Clive | Prisoner 345 | My Six Years in Guantánamo

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Clive was my lawyer, and I never envied him his task of defending me.

He tried his best to help me though, and he managed to get some messages through to my family and back. Speaking to Umm Mohammad was wonderful, and it was thanks to him.

I had told him the obstacles I had encountered reaching out to her and my family, that I had sent many letters via the Red Cross, but not one seemed to have reached them. The first letter to reach me via the Red Cross arrived on September 20, 2002, more than ten months into my detention. Other messages came, but sporadically, dismembered and distorted. Even photos were deliberately distorted to make them so you couldn’t distinguish their contents.

Photos of my son that Umm Mohammad sent me were impossible to make out, there was no reason for them to be damaged other than deliberate tampering. Why? It was their policy, they deliberate hurt me however they could. They wanted to stop me from sending my news, expressing my feelings.

They didn’t want the story of my tragic reality to get out.

Out of necessity and a sense of duty, Clive became my link to my family, he would visit them and reassure them that I was still alive and doing all right, and in turn he brought me their news.

Clive and I agreed that I would tell him precisely what was happening to me.

We, the prisoners, knew the American administration was spreading spurious news about what happened in the prison. We needed our lawyers’ help to send our news out and to talk about our wretched, miserable prison.

I would write letters and give them to Clive when he visited me every three months; about six or seven per visit. He would then hand them to those carrying out oversight in the prison. After they had been cleared, he would try to publish them.

In my articles, I tried to tell the prisoners’ stories. One was about my prison neighbour, an Algerian-Bosnian man by the name of Hadj Boudella. He was single, a simple man who lived in Bosnia with no ties to any group, but found himself swept up in a criminal investigation and then sold on to the Americans who brought him to Guantánamo. He never knew what he had done to end up there, up to the day he returned to Bosnia in December 2008.

One of the most important messages I passed on to Clive was the first letter I sent my family: “To Basma, my dear, and to ‘Atr, my life..

To my son and darling Mohammad..

May the peace of Allah enclose you, may His eye take care of you..

I know that you – last night – blew out your fifth candle, but the candles of my sorrows are still burning. The fire of my longing for you still ablaze.

I know that now it’s time to take you to school, but my hands and legs are bound.

Do you remember, my son, when we put out your first candle, all three of us? Is there still a trace of the warmth of my kisses on that day that turned your cheeks all red and filled your cheeks?

I don’t think you remember that day, but I do – the ney flute of the old country playing; now there is the disruption of the news, the seas and oceans between us, the deserts and wastelands…

Even with all of that, the image of your face has not left my memory nor departed my eyes.

What renewed the memory and fuelled the fire of my longing and yearning to see you: even your face in a photo. Unfortunately, my wounds have not quite healed yet, and the bleeding increased when I read your words over and over again in each message, your restless questions:

Where is baba?

Why doesn’t baba come home?

Baba, come.

Forgive me, my dear son, fruit of my heart. You won’t find an answer to your bitter question except what your poor mother tells you: Baba will come back, and you will see him.

If this poor woman ever has another answer, she won’t hesitate to tell you!

The truth, my son, is that your father is abandoned in the abyss of prison, overloaded with the restraints of inequity, enchained with injustice and oppression on an island thousands of miles away from you.

The island is isolated from the world; it no longer emanates any sounds other than jangling chains, and the groans of the downtrodden who are tied up.

You can only see frowning jailers or the faces of the locked-up oppressed ones.

On the island … inside, my son! I am lost, lost, lost.

Outside the island, my son! I am born, born, born.

Your father is the victim of a new global power; one that only speaks in threats, planes and battleships bristling with steel.

With their bunches of dollars, they became slaves, abandoning near and far.

They even abandoned the language of condemnation!

Those patient men locked up to await glorious release from suffering.

My bereaved hope, my one son. I told you that in this life there is justice, brotherhood, love, faithfulness, respect and expectation. I thought that these were the ingredients of life.

But I was stricken when I realised that those who claim justice, to who call on freedom, and to who bring up democracy…

They told me repeatedly: you will not leave this place until we are satisfied with you, and we will not be satisfied with you until you do what we want!

And do you know what they wanted, my son?

They wanted to corrupt me in the afterlife just as they have corrupted me in this world:

but no way!

Allah is my helper, on Him, we must rely, and to Him, we must direct our pleas. He is sufficient for us, and He is the Best Disposer of affairs. He has the power, before and after.

Your father, prisoner number 345, Abu Mohammad, Sami Muhi al-Din Alhaj.”

About the Author: Sami Alhaj

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