Shaker Aamer Protest in London, July 18, 2013, a set on Flickr.
Now that many people have been wakened to the plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, through P.J. Harvey writing a song about him that has sent ripples through the music world, I hope that ongoing efforts to secure his release will attract more support in the months to come. After all, what excuse is there for people not to be outraged that he is one of 86 men cleared for release under President Bush and Obama who are still held, and that he is part of a prison-wide hunger strike to which the authorities are responding with force-feeding?
On July 18, as Parliament shut up shop for the summer, I joined campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign in Parliament Square, outside the Houses of Parliament, for a last vigil before the summer recess began. I have already posted a video of an interview I undertook on the day with a representative of the PCS union (the Public and Commercial Services union), but art the time I didn’t have the opportunity to make the photos I took available, and I was then derailed by a week away.
I’m posting them now to try to help keep Shaker’s story in the public eye, and also to thank the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign for their tireless work to try and secure the closure of Guantánamo and the release of Shaker Aamer.
Below, I’m also posting the latest message from Shaker himself, via a phone call with his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, which was recently published in the Independent, and which, on Shaker’s part, deals with the Forcible Cell Extractions (FCEs) to which he is subjected on an horribly regular basis.
In the article, mention was also made of the claim that the US wants to return him to Saudi Arabia, where he would almost certainly be imprisoned, and would not be able to be reunited with his British wife and his four British children. As Clive Stafford Smith asked in the Independent‘s article, “Surely the US cannot think they can render him involuntarily for further abuse in Saudi Arabia, never to see his British wife and kids, and never to give evidence against his torturers in the ongoing criminal investigation by the Met Police?”
That last reference is to Shaker’s claim that British agents were present in the room when he was being violently treated by US operatives in Afghanistan, prior to his transfer to Guantánamo. This claim, recognized as valid by a British court back in December 2009, is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, whose investigators recently travelled to Guantánamo to interview him.
The desire to shut Shaker up may explain why the British government has not told the Obama administration, in no uncertain terms, that he must be returned to the UK, but that is clearly the only acceptable course of action, as I explained in the notes that accompany the photos above, in which I wrote:
There is no excuse for Shaker still to be held, and it is disgraceful that (a) the US government wants to return him to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he would almost certainly be imprisoned, and not allowed to be reunited with his family, and (b) the British government has not done all in its power to demand and secure his return to the UK, as is their obligation.
See below for Shaker’s latest statement:
The FCE (Forcible Cell Extraction team) are still using the Darth Vader uniforms after all these years. They use some female FCE members now. They bear down on my cell — stomp! Stomp! STOMP!
“239!” shouts the WC [Watch Commander]. I have heard these words in my sleep. “239! Lay down on your stomach! Your hands behind your back! Cross your legs! DO NOT RESIST THE TEAM!”
Then comes the translator. He says the same in Arabic, in a thin, reedy, whiny voice. Then comes the front guy in the FCE team, shouting, “I see the detainee! He’s laying on his back! He’s in the middle of the pen! He doesn’t have a weapon! The floor is dry! The detainee is dry!” Always the same words, rote.
On this occasion, it is about my ongoing protest. I won’t come in from the rec cage [recreation cage] without being forced to. I have said what I want to do: just sit there for a week, doing nothing, just sitting. It’s about as non-violent, non-problematic a protest as you could imagine, but they won’t let me do it.
Ultimately, it’s all about control, and if they feel they are not always in control, then that’s a threat to national security, a threat to the thousands of soldiers with their M16s at Guantánamo.
I refuse to do what they tell me, even though I know I am about to get beaten up. Sometimes, you just have to make a stand, however pointless that stand might seem to be.
The front guard is called FCE-1. Vooom! He runs at my head. FCE-2 through FCE-5 take their position, one on each arm, one on each leg. FCE-6 is back up. The “Head” guy is the worst. He is meant to “protect” your head, but actually he is grabbing pressure points to subdue you. If I shout, he pushes the pressure points to shut me up. They pin me down. “Leg FCE!” comes the shout and they shackle my legs. “Arm FCE!” and they shackle my arms. They might use steel or plastic shackles, though it’s mostly plastic.
Sometimes they get the shackles on backwards. I shout at the Watch Commander and the Corpsman, who are observing all this, as it’s painful. The Head man squeezes my neck. “Stop resisting!” he shouts.
“Team! Prepare to search!” They flip me over for the search. Mostly, that’s just an assault, sometimes a sexual assault. We call it the Gitmo massage. There is meant to be a board, like a wooden stretcher, and they are meant to roll me on. But now they don’t have them. Now they carry me like a sack of potatoes, which is much harder on the guards, and really painful for me.
“Team!” shouts FCE-6. “Push the detainee towards me!” They push me like a potato sack. Pat! Pat! Pat! More Gitmo massage. “Team! Prepare to lift!” They are meant to do a fireman’s lift, but they actually seize an arm or a leg and just yank. You are on your side, so one of them tends to be doing a half-nelson on me, in handcuffs. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition torture Strappado — you feel as if your shoulder is being dislocated.
FCE-6 has my head now. He is walking backwards, directing the others. “Watch the stairs! Step! Step! Step!” Up six steps; down six steps; through ten doors. “Watch Commander! Watch Commander!” I shout. “Look at my hand! It’s going to be broken!” If I try to move my hand, it’s “Stop Resisting! Stop Resisting!”
They get me to my cell. It’s been 150 metres. There’s a rec cage three metres from my cell, but they don’t let me use that one. They know then I would make them FCE me every time, as it wouldn’t hurt so much. So they take me 150 metres, through ten doors.
“Team! Halt!” “Team! Prepare to lower! Team! Lower!” They are all in touching distance of each other, but they have to shout. They put me on the cold concrete floor on my face. “Key in!” says FCE-6. “Leg’s unsecure!” “Key to Hands!” “Key in!” “Hands unsecure!” “Key out! Leg shackles out! Hand shackles out!”
I am on my stomach. The Pig has his hands pushing down on my back. My legs are crossed and pressed up towards my lower back. The Pig is 270lb, and there are 600 more pounds shoving him from behind, doggy style.
“239! Stay on the floor! DO NOT GET UP! Do not resist the Team! Stay down until we close the door!”
They go out one at a time. One of them falls over backwards. It seems rather comical. I lie still on the floor, because I know what is coming next. If you stay still, they come back in.
“239! Do you need medical attention! Do you need Tylenol?” “You fool!” I reply. “You were meant to prevent me from getting hurt. And now you’re telling me I can have a Tylenol.” “239 seems responsive!” he says.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
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