Fears for the Health of Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo

24.8.11

Last week, the plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, briefly surfaced in the media when the Independent ran a story by Paul Cahalan, who, for several years, has covered Shaker Aamer’s story extensively for the Wandsworth Guardian, in Aamer’s home borough in London, where his wife and his four children live.

In Cahalan’s article, “Fears grow over Britain’s last inmate at Guantánamo Bay,” a source close to Shaker Aamer’s case, who did not wish to be identified, told him, “Mr. Aamer is an individual separated from his family for almost 10 years, living in intolerable conditions with no end in sight. He is a very intelligent man who can’t accept his detention as lawful or just.”

More significantly, the source added, “He has suffered brutal treatment, even torture, because of recent events and his condition appears to be declining. He is being held in one of the worst prison camps and has been on hunger strike for a couple of weeks. He is fearful that he is not receiving the medical treatment that he needs.”

Cahalan noted that Aamer’s lawyers in the UK, at Birnberg Peirce and Co., “did not comment on the claims,” but it is clear that they come from someone with knowledge of the conditions in which Shaker Aamer is held.

Cahalan also spoke to Saeed Siddique, Shaker Aamer’s father-in-law, who revealed for the first time that his wife and children “recently used an internet webcam to see their father for the first time in nearly 10 years. Mr Aamer’s youngest son, Faris, who is 10, had never laid eyes on him before.”

He added that seeing his father for the first time had made Faris “very happy” and the family was “looking at ways of highlighting Mr. Aamer’s plight” ahead of his tenth anniversary in US custody, in December. He also said that lawyers were “looking at getting an independent doctor to visit Mr. Aamer in Guantánamo.”

Now 43 years old, Shaker Aamer was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001 after traveling there with his family to run humanitarian aid projects, including running a girls’ school and various well-digging projects. He is reportedly an extremely charismatic individual, who exerted such an influence on his fellow prisoners, encouraging them to stand up for their rights, that the US authorities called him “the Professor,” and decided, erroneously, that he had to have some sort of connection to al-Qaeda. As a result, he was held in solitary confinement for several years, and, according to Aamer himself, was also subjected to beatings and sleep deprivation.

In fact, however, there is no case against Shaker Aamer, whose detention is theoretically based on claims that he was “helping the Taliban,” as he was told that he had been cleared for release by a military review board at Guantánamo in 2007, when President Bush was still in power. Since then, five other British residents have been freed, but Aamer continues to languish in Guantánamo, despite revelations that should have led to his release — a court order for the government to release information to his lawyers relating to his torture in a US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, while British agents were present, an ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation into his claims (which, as reported a month ago, apparently involves attempts by the police to visit Guantánamo to interview other prisoners held at Bagram at the same time as Aamer), and his inclusion in a financial settlement reached by the British government with 15 former prisoners in November last year.

In a leading article, the Independent‘s editors noted, “As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, so too does the 10th anniversary, in December, of Shaker Aamer’s incarceration in Guantánamo,” and added, pointedly, “All other Britons — full citizens and legal residents alike — have been returned to this country. Only Aamer remains, uncharged and untried. He is reported to be on hunger strike.”

The most crucial points were as follows:

Despite many official British requests, there is still no clarity from the US authorities about when he might be tried or released, or even about the accusations against him. If, as has been mooted, the allegations are that he was helping the Taliban, 10 years on, they belong to a bygone age. New efforts must be made to secure his return and end this sorry chapter in transatlantic relations.

That reference to allegations belonging to “a bygone age” struck me as the most powerful of the editors’ statements regarding the injustice of Shaker Aamer’s predicament, and I hope it will be picked up on and reiterated in other circumstances, involving some of the other 170 men still held, as most of them are also “uncharged and untried.” Nearly ten years on from the 9/11 attacks, and with Osama bin Laden killed back in May, it is time for the Bush administration’s false rhetoric about a “war on terror” that may last forever to be overturned finally, and for Guantánamo to be closed and for common sense, the Geneva Conventions and other international laws and treaties to make an overdue return.

For those in the UK, however, securing the return of Shaker Aamer remains a priority, and if readers would like to follow up on this latest news from Guantanamo, then a letter to William Hague, the foreign secretary, will help to remind the government that not everyone has forgotten about Shaker Aamer. Readers can email William Hague here or can write to him at the following address: The Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

37 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Muhammad Nyamwanda wrote:

    very sad state of affairs

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Charmaine Dolan wrote:

    Shared.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Kamran Ahmad Rai wrote:

    America has long foregone any moral code and has become much like the genocidal and slave trading nation that it began as.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Kamran Ahmad Rai wrote:

    Sorry to be ignorant but what is “Digg”?

