J.K Rowling stood at the lectern, surveying the brilliant students at Harvard University, and spoke about the one great privilege even she wasn't blessed with: that of being an American citizen.
"You belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden. If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change."
It has been proven time and time again. When enough Americans raise their voices in unity, even the world's most powerful government can do little but represent their wishes. Just last month a 14-year old boy in Texas got arrested for bringing to school a clock his teachers thought might have been a bomb. Within hours, outrage and ridicule poured in with such venom Ahmed Mohamed found himself at the receiving end of an invite to the White House. If people all across America had instead chosen to glance at the story, shrugged their shoulders, and moved on, who really would have paid any attention to the treatment a teenage boy of Sudanese immigrants suffered in Irving, Texas?
Not all stories are quite as feel-good, though. Here is one of a man called Shaker Aamer, one of Guantanamo Bay's longest serving prisoners, the torture base that still operates, despite worldwide pressure to scrap the enhanced interrogation center. A 47-year old Saudi Arabian citizen and legal resident of the United Kingdom, he was kidnapped by bounty hunters in Afghanistan in December 2001, and subsequently handed over to American forces. The Unites States sent him over to Guantanamo Bay for a reason no one has yet ever been able to assign. Alleged leaked documents suspect he received money from Al-Qaeda and fought in the Battle of Tora Bora, but the US cannot have been too confident they could bring about a prosecution. Therefore, the father-of-four has been detained at Guantanamo for nearly 14 years, never even charged of a crime, let alone convicted. He was approved for release in 2007 and 2009, yet never actually freed, allegedly because of the fear he would reveal "too much" about what went on in Guantanamo. Thus, it appeared, his detention was indefinite. His health has gradually been deteriorating since life in captivity while he lost over half his body weight. His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said he was "gradually dying in Guantanamo Bay."
On September 25 this year, after backbreaking efforts by his lawyers to cut through the arcana of the American justice system, Obama's administration officially notified Congress of its intention to release Aamer to the UK, after which a prisoner must be set free in 30 days. October 25 was Day 30. And all it took was three Republican senators on a supposed "fact finding" mission to the base to delay his release from the Land of the Free. He was to remain, for now, at Guantanamo Bay. Clive Stafford Smith did not hold back with his frustration.
'They have had 30 days to prepare [for his release] - it only took 28 days after 9/11 to start a war in Afghanistan.'
Two months short of fourteen years since his abduction, Aamer was finally released from the base, and flown to a British government plane to England. Security was tight, with press being allowed nowhere near the airport to ensure his immediate thoughts remained just that, but it is poignant to wonder what he would make of the sort of world he finds himself in. He may thank his wife for her years of hardship and loyalty; a single mother raising four children in London is unlikely to have come without its tribulations. He will see three London teenagers on their way to adulthood in his house, the children who were toddlers when he was torn away from them. Then, he might set his eyes on a 13-year old boy called Faris, whom he has never seen. How could he have done? His youngest child was born on the day he arrived at Guantanamo Bay. It was Valentine's Day in 2002, but the love for this family man appeared to be in short supply.
If more Americans were aware of the tragic tale of this man's treatment, it would be safe to assume his instant release would have come to the backdrop of throngs of cheering well-wishers. The awareness of the details of a case with almost no mitigating factors to assume anything other than nefarious misconduct is one of depressingly many in the wake of 9/11. The issue received little press coverage in the United States throughout his ordeal, and a horrible injustice has been done. Even Ahmed Mohamed couldn't build a clock that gave Shaker Aamer these nearly 14 years back with his family, but it is our duty to demand to know why it was ever allowed to tick on so long in the first place.
Journalist Danyal Rasool significantly contributed to the research, writing, editing, and publishing of this work.
Contact the author Andrew Royce Bauer to express your own thoughts and opinions about this serious issue.