From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Says, “Tell the World the Truth,” as CBS Distorts the Reality of “Life at Gitmo”

20.11.13

Please sign the petition, on the Care 2 Petition Site, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

In September 2013, a team from CBS News’ “60 Minutes” show traveled to Guantánamo, producing a 13-minute show, “Life at Gitmo,” broadcast on November 17, which was most notable for featuring the voice of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who shouted out while the presenter, Lesley Stahl, and her guide, Col. John Bogdan, the prison’s warden, were walking though one of the cell blocks.

Shaker shouted out, “Tell the world the truth. Please, we are tired. Either you leave us to die in peace — or either tell the world the truth. Open up the place. Let the world come and visit. Let the world hear what’s happening. Please colonel, act with us like a human being, not like slaves.”

He added, “You cannot walk even half a meter without being chained. Is that a human being? That’s the treatment of an animal. It is very sad what is happening in this place.”

The video is below, via YouTube, and the segment featuring Shaker begins about three minutes in:

Following Shaker’s cry for help, the CBS team at least bothered to investigate his story, discovering that he is one of 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners who were cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established soon after taking office in 2009, and also that he was cleared for release by a military review board under President Bush. Lesley Stahl noted in the broadcast that, earlier this year, the British Prime Minister David Cameron had raised his case with President Obama at a G8 summit, and also noted that the British government had repeatedly called for his return to the UK.

She evidently found it troubling that he was still held, as the following exchange with Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and one of Shaker Aamer’s lawyers, shows:

Lesley Stahl: I’m trying to understand how a prisoner who’s been cleared to leave twice, with an appeal from a Prime Minister of  a friendly country, and he’s still sitting there — I’m just trying to figure out why he’s still there.

Clive Stafford Smith: I think it is a fascinating question and I would love a little more transparency.

Lesley Stahl: What’s the official explanation?

Clive Stafford Smith: I wish someone official would give me an explanation and they won’t. No one will say why they won’t let him go.

Stafford Smith also told her, “What I have said and what Shaker has said for years is that if you have got an allegations against him, put up or shut up,” and, when asked about what would happen if he were to be returned to the UK — if he would be locked up again, monitored, or a free man — Stafford Smith said, “Shaker has agreed to whatever conditions the British government want to put on him, because he has nothing to hide.”

Lies and distortions in CBS’s coverage of Guantánamo

It was powerful to hear Shaker’s voice, and his anguish, although unfortunately the rest of the show was a profound disappointment. The lies and distortions began early on. Lesley Stahl mentioned how there were men held who couldn’t be tried because, as she put it, “The evidence against them is weak or inadmissible, in some cases because it was obtained through quote ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.'”

Not mentioning that “enhanced interrogation” is a euphemism for torture — which would make statements inadmissible, and those who extracted them liable for prosecution — was one problem with this statement, but another was Stahl’s refusal to ask what other factors might contribute to information being “weak or inadmissible.” In the case of Guantánamo, this is because a shocking amount of the information masquerading as evidence consists of unreliable statements made by the prisoners, incriminating themselves or more often incriminating their fellow prisoners, and if these profoundly untrustworthy statements were not produced through the use of torture, they were often produced through other forms of coercion, or through bribing prisoners with better living conditions or in exchange for medical treatment.

Lesley Stahl was taken by Col. Bogdan to Echo Block, where prisoners are held in isolation, and where they responded to her arrival with Col. Bogdan by creating a huge noise, hammering against the doors of their cells. She was told, and repeated the claim, that this was “where detainees who’ve attacked guards are held,” but what was not mentioned was that prisoners held here are also those regarded as being influential — in other words, those like Shaker Aamer, who has been held in Echo Block, who are both articulate and furious about their ongoing imprisonment, and capable of stirring up other prisoners to take action to demand justice.

