Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo: Parliamentary Debate and Protest on April 24

23.4.13

The case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is one that has taken up much of my time since the other British residents were released in 2007 and 2009, and I feel I have got to know him through his accounts from the prison — some made available to me last year via Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers (see here, here and here), and, this year, since the prison-wide hunger strike began, through the accounts of phone calls with Shaker made by Clive Stafford Smith, another of his lawyers, and the director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity (see here and here). These feelings were reinforced last month when I met his wife and his four children at an event in Tooting Islamic Centre with Jane Ellison MP and Jean Lambert MEP.

I am delighted that the e-petition calling for the British government to take renewed action to secure Shaker’s return from Guantánamo secured 100,000 signatures last week, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate — and I’d like to publicly thank the many, many people who worked tirelessly to secure that result. Shaker’s ongoing detention is an indictment of the indifference of the US government and the British government, because he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again in 2009 under President Obama, but is still held.

The Parliamentary debate is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday April 24, in Westminster Hall, in the Houses of Parliament, and members of the public are allowed to attend. Please do go along if you can. The debate is from 9.30 to 11am, but you will need to make sure that you have time to clear security, so an 8.30 arrival is advisable.

Afterwards, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will be holding a demonstration in Parliament Square, from 11.30 to 2pm.

I’ll be attending, and I hope to see some of you there, but if you can’t, please do take the time to show solidarity with Shaker Aamer by signing the international petition, on the Care 2 Petition Site, and by reading and sharing Shaker’s latest words from Guantánamo, which were published on Sunday in the Observer, and which I’m cross-posting below.

Shaker Aamer: ‘I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow’
The Observer, April 21, 2013

In these poignant words from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer reveals exclusively to the Observer the pain of being separated from his family for 12 years.

As of today, I’ve spent more than 11 years in Guantánamo Bay. To be precise, it’s been 4,084 long days and nights. I’ve never been charged with any crime. I’ve never been allowed to see the evidence that the US once pretended they had against me. It’s all secret, even the statements they tortured out of me.

In 2007, roughly halfway through my ordeal, I was cleared for release by the Bush administration. In 2009, under Obama, all six of the US frontline intelligence agencies combined to clear me again. But I’m still here.

Every day in Guantánamo is torture — as was the time they held me before that, in Bagram and Kandahar air force bases, in Afghanistan. It’s not really the individual acts of abuse (the strappado — that’s the process refined by the Spanish Inquisition where they hang you from your wrists so your shoulders begin to dislocate, the sleep deprivation, and the kicks and punches); it’s the combined experience. My favourite book here (I’ve read it over and over) has been Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell: torture is for torture, and the system is for the system.

More than a decade of my life has been stolen from me, for no good reason. I resent that; of course I do. I have missed the birth of my youngest son, and some of the most wonderful years with all my four children. I love being a father, and I always worked to do it as best I can.

So obviously I want to go home to London. Of course I do. But I am never going to beg. If I have to die here, I want my children to know that I died for a principle, without bowing to my abusers. I have been on hunger strike for more than 60 days now. I have lost nearly a quarter of my body weight. I barely notice all of my medical ailments any more — the back pain from the beatings I have taken, the rheumatism from the frigid air conditioning, the asthma exacerbated by the toxic sprays they use to abuse us. There is an endless list. And now, 24/7 (as the Americans say), I have the ache of hunger.

Have you ever tried going without food for 24 hours? Today, I am on my 68th day. But a man in my block has been on strike since 2005. Can you imagine it? He’s only alive today because the Americans force-feed him, preventing him from making that ultimate statement of principle, the same one they have on their New Hampshire licence plates: “Give me freedom, or give me death.”

In truth, while I am horrified by the suffering around me, I am also encouraged. There is more solidarity among the prisoners than ever before. The military is not being honest about the number of men on strike: most of us are refusing to eat. The military responds with violence, as if that will break us; it draws us all together.

Now they are sending in the goon squad (the Forcible Cell Extraction, or FCE, team) to beat me up every time I ask for something, whether it is my medicine, a bottle of water or the right to shower. That only reinforces my resolve. And my lawyer tells me there are people out there who care, that more than 100,000 people back home in Britain have signed a petition demanding that parliament should debate my case.

I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow. But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.

*****

Please support Shaker Aamer if you can. This injustice must be brought to an end — before Shaker dies, and before any of the other prisoners die. President Obama has 86 men that he needs to release immediately, and Shaker is only one of them, but for those in the UK who are opposed to the existence of Guantánamo, putting pressure on the British government is a process that can achieve the desired result if we continue to attract support for Shaker. As well as signing the international petition, 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.

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.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Neill Le Roux wrote:

    Well done Andy and the team. It’s a start… your work is much appreciated.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    I am so glad to hear this Andy, congratulations to all the hard-working people who made this happen.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Elizabeth Ferrari wrote:

    Good job, Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Neill, Willy, Elizabeth and everyone who has liked and shared this. Londoners, I hope to see you tomorrow – for Shaker Aamer AND the NHS. And again, thanks are due to the numerous people who worked tirelessly on the petition.
    If you missed the NHS post, it’s here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/04/22/save-the-nhs-urge-the-lords-to-fight-privatisation-plus-updates-from-lewisham/

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    So that’s 9.30 for the Parliamentary debate on Shaker, 11.30 for the demonstration for Shaker in Parliament Square, opposite Parliament, and 12 noon for the NHS demonstration on College Green, also opposite Parliament but further south. Busy day!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Shaker Elsayed wrote:

    Thank you Andy Worthington
    Always standing for truth and justice.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Shaker, for the supportive words.

  8. Thomas says...

    I heard he’s there because he saw Al-Libi’s torture, and the only place they are willing to release him to is Saudi Arabia, which would most likely lock him in one of it’s prisons.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the intention of sending him back to Saudi Arabia is one we heard about years ago, but thought had gone away, Thomas, although apparently it hasn’t.
    I don’t think Shaker saw al-Libi’s torture, however, as al-Libi was rendered to Egypt, but he is a witness to a fair amount of wrongdoing, and he knows a lot about a lot of people. None of this even remotely justifies not releasing him, of course, and I believe it is up to the British government to rather more forcefully demand his return. The Parliamentary debate should be a good opportunity to step up that pressure and to maintain it through fresh campaigning. There are good people on board.

  10. Tom says...

    Here’s angle on this issue that maybe some might have missed. If not, please excuse the redundancy. But it’s all to hopefully make a useful point.

    In my experience working with various trauma survivors, there are obviously many things at work. Different causes for the underlying trauma and ongoing healing issues, backgrounds and more. However, almost everyone says they’d like two of many things. One is a sense of validation. These people are innocent and have lost how much of their lives (not only theirs, but contact with family and friends as well)? I’m innocent and have PTSD from being locked up, tortured and more. Yet, that doesn’t define EVERYTHING that I am. It’s like an old quote Andy posted from an interview with a detainee. You may try to shut me up by locking me away in solitary and hoping the world will forget about me. Your country may forget about me. However, my family won’t forget. My neighbors won’t forget. Also, the people in my village won’t forget. I won’t shut up and go away.

    The second thing survivors want is admitting they exist. I’m innocent and didn’t ask for any of this. I’m not your worst nightmare. In fact, you might be surprised at how in many ways I’m just like any other person in various parts of the world. I base the last part in part due to my own experience of being an expat, traveling quite a bit and seeing a wide range of culture, people and situations.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I am sure many people had not thought of those two particular points.

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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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