“People Are Dying Here,” Shaker Aamer Reports from Guantánamo, As Petition Calling for His Release Secures 100,000 Signatures

16.4.13

Please write urgent emails calling for the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo to foreign secretary William Hague and to Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Supporters are also encouraged to sign the international petition for Shaker on the Care 2 Petition Site.

Last Friday was a great day for campaigning in the UK, as the hard work of numerous activists resulted in success for an e-petition to the British government that was launched a year ago. The petition, which called on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” secured 100,000 signatures, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Shaker is the last British resident still held in Guantánamo, and has been held for over 11 years, while his family waits patiently for his return in south London.

On the e-petition (which currently has over 110,000 signatures, and can be signed until April 20), the government department dealing with it notes, “As this e-petition has received more than 100 000 signatures, on 15 April 2013 the Leader of the House of Commons passed this petition to the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee to consider for debate.” Further information about the Committee, including how they handle e-petitions, can be found here.

It is to be hoped that the government will not try to worm their way out of discussing Shaker’s case in Parliament, as it is intolerable that he has not yet been returned to his family, given that he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009.

The government’s permanent excuse — that it is up to the Americans — has never been acceptable, given the close relationship between both countries, and right now it is even more unacceptable than ever, not just because of the show of support for Shaker from 100,000 British people, but also because of the prison-wide hunger strike in Guantánamo, now in its third month, in which Shaker is involved.

Last week, I publicised Shaker’s plight in an article entitled, “From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike,” in which I posted an account of a phone conversation with Shaker by Clive Stafford Smith, one of his attorneys (and the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve), and at the weekend, I’m relieved to report, the Guardian and the Independent both picked up on Shaker’s story, publishing articles drawing on Shaker’s latest statement via Clive — although the circumstances in which they featured Shaker’s story are alarming, as he is evidently suffering the more the hunger strike continues, and his health has deteriorated in just the last two weeks.

The full text of the statement is below.

Clive Stafford Smith’s Statement Recounting His Phone Conversation with Shaker Aamer, April 11, 2013

On Thursday, April 11, 2013, at approximately 9am EST, I spent sixty minutes on an unclassified phonecall with my client Shaker Aamer, whose Internment Serial Number is 239. We spent most of the phonecall on the subject of the hungerstrike.

Shaker gave me an account of much of what is happening. However, we were only allowed to talk for sixty minutes, and it would have taken much longer to conclude what he had to say.

Shaker said he was very willing to appear as a witness before Judge Hogan [on Monday April 5, in the District Court in Washington D.C., where he was hearing an emergency appeal for relief, in which another prisoner, Musa’ab al-Madhwani, asserted that the guards are displaying ‘deliberate indifference’ to the medical needs of strikers by denying them clean water to drink — an appeal that the judge turned down].

I set forth my notes on our conversation on this subject below. When I use quotes, that is a direct or very close reconstruction of what Shaker actually said. My notes are much more accurate in this account than others, as I set up the phone so I could type almost verbatim notes. Despite this I regret that I have not, given the time constraints, been able to check my notes and my memory with my client, but I am confident that my notes are as accurate as I could reasonably manage.

Shaker began by telling me that nobody told him about the impending call. He was woken up shortly before nine am and hustled over. As a result, he did not have the materials he needed.

Shaker was not allowed writing implements for some time, so he was unable to take notes of things, but another prisoner on his block has been taking notes for him where necessary. “I was going to bring it all with me. My brother across the hall has been registering all the things when I have had no pen, no paper, no books, no medical materials …”

Shaker did get paper yesterday [April 10] for the first time in a while, but did not know that there was a call today (he was not given the 24 hours notice that he is meant to get). So he had not done up notes, and did not have the chance to get what the other detainee had done for him.

The authorities are making it harder for prisoners to work with their lawyers. In addition to failing to follow their own procedures in telling the detainees in advance when they are getting calls, “they have brought a new humiliation transportation van.” Shaker describes how the bench is high and ceiling is low so that you have to crouch near your knee to get in there. The whole van is blacked out so he can see nothing. “It is for midgets. The only human being who could sit in there is someone who is four feet tall.” Shaker states that this is bad for the guards as well, as they are big people. The van has freezing air conditioning and neon lights.

