Written By: Mohammed al-Qiri
Article Date: Jul 15, 2008 - 8:17:40 AM
Top: Amin al-Bakri and below, his sons.
Guantanamo Bay captures the headlines, but in quieter prisons around the world, more Yemenis are held in frightful conditions for years without charge or contact with home. The toll it takes on their families is immense. In this interview, a pained father calls for the United States to return his son.
Yemen Observer (YO): -Can you explain the story of your son’s detention? Mohammed al-Bakri (MAB): -
My son was here in Yemen with his wife and sons, but I and the rest of the family lived in Saudi Arabia for the past 55 years. My son was born in al-Medina al-Menorah but later on came to Yemen and dealt in precious stones and shrimp fish. He used to do business with them in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. During his trading activities between Yemen and South East Asia, according to his friends, he went to Bangkok in the hope of coming back within four or five days. We contacted him from al-Medina as usual, but his telephone did not respond. We were worried over our son’s fate for six months, when the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper published an article about his disappearance, attributing it to American agents. We came to Yemen and started our enquiries; we contacted the Foreign Ministry’s officials and human rights organizations, but we failed to discover his whereabouts. My other sons contacted a search company and it provided us with a detailed report since his arrival in Bangkok and his stay at the hotel, before his disappearance. About six months or a year later, we received a brief message from the International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) saying that he was in good health, and asked us to look after his kids. We knew from the papers on which the message was written that he was in Bagram. It was only then that we knew he was detained in Afghanistan. The IRCC delivered a letter from him and then we began exchanging messages with him through the IRCC in Yemen, yet the messages were sometimes five months late. A recent message was two months late. He tells us that he is in good health. He asks me whether we contact officials here, and is asking why our officials fail to get him back, because other countries managed to free their detainees, and he wonders why our country fails to do so; yet he tells us that he is bold, and asks us to pray for him. His messages are often encouraging because he is educated and understanding.
YO: -Are there any other Yemeni detainees other than him?
-He did not mention it, however Hood Organization told us that there is another Yemeni detainee called Fadi al-Maqaleh and a third one who does not want his family to know that he is detained in Bagram, and refuses to send messages.
YO: -What kind of education did your son receive?
My son studied in Bishaor in Afghanistan when the Russians were there. He married an Arab family there and finished his fourth year of university. Following the Russian pull-out, he came and lived with us in Saudi Arabia for five years. His wife’s father is called Faroq Zaki. He is a university professor living here in Sana’a. He asked him to come and live here in Yemen. My son came and began his trading business.
YO: -What languages does your son speak?
He speaks English, Persian, Urdu and French. He told me that he completed memorizing the Qur’an in his detention and managed to improve his knowledge of foreign languages. He became the link between the detainees and the detention administration and helps resolving their problems.
YO: -How many sons does he have?
He has two sons aged 17 and 13 and a daughter who is 11.
YO: -Did you make any telephone calls with him? MAB: -So far none, yet he told us in his last message that they promised to allow them to make audio visual calls, through IRCC, that is why we came here from Saudi Arabia, so that we can see him.
YO: -Do you think that your son’s stay in Afghanistan until 1990 was behind his detention?
Mohammed al-Bakri relates his son’s plight to the Yemen Observer.
I think this is his problem, but he is like any other one of the thousands of Arabs who were in Afghanistan then.
YO: -Where was your son when the Trade Towers in New York were destroyed?
He was here in Yemen, and I was with him in this same room, watching the incident.
YO: -Did your son used to have any connection with the charity societies which support Afghanistan?
No, my son was moderate, and was not an extreme fanatic. He used to love his work and was planning to invest in building shrimp-breeding basins. He prepared his feasibility study and coordinated with a businessman for financing the project. He traveled in order to settle his previous business and come back in a few days to resume his shrimp basin project.
YO: -What results did you come to so far in your contacts with the officials regarding your son’s release?
We have been in continuous contact with our government ever since our son disappeared, because we believe that they have commitments towards him as a citizen. We contacted all officials up to the President who wrote a letter to the Foreign Ministry, directing them to follow up our son’s case. Three months ago, we made a sit-in at the Parliament and handed them messages. They promised us to do their best. We handed over a file to the Parliament three months ago, but in vain. Our Bakr tribe in Yafa’ intends to collect signatures of their dignitaries, sheiks and clerics and submit them together with a petition to the President and the Government, so that they can do all they can for the release of our son, because he is forgotten at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. We noticed in the press that there is an American delegation negotiating with Yemeni officials for releasing the Guantanamo detainees, and were promised by al-Hitar that they will make efforts to integrate the released Guantanamo detainees into the community. This is a promising step, because if the Guantanamo detainees are released, the Bagram detainees will certainly be released because they are fewer in number. The Foreign Ministry officials did their best. They showed us the letters which they sent to the American embassy and our embassy in Washington; however we think that this is not enough. We will continue our efforts to enter into negotiations with the Americans in the same way other countries do. For instance, Britain, France, Bahrain, and Kuwait held negotiations with America and freed their detainees.
YO: -What plans and programs have you got as a family?
We are exerting individual efforts and asking the officials to make efforts with the Americans to free the detainees for the sake of their families. We heard that some detainees have gone mad such as Ba Tarafi. Our families are suffering every day and night. His mother often prays for his release, and asks God that we should not die before seeing him. Our son was born in 1968 and married in 1988.
YO: -We heard from the American lawyer that there was a freed detainee who used to be with your son, what did he tell you?
A year before during Ramadan, a foreigner called me saying that he was closer to my son, and that my son was in good health. He said that we should be proud of him because he is a patient man, and said that he taught him Arabic. He also told me that he often resolves the problems between the prisoners and the administration. This person reassured us of his health, however we knew from the IRCC that he is suffering from a colon disease.
YO: -Regarding the messages, are they in your son’s handwriting?
Yes and I can recognize his handwriting. They are written in English and Arabic. We also send him letters from his brothers, friends, uncles, aunts and nieces. Last time we sent fifteen letters at once, but it seems that he received only some of them. The letters are written in special papers provided by the IRCC, with limited number of words, and the writer should mention up to his fourth name, his address and his phone number.
YO: -Did he ask for his father and mother’s pictures?
Yes, and he asked for his kids’ pictures. We asked the IRCC if it is possible to send them. They said that they will enquire about it, but we received no reply.
YO: -Have you got a message that you want to voice through the Yemen Observer?
We pray to God to help our President to succeed in releasing our sons in Guantanamo and Bagram because he considers them all to be his sons too. We also thank the officials at the Foreign Ministry for the efforts they exerted. I address the Government of the United States whose members consider themselves to be the world’s democracy leaders and who have a statue which is called the “Liberty Statue,” to bring these concepts closer to the bottom line and free our sons who are detained for seven years one with groundless charges. We thank Bakr tribe for standing on our side. We also thank the English newspaper Yemen Observer, its chief editor Faris al-Sanabani and its staff.
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