite: he issued an executive order creating “a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.” The Obama administration has unilaterally decided that dozens of men will never be tried so much as in a military tribunal because the evidence against them was obtained through torture, but that they can never be freed because they are nonetheless deemed “too dangerous.”
Not that the US government is too keen on freeing anyone else, either. A US military committee has already determined that Abdurahman, like 57 other Yemenis imprisoned at Guantanamo, should be returned home; that he spent his 20s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and with which he wasn’t even charged, much less convicted. Obama, however, refuses to release the men, ostensibly out of fear they may seek revenge against their former captors once they return to Yemen.
Understandably, this has created a sense of hopelessness among the 166 people still imprisoned at Guantanamo. More than 100 of them are now on a hunger strike. What other option is left them at this point? Because of their symbolic act of defiance, however, they are being tortured even more – “how dare you embarrass us by dying” – with US personnel force-feeding them to avoid another public relations problem (the United Nations says the practice is simply “unjustifiable”).
“Can you imagine what this is like for a mother?” asks Abdurahman’s own mom in an appeal for his freedom. “To imagine my son in such a loveless place, refusing nourishment to protest his detention; to think of him being painfully force fed – it breaks my heart every second of every day. Don’t they realize we are human beings, not stones?”
As Mothers’ Day is celebrated this year in the US, a holiday with roots in the fight for peace and justice, Abdurahman and more than a hundred others never charged with crimes will be sitting in prison cells, alone. George W. Bush will get to hug his mom. Michelle Obama will get to hug her children, but the mothers of Guantanamo prisoners don’t get to hug theirs- ever. The best they can hope for is a phone call every two months.
In an 1870 appeal to women of the world, writer and activist Julia Ward Howe – the originator of the Mother’s Day we celebrate – implored her readers to not let their children become complicit in the machinery of war and injustice; to not let them unlearn the lessons they were taught “of charity, mercy and patience”; to not let them “be trained to injure others.”
Here in the 21st century, we need to relearn those lessons and focus on training our children to be instruments of peace, not oppression. Right now, too many kids of American mothers are making mothers in other countries cry. We need to teach them that the practice of compassion and mercy shouldn’t stop at one’s mailbox or a country’s borders. Mothers overseas are in anguish over the kidnapping and loss of their children too.
Join us in calling on Michelle Obama to open her heart to the cries of Abdurahman’s mother and ask Barack to send those cleared home and to expedite the closing of Guantanamo. Join Diane Wilson on her 11th day outside the White House and over 1000 others in a fast of solidarity with the prisoners.
Jodie Evans is the co-founder of CODEPINK.
Charles Davis is a writer living in Los Angeles.