Shaker is being punished as a consequence of his calls with his lawyers. “Each phonecall [from a lawyer] is a curse,” Shaker said. “I receive harsh treatment that day. As soon as I came back various things change. They hear what I am saying to you and use that against me to make things worse. That is the sad thing about the phonecalls.”

Shaker reported being FCE’d (subjected to a Forcible Cell Extraction) for almost everything now. “On [April] the 8th, there were 20 FCE’s in the whole of Camp V, and three of them were me.”

Shaker was FCE’d when he demanded his legal materials back. “After my last call with you, my lawyer, they took everything. I took rec that day as I had not been there for a while. When I came back in everything had been thrown in the cell, like garbage. Papers were all over the floor.” They had taken everything in Shaker’s cell, his legal materials, his other documents, “even my kids’ drawings. They ripped them off the wall.”

“They took all my medical stuff.” The guards took his two isomats, his pillow, his ‘donut’ that the doctors ordered for him to sit on his hemorroids, his back brace and so forth.

“I was complaining. The guard said it was not him [who did it]. I tried to collect the papers together, but lots of things were missing. I complained to the SJA who said ‘I will see what I can do.’ Then they FCE’d me and brought some things back to me.”

When supposedly everything had been returned, Shaker noticed pages missing from his legal documents and so forth. “The SJA came back and said: ‘They [the guards] say they took nothing.’ The SJA asked what was missing. How can I tell precisely what they took? There were 3000 pages.” However, Shaker went on to describe how pages were missing on numbered documents (it would go 1, 2 and then be missing 3 and so forth).

Shaker is being FCE’d for water. “For three days now if I say I want more water — they FCE me just to give me water. The first day I got FCE’d three times and Code Yellow two times [when Shaker fell down unconscious]. Not even General Miller did this during ‘Miller Time.’”

They are FCE’ing Shaker for essentially everything. Yesterday [April 10] is an example. “They FCE’d me at 2pm to bring in lunch.” This, even though Shaker was on hunger strike and was not going to eat it.

“I asked for thiamine and 60ml honey [and other medications], as the doctor said it was necessary. They FCE’d me. The Corpsman came in. ‘You FCE’d me for medication?’ [Shaker demanded.] The Corpsman said, ‘That’s the only way they will let you have it.’”

“They would not take the lunch away. They left it until dinner time.” This is apparently torturous for Shaker since he is on hunger strike and they are just trying to make him have food in his cell for hours.

Shaker asked for water. “They would not bring water until dinner time.”

Then: “They FCE’d me last night at 9.45pm to bring the dinner inside, even though I was not eating.”

Shaker has had almost no water for 24 hours as they would not bring water. “The nurse registered this. I made a declaration to the nurse.” Shaker reports that she has no number; the guards, corpsmen and nurses now use what appear to be pseudonyms which Shaker thinks are Shakespearean names. This makes it impossible for him to identify them.

Shaker reports that nurses and corpsmen are saying they can do nothing about water as that is for the guards. Shaker told them he is a trained nurse, and showed them the froth on his saliva, and asked: “What does it mean?” They told him to drink from a sink. They said it is potable. Shaker won’t drink it. “Look at the color of the water.”

[Note: I told Shaker that I have a recent photograph of one of the sinks at Guantánamo — where lawyers stay, rather than in the camps — which says clearly above it:

“Non-Potable Water
Please do not consume
Safe for washing”

I will enclose it with this declaration.]

Shaker said he would sue them all when he gets out. However, they are not intimidated by this because he is unable to identify them. [Note that the agreement from several years ago was that the staff would wear numbers for precisely this reason — so that the prisoners could bring complaints against those who violate their rights.]

Shaker reports that he has only been able to drink a sip of water since last evening.

Shaker has been refusing blood tests, the heart EKG, and so forth. He would have to accept being FCE’d to have this kind of testing at the moment anyway.

The guards told Shaker that they would FCE him if he wants to go to Rec.

“I have not showered for more than 9 days. They say they are busy. I will have to do it from the toilet as I was forced to one time before.”

Shaker is losing weight faster now than before. “In 11 days, I have lost more weight than before and I am around 150 lbs.” Shaker believes that the stress from being FCE’d so much is making him drop weight fast.

Shaker reports that he is not able to get medical attention without being beaten up. “239! Do you need medical attention, 239?” says the corpsman.