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s another social network, Kamran, used for sharing news stories. Thanks also for the comment, and thanks also, Muhammad and Charmaine.

  6. Orchid says...

    Thankyou very much for this article..I’m still in shock-10yrs and he’s a British citizen-Britain- the vanguard of justice and humanity?! Where are his rights?
    Is it the silence of the world that allows them to continue such abuse!

    If he’s guilty,which is a BIG IF, why not be tried in the UK,instead of all this secrecy and intelligence cover up.Shame on Britain for succumbing to the US and not being able to deal with its OWN people.
    Thankyou once again!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for getting in touch, Orchid. It’s very good to hear from you, and to hear your concerns. Shaker Aamer is a British resident, rather than a citizen, but his wife and fur children are British citizens, and, of course, the British government secured the return of five other british residents at Guantanamo — one in March 2007, three in December 2007, and one in February 2009.
    Sadly, I think you are entirely accurate when you ask, “Is it the silence of the world that allows them to continue such abuse?” Those of us concerned with his case have spent many years trying to raise it as a major issue, but unfortunately there is too much indifference.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Joshua Stanley Alby wrote:

    Will President Obama recover from his broken promise to close Guantanamo Bay and close it just in time for the forthcoming election in 2012? Very disappointed now after the initial euphoria.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Not even initial euphoria here, Joshua. I’m digging this now.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Joshua Stanley Alby wrote:

    Just joined.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Joshua and George, and everyone who’s shared this so far. I confess that I too had initial euphoria, but it rapidly dissipated, and is now, of course, thoroughly extinct.

  12. Hafsah aneela Bashir says...

    Utterly makes one question the so called justice of an apparently civilised and fair government. Amer Shaker is not forgotten, wont be swept under the carpet of silence and must be sent back home to his family away from the US farce called Guatanamo. William Hague has this in his inbox already and I urge others to do the same….

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Hafsah, and thanks also for writing to William Hague. To reiterate, his email is: private.office@fco.gov.uk

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    And on Facebook, Hafsah Aneela Bashir wrote:

    Urge people to write to government at least to remind them that Amer Shaker will not be swept under a carpet of silent injustice……

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    On Digg, wanacare wrote:

    As a U.S. citizen, I have never gotten to vote for someone who would end the horrible injustice of Guantanamo. Obama made promises, but they were lies and if I could I would personally let Shaker Aamer out of prison, especially since he has never been charged. I do say I am sorry to his family and friends.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, wanacare. I am always impressed by the way you keep Shaker Aamer in your thoughts.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, David Gould wrote:

    The ‘Land of the Free’ is just a rotten joke…it is the land of injustice, torture, kidnap, denial of all human rights and knuckle scraping lack of civilised values…indeed a land of broken promises and heart ache. Shaker should have been freed years ago.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, David. Short and to the bitter point.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Joshua Stanley Alby wrote:

    Forgive my ignorance,Andy(Worthington),but has Amer Shaker been through a judicial process at all or is Obama having a laugh like Dubya?

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Joshua. Good questions.

    Like all the prisoners, Shaker has had the right to habeas corpus (in other words, the right to ask a judge why he is being held) since June 2008, when the Supreme Court made an important ruling in the prisoners’ favor. However, his petition has not yet been ruled on by a judge, and, in any case, there are grave problems with the legal process: firstly, the standard of proof required by the government is not very high; and secondly, the judges are not allowed to distinguish between those who were involved with al-Qaeda (a terrorist organization) and those who were involved with the Taliban (the government of Afghanistan in 2001, for whom many of those held were involved in a specific military context, which is not the same thing at all).

    The third problem is that the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., which deals with appeals to successful habeas petitions, has revealed itself to be ideologically aligned with the kind of thinking that encouraged the Bush administration to set up an abomination like Guantanamo in the first place, so even if prisoners win their habeas petitions, the appeal court judges are now reversing or vacating those opinions, and effectively gutting the great writ of habeas corpus of all meaning.

    So the short answer to your question is that Shaker has not been through a judicial process and that Obama is having a laugh like Dubya. It is extremely disappointing, and the fact that most people don’t even know or care is even more disappointing.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Noa Kleinman wrote:

    Andy – have you any idea if solidarity letters are getting through to Shaker and other detainees?

