Shaker Aamer's daughter: What we want most is Dad home


Shaker Aamer holding two of his children

The daughter of the last British resident held in Guantanamo Bay talks exclusively to Newsbeat about her frustration that her dad hasn't come home despite being cleared for release twice.

Johina Aamer, 17, last saw her father when she was four years old.

Since then 48-year-old Shaker Aamer has spent 13 years in the high security US prison camp in Cuba. He was suspected of fighting for al-Qaeda, something he denies.

He has never been charged or been on trial and, since 2007, has been cleared for release twice.

Johina, who lives in south London, has never spoken to the media before.

She asked us not to use a current photograph of her in this piece to protect her identity.


Johina's Story: In her own words

Shaker Aamer

I last saw my dad at the age of four when we lived in a house in Afghanistan.

I think we were all always happy and smiling because of my dad.

It is hard to remember from when I was so small, and I can't even recall my dad playing with us or hugging me, even though I know from a picture he could carry me and my two younger brothers at the same time.

I only have made up memories of the happiness when my dad was with us from what my mum has told me.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp

My brothers, especially the youngest, have no idea what it means to have a dad and how it would be different from having an uncle or granddad because he would be in charge of everything, particularly keeping my mum happy.

For a long time while, living in London, when I was in primary school, we never had any news about my dad or where he was.

At the time I didn't know that there could be a place such as Guantanamo Bay and we were all just waiting for my dad to come back.

We all hope he is released soon so we can be a normal family again

After we found out where he was, we would send him letters and I would also send paintings as I did a lot of them when I was small.

However we were never given many letters back from him.

During the long thirteen years we have been through a lot, most of which we do not understand.

Sometimes lawyers from America have come to see my mum to inform her about our dad and how they are working towards his release. And every time we hope there is some progress and that my dad is a step closer to coming home.

We know many people who work very hard to help my dad to become released, but we do not understand why they never succeed.

My mum also gets distressed on seeing news about my dad and his situation.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp

In the past I have gone on delegations to Downing Street and other places, for many years, in the hope that it would help my dad, but it hasn't.

I am glad that other people continue to work hard for my dad because I know my dad does not want our family to be a public spectacle - the privacy of our family is very important to us.

In the last three years we have sometimes been able to see my dad through Skype and talk to him from prison when it is organised by the Red Cross.

As it is such a long distance call there are many difficulties with the calls and it has cut off a number of times without us being able to see our dad.

Inmates at Guantanamo Bay

The first time we were all very shy to talk to our dad because it had been so long and we had no contact for more than 10 years.

Due to these few calls that we have had we have slightly got to know our dad and he has got to know us.

However, it is still not enough to just speak through Skype while people in the prison are listening to us.

What we want most is to have our dad home so that we can be a family and so that my mum can finally be with him.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp

During these years sometimes my mum gets ill and I try to do everything I can to help her get better but it's my dad she needs.

Now I am 17 and studying for my A-levels, I truly aspire to do well so that my dad will be happy and see that I am trying to become educated and strong like he is, even though he is not here to help me.

But we all hope that he is released soon so that we can be a normal family again.


Shaker Aamer was arrested in Afghanistan soon after the 9/11 terror attacks in America in 2001.

He was suspected of being a "close associate" of Osama Bin Laden.

He denies that and says he was in the country doing charity work.

The UK government has called for Shaker Aamer's release on several occasions.

A spokesperson told Newsbeat: "This case remains a high priority for the UK government and we continue to make clear to the US that we want him released and returned to the UK as a matter of urgency.

"Any decision regarding Mr Aamer's release ultimately remains in the hands of the United States government."

Barack Obama and David Cameron

David Cameron is meeting Barack Obama in America this week and many hope he will use the opportunity to discuss the case.

President Obama says he wants to close the camp but other politicians in America want to block that move.

The Joint Task Force Guantanamo - which runs the facility - has told Newsbeat there are 127 prisoners currently being held there. They say there is no change in Shaker Aamer's situation.

Guantanamo Bay sign

Mr Aamer has spent months in Guantanamo Bay on hunger strike and in solitary confinement.

In a letter in 2005 he described the effect it's having on his physical and mental health.

"I have got kidney problems from the filthy yellow water. I have ruined eyes from the permanent, 24-hour fluorescent lights. I have tinnitus in my ears from the permanent noise.

"I have been made paranoid, so that I can trust nobody. I would just like to die quietly, by myself."

Shaker Aamer is thought to have been one of 16 men who received compensation from the government after claiming to have been tortured by American officers while British personnel were present.

Follow @BBCNewsbeat on Twitter, BBCNewsbeat on Instagram and Radio1Newsbeat on YouTube