“I ask for water; you bring me FCE,” Shaker replies. “I ask you for food; you bring me FCE. I ask you for rec; you bring me FCE. I ask you for medication; you bring me FCE.”

Every time the FCE team (or even the medical Code Yellow team) come into his cell Shaker is getting injured. “I am getting scared because one of the guards stepped on my foot yesterday. I have bruises all over. The guy yesterday did not do it intentionally, they came running, it is a cell for disabled people, it is very tight. They fall on me, as I lie on the floor.”

“I have bruises on my legs, knee, my arms where they carry me, as there is still no board. If we were on Skype you could see them. I think I bruise more easily now because I am not eating.”

I asked Shaker how he feels through all this FCE mistreatment. “There is the tramp to the door, they smack the door … even if you are used to it, your adrenaline rushes, your heart starts beating. I know that something is going to happen to me, it’s scary. It is like a car race going 180 miles an hour, with a wall in front of you, you know that the brake might not work, you panic.”

“I can’t read. I am dizzy and I fall down all the time. I do not call them, as it is humiliating. When they call Code Yellow, they step on your fingers, your hands, they scratch you, even then you are living in fear when they say they are treating you. Yesterday they tied me on the board and they threw me in a cell because the medical people were busy. So they only took me to another cell. You are lucky if you get a medical space.”

Shaker reports that Code Yellows (when a prisoner collapses or passes out) in Camp V are now running at 10 to 15 times a day.

“My back and my neck are getting worse day by day. I don’t want the end of this torture here to be paralyzed. I want to carry my kids when I get home; I don’t want my kids to have to wash me. I don’t want to be the third one paralyzed in this place.”

I asked Shaker what effect it was having on him mentally to be hungry all the time. He described the hunger in general terms and then got more specific. “I try to go to sleep early in the night. Then you feel as if you have just died. I wake up at 5am to prepare for prayers. I have not had any rest, I feel I just went to sleep and was immediately woken up. I pray around 5.30am and then try to go back to sleep. I stay trying to sleep until they wake me up again just before 9am.”

Shaker noted that he is still in the very noisy cell next to the guards [as described in detail in my declaration concerning my last conversation with him]. The guards have orders to do this. “I know the guards who try to be human beings, and they tell me that they cannot do anything.”

There are other ways in which Shaker and others are being kept from sleeping [in addition to what he described in my last conversation with him]. “Nobody has an earpiece any more. We live in the radio traffic now, with constant loud commands coming over the radios, loud and clear all over the camp [Camp V]. This did not happen during Miller Time.”

“For a whole week one female guard bothered us during the prayer. Before prayer we ask them to shut their radios, and so forth. But they carry on talking, pushing things around. But there is nothing left to us but our prayers.”

Shaker reports that the physical conditions are bad, perhaps exacerbated by the weak conditions of the prisoners on hunger strike. “In the night people are dying from cold. In the day they are dying from the heat. People cry from the heat and the humidity. I could not put the prayer schedule on the wall because it was so damp. It is systematic torture.”

Shaker is not yet being force fed. He reports that the Administration are not doing force feeding to a number of people who have lost a lot of weight. Some people who are no more than 100 or 104 lbs are not being fed. “One detainee has lost 55 lbs, more than 25 percent of his weight, and they told him that he is now looking good.”

Shaker would like to send several messages to President Obama:

  • “If you are an honest man, send the same team as you sent down as a committee [to assess who should be cleared] to meet the detainees now and see what is really happening. The people visiting are mostly from the Department of Defense, and they are all seeing something like a movie [to make things look good]. No prisoners can talk to the visitors.”
  • “You need to hand over the 86 people who have been cleared.”
  • “You need to send a team from the UN. If you are not scared of what they will see, get someone to come in. Or send someone from your closest ally — England. They will be shocked and horrified to see the situation.”
  • “In the end this place has no solution except close it down, or transfer it to the UN and let them run this place. Or send all of us to the Hague for trial in the International Criminal Court. Say, ‘239 agrees to go to the ICC in the Hague’. They will laugh [at the Hague] because they know I am not a criminal.”

Shaker instructed me to write a letter immediately to the British government concerning his treatment. He said he is going to refuse everything, if he is required to be beaten up by the FCE team to get it. “I am not taking more water or medication if they FCE me each time. I will take it if they want to give it to me correctly and fairly. But I would rather die one time, than die fifty times.”