Discussing Col. Bogdan, Lesley Stahl failed to challenge him significantly on his role as the spur for the prison-wide hunger strike that began in February and raged for seven months. She acknowledged that it had involved him “cracking down,” as she put it, following his appointment last year, and searching cells for contraband, but she never questioned why such a search was deemed necessary in one of the most secure prison environments on earth, or asked him about how abusing prisoners’ Korans triggered the hunger strike. When she asked him what the reasons were for the hunger strike, his only reply was that “their primary complaint was to leave Gitmo,” which is partly truthful, but ignores his role and downplays that what they want, after nearly 12 years, is to be set free or charged and tried; in other words, what they are calling for is justice.

Stahl also mentioned that there had been force-feeding during the hunger strike, but failed to explain how medical professionals condemn it as a profoundly abusive process that should not be undertaken.

She also gave Col. Bogdan far too much time, unchallenged, to defend his own actions. Explaining why he had allowed her access to Echo Block, he said — as she put it — that “everything he’s done he’s done to protect the guards, and he wanted to show us what they’re up against.” Also allowed to pass unchallenged was his claim that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) at Guantánamo is twice what it is on the battlefield, which, frankly, sounds implausible, and, if true, suggests only that this is what happens when guards are told, as they have been since the prison opened, that the men held there are “the worst of the worst,” when almost all of them are no such thing. It says nothing for the morale of America’s soldiers, if, in such a secure environment (for the soldiers), they are ending up with PTSD.

Towards the end of the program, Stahl delivered the following statement: “Everybody is trapped — the guards, the prisoners, and even President Obama, who says Guantánamo Bay has become so notorious it has quote ‘likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.'” This overlooked President Obama’s own failure to challenge Congress when lawmakers imposed restrictions on the release of prisoners, which have meant that, for the last three years, almost no one has been freed from Guantánamo.

Unfortunately, Stahl followed on from the above by claiming that President Obama “can’t ignore the fact that, of the 606 prisoners already released, 100 have gone on to commit acts of terror.” That is a completely unacceptable claim, taken at face value from profoundly unreliable statements made since 2009 by the DoD and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, even though those claims have never been backed up with evidence. As the New America Foundation has demonstrated, a more realistic figure for those who have engaged — or tried to engage — militarily or through terrorism against the US following their release is 8 percent of the total number of released prisoners; in other words, 48 men in total.

When talking to Clive Stafford Smith, Lesley Stahl told him, “Col. Bogdan says that these are men who are taken off the battlefield so that they will stop committing the acts of terrorism that they are accused of, are believed to have done. This is where they’re taken until the war is over.”

Stafford Smith responded by asking how long the US authorities thought it was plausible for their “war” to continue, when the First World War only lasted four years, and the Second World War only lasted for six. However, Stahl — and Col. Bogdan — managed to evade the massive contradiction inherent in her line of questioning, involving “terrorists” being seized on “battlefields,” when it is soldiers who are seized on battlefields, to be held in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, while terrorists — sometimes on battlefields, but generally not — should be prosecuted in federal courts, as all other terror suspects have been for the last 12 years.

When Stahl was outside Shaker Aamer’s cell, and Shaker was calling out, “Let the world hear what’s happening,” Stahl asked Col. Bogdan, “Do you feel any sympathy for his situation?” Again unchallenged, Bogdan delivered a monstrous piece of “war on terror” rhetoric that should not have been allowed to pass without comment. “To be locked up or detained for 10 years, or 11 years,” he said, “sure, I’m sympathetic to that, but at the same time these men are enemies of us, just as we are enemies to them.”

When 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners have been cleared for release by the president’s own task force, because they are not regarded as posing a threat to the US to warrant their continued detention, that’s a monstrously unacceptable position, but it is typical of this generally ill-informed show that Col. Bodgan wasn’t even challenged.

Note: For a transcript of the “60 Minutes” show, see here.

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).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

63 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the letter written by Dr. David Nicholl, longtime campaigner against Guantanamo, published in today’s Guardian:

    Over the past eight years, I have used every legitimate method, including a five-day hunger strike, to highlight the abuses and torture Shaker Aamer has faced. Organisations from Amnesty to the Vatican have labelled Guantánamo a disgrace – yet all politicians lack the ability to close it. There are many difficult areas in politics, but surely releasing a man you have cleared for transfer, Mr Obama, has to be one of the easier ones?