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Joshua Stanley Alby wrote:

    Thank you very much for that, Andy.I appreciate it.I feel your disappointment.Writing a letter to William Hague now.If anyone else has ten minutes to spare please write to The Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH to oppose the continued imprisonment.If Mr.Shaker is guilty,let them try him in court otherwise release him now.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Joshua. And Noa, it’s good to hear from you, and I hope you’re well. The only feedback I’ve had is from a reader called Elizabeth, who let me know that she had written to every single prisoner, and that her letter to Shaker was one of five that was returned marked “attempted — not known,” and that 14 letters to other prisoners were returned marked “not deliverable as addressed.” I haven’t heard from anyone else that a letter to Shaker has been returned.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    I’ve written more than a few letters regarding Shaker Aamer towards the Home Office, my MP and a few others. I have had replies, but just saying they’ve written and talked to the US Admin and it’s all down to the US Gov. I’ve written to various people in the US and got a few replies, but just well thought out words without any real substance.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    I’ve just re-read Joshua Stanley Alby’s comment; yes I’ll write to William Hague regarding Shaker Aamer. I’ll use the ‘ill heath’ issue to explain my writing yet another letter. All these departments save a record of all my endless correspondences towards them. I try to find new perspectives for my correspondence; rather than just repeats of what went before.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    David Gould wrote:

    What is the way forward here Andy. You have a better handle on this due to your extensive research on the whole issue. We have a man in poor shape, denied judicial process which will fail in any case held with no credible evidence that will stand the test of court proceedings and for whom there is no shred of evidence of a criminal nature. Do we demand the US put up or shut up? Either they put this man on trial and test their case in a court of law where some semblance of due process has to be followed or we demand his release and compensation for the ‘lost’ years…should run to a couple of million bucks…what is not an option is keeping him in political and legal limbo…is it worth making a move to the Hague for wrongful arrest?

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Malcolm and David.

    And David, the problem is political will — here in the UK, in the US and internationally. Bush finally started changing his ways when he was subjected to legal pressure and international criticism, but under Obama no one’s complaining, even though he’s maintaining the same unjust prison.

    Legally, the US can claim that it has the right to hold these men indefinitely — not as prisoners of war, but as captives they are entitled to hold under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed just days after the 9/11 attacks. I wrote an explanation of the problems here:
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/05/14/no-end-to-the-war-on-terror-no-end-to-guantanamo/

    I regard this as an unacceptable legislative basis for the ongoing and essentially arbitrary detention of the prisoners at Guantanamo, but few people in the US, who are in any position of authority, agree.
    If you want to know my most ambitious plan, it’s to ask internationally known figures — politicians, religious figures, celebrities, lawyers and judges — to come together for the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, 2012, and to publicly tell Obama that he has to find the courage to close Guantanamo, and also to criticize all three branches of the US government — the administration, lawmakers and judges — for their various acts of obstruction, which have contributed to an intolerable situation in which, without concerted action, Guantanamo may stay open forever.

    I’m already in discussions with various groups and individuals about this, but if you can help in any way, and would like to, then please get in touch.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    This sounds like the right move, and I’m certainly interested. I have some financial problems so I could only activities that were low cost. However I still have a great interest and a real commitment to anything that would help in any way.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    I would ask how you are getting on now; have you fully recovered from your own ill health problems. You seem to be going at full speed again.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Malcolm, for the willingness to help. Come September, I hope to get moving on finding prominent figures prepared to speak out on Guantanamo for the 10th anniversary, and will keep you posted on developments, and whether (or hopefully, how) there will be opportunities to get involved.
    As for my health, I am now fully recovered — on long-term (probably permanent) blood-thinning medication, but also free of cigarettes after 29 years, so on balance I’m better than I was before! That’s not to underplay the fact that it’s been an extremely difficult year, but it’s good at my time of life to be reminded of the joys of being alive (even if aging itself holds no charms) and coming so close to realizations of mortality this year has been an education, and, hopefully, one that informs my life and my work with greater depth.
    Thanks again for your concern.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Zarina Bhatia wrote:

    Take care as you are precious

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Zarina. What a lovely comment.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Bjørg Brennan wrote:

    ‎: ) Indeed.

  34. Terry Holdbrooks says...

    WE called him the Professor, not the MI. We called him that because he is a very brilliant person. He helped me out many times in GTMO, when I would have issues with others who were on his block, he would squash issues for me. MI doesn’t tell you this. He is very charismatic, but he used it for good purpose, every experience I had with him was a great one!

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Terry. That’s very useful to hear, and I appreciate your first-hand knowledge.

  36. Fears for the Health of Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo « aseerun says...

    [...] Read More… Join the Da'wah:ShareLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post.   [...]

  37. ‘Ten Hours For Ten Years’: Demonstration For Shaker Aamer, Last British Prisoner In Guantánamo – OpEd « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] (whose British wife and four children live in Battersea), and who, it was reported in August, has resumed a hunger strike to protest about his seemingly indefinite detention without charge or trial under President Obama. [...]

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