Shaker coughed really badly twice during our phonecall — he reports that he now has a chest infection that is making his other medical complaints worse. Also, on two occasions Shaker started laughing hysterically, which prompted my concern. At the end of our conversation, he appeared to be crying, or very close to crying, which is very unusual for Shaker, for he is a proud man who does not like to show weakness. However, it was clear that he genuinely fears dying in Guantánamo now, and he made me promise to deliver a message to his wife if the worst comes to the worst, and he does not see her again.

“It’s hard to keep calm. They are killing us, so it is hard to keep calm. It is hard to understand what they are doing or why.”

“No matter how much I show you I am tough, in reality I am dying inside. If you want us to die, leave us alone. But they do not want us to die, and they do not want us to live like a human being. What is worse than that?”

“I might die this time. I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here. I cannot give you the details.” He said that when he has paper he will try to write this down and send it to me in a letter [though this can take weeks to get to me].

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, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

15 Responses

  1. DEZ MUNDIE says...

    Please free Shaker Aamer.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dez. Short and sweet. It’s not rocket science, is it?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Natashja de Wolf wrote:

    signed & shared

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Natasha. I meant to make sure that some important information is readily available here, so first of all the emails for William Hague and Alistair Burt in the Foreign Office, to demand that they secure Shaker’s immediate return:
    William Hague: private.office@fco.gsi.gov.uk
    Alistair Burt: psministerburtaction@fco.gsi.gov.uk

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And then the petitions.
    The international petition here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/shaker-aamerguantanamo-bay/
    And the UK e-petition, closing date April 20: http://www.freeshaker.com

  6. Thomas says...

    The Marathon bombing won’t help matters. :(

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s already been damaging as far as right-wing opinion goes, Thomas, but those people are convinced that all Muslims are terrorists anyway – hence the tweet by Erik Rush, a regular guest on Fox News, saying “kill all Muslims” in response to the attack, even though no perpetrator has been identified.
    It doesn’t look to me like the work of a Muslim fanatic, and there seem to be reasons for tying the date of the attack to a homegrown – and presumably white – attacker. As the Australian noted, “There is speculation right-wing extremists may be responsible because Patriots Day is the day when US tax returns are due, making it an attractive target date for anti-government, anti-tax activists.”

  8. AZAH says...

    May Allah be with you Shaker. IA He will reward you for your patience

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comment, AZAH.

  10. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, thanks for your coverage of this important story. Here is an article that says a further restriction is that lawyers will no longer be allowed to phone their clients.
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/guantanamo-lawyers-denied-phone-access-to-clients-20130416

    I mentioned the book “From Salem to Guantanamo” that explored some of the parallels between the famous witch hunts of past centuries, and the hysterical over-reaction of counter-terrorism officials post-911.
    I am afraid that, due to the hysterical over-reaction factor, camp authorities genuinely believe that the details of the force-feeding revealed in these calls are genuine “national security” breaches.

    Here is an official photo, from 2009, of a room were captives were allowed to make calls. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Camp_one_Guantanamo_has_a_lounge_for_captives_to_phone_home.jpg

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    Just emailed both x

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ruth!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Mathew Rogue Element Sandoval wrote:

    Thank you Andy for your activism around this petition. That it got more than one hundred thousand signatures is not only amazing, it’s reassurance that our cause is just and has popular support. Let’s hope it makes it on the agenda for Parliamentary debate. I’ll be watching closely from the States.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mathew. A lot of people worked very hard getting signatures, at mosques, at street stalls, in shopping centres, at universties, and in the last few weeks lots of people worked really hard inputting signatures from paper petitions. There are good MPs who will do their utmost to put pressure on the government not to try and brush it aside, and that’s especially important with the hunger strike and the very real fears for the prisoners – including Shaker, of course.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m hoping that was an isolated incident and not a policy, arcticrerdriver. I’ll look into it. While I’m imagining that the authorities, with hindsight, wish that restrictions hadn’t been relaxed to such an extent that prisoners have been communicating freely with their lawyers by phone, (so that the lawyers are now publicizing their conversations, and contributing enormously to the growing outrage about Guantanamo), I think that clamping down on it would attract very negative PR now that the media is paying attention to what’s happening.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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