    This week also marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, delivered by Barack Obama’s hero, Abraham Lincoln. Mr Obama should reread Lincoln’s words: “A new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” These fine words which heralded the beginning of America’s long road to deal with its slave past are especially poignant for a man like Shaker, held as a 21st-century slave. Lincoln was a true leader who brought his country from being a slave state to an abolitionist one.

    The question is whether Obama has Lincoln’s courage to lead his country to do the right thing. Sadly in the over six months since his most recent announcement to speed up prison transfers, we have seen precious little action by the president on this matter. That is why I, along with others, will march and rally today to call for Shaker’s immediate release to his family in south London. Yes, you can, Mr Obama. Yes, you can release Shaker.

    See: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/22/rally-bring-home-shaker-aamer

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a photo of me speaking at the day for Shaker in Battersea on November 23: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152119319143804&set=a.10150687732288804.452718.738143803&type=1

    I also wrote the following commentary:

    Via my friend Brigid-mary Oates, this is me speaking yesterday in Battersea at the day of action for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. Thanks to everyone involved in organising the march and rally for Shaker – and of course to everyone who found the time to turn up. Due to family obligations, I couldn’t get there until 3.30, so I missed seeing the majority of the speakers, unfortunately, but there was still a good crowd by the time I got to speak, and I had the opportunity to talk to lots of people afterwards.
    Nevertheless, I am disappointed that, as usual, the mainstream media failed to pay attention to the event, as though the imprisonment without charge or trial for 12 years of a British resident, who has twice been cleared for release by representatives of the US government, isn’t worthy of discussion.
    When I spoke, I was unable to disguise my frustration that Shaker is still held when the UK claims it wants him back and has been trying to secure his return, and the US has stated it no longer wants to hold him. How are we meant to accept that he is still held, when he could be put on the first plane home tomorrow morning?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Muhammad Imran wrote:

    Hey Andy i appreciate your struggle, Also raise voice for the drone attack victims.May Allah give u the reward.Aameen

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Muhammad. I am of course profoundly troubled by the drone attacks, and their many victims, but I generally leave it to others to cover that story, as there are many very capable people writing and campaigning against it.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Muhammad Imran wrote:

    Thanx Andy.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Margaret Heller wrote:

    Wow, that exchange above was awesome. Clean, neat, to the point and right on.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Muhammad, and thanks, Margaret. Good to hear from you.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Rafael Shimunov wrote:

    You never do stop, this time of year everyone should visit your website and donate to keep you going

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Rafael, for the supportive words. I’ll be having a fundraiser in two weeks, but of course there’s nothing to stop anyone who supports my work from donating at any time!
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/09/16/quarterly-fundraiser-please-help-me-raise-2500-for-my-guantanamo-work-2/
    Or click on the “Donate” button on the top right of this page – and every page – on this website!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Good to see that this event was well supported. Andy, I agree – I think the British mainstream media has some explaining to do. Why have they been so silent and compliant about Shaker Aamer’s unconscionable internment? They can’t say they don’t know about it.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Exactly, Willy. The Guardian and the Independent have covered it, of course, and David Rose, who moved to the Daily Mail, has taken advantage of that generally racist and xenophobic paper’s more general opposition to torture to write about it there, but the broadcast media has been less involved. Overall, I believe, the mainstream media that is not explicitly right-wing fails us permanently on issues of grave importance, treating everything like a dinner party topic, and not wanting to upset people too much. To paraphrase a popular expression, “If you’re not upset, you’re not paying attention.”

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Brigid-mary Oates wrote:

    Wonderful day. .. I came back up north with a feeling of solidarity and renewed sense of motivation x thank you Andy Worthington and everyone

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Brigid-mary. Let me know if you can think of any opportunity for an event up north about Shaker and Guantanamo. I would be happy to come and talk.

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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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