In alarming news from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has stated that the prisoners have renewed the hunger strike that, earlier this year, involved at least two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and reawakened the world’s media to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.
The hunger strike provided evidence of the men’s despair, after eleven years’ imprisonment without charge or trial, in an experimental prison where they are still in a legal limbo, held neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war. Their despair was heightened by the fact that 82 of them were cleared for release in January 2010 — nearly four years ago — by a high-level Presidential task force, and yet they are still held, and 80 others are, for the most part, detained without charge or trial, and with no sign of when, if ever, they might either be tried or released. As I explained in a recent article for Al-Jazeera, long-promised reviews for most of these 80 men have recently begun, but the process is both slow and uncertain.
In a recent phone call with Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 men still at Guantánamo, Shaker “revealed there are now 29 Guantánamo hunger strikers, including him, of whom 19 are being force-fed,” as the Observer described it on Sunday.
“The hunger strike is back on,” Shaker said, adding, “The number is increasing almost every day.” He also explained that he has been on the new hunger strike for almost a month and has lost 30 pounds in weight. On November 8 he weighed 188 pounds, and he now weighs 158 pounds.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the US military announced last Monday, December 2, that it was no longer releasing figures to journalists of those refusing food — a process tracked diligently throughout the year by the Miami Herald. At the time, there were 15 men on hunger strike, all of whom were being force-fed.
The Observer responded to the news that the number of hunger strikers would no longer be made public by opining — accurately, I believe — that “the US authorities, stung by adverse global publicity from the hunger strike during the summer, appear to be introducing policies designed to bury the news about the latest protest.”
Shaker also indicated that the US authorities were trying to hide the renewed hunger strike. He told Clive Stafford Smith, “Nobody has come to talk to me, nobody is asking what I am doing, there have been no visits from the BHU [Behavioural Health Unit]. Normally they come, so they are trying to keep this under wraps and pretend nothing is happening this time.”
As the Observer described it, however, Shaker is in such poor health that he “does not have the strength to endure a prolonged hunger strike.” Two of his legal teams — at Reprieve and City University of New York School of Law — recently submitted a motion calling for him to be allowed an independent medical evaluation because of his health problems (also see declarations by Clive Stafford Smith, and by Ramzi Kassem of CUNY), and these were evidently taken seriously enough by the authorities that an independent medical assessment was allowed.
As the Observer explained, the assessment revealed that Shaker’s many ailments include “rotting teeth, poor eyesight, tinnitus, arthritis, swelling in his leg, kidney pains, heart problems, ringworm, irritable bowel syndrome and an enlarged prostate, although no tests have been undertaken to ascertain whether it is cancerous.” That list alone makes me feel ill, and angry, and ashamed that Shaker is still held.
Shaker said, “I haven’t seen a doctor for almost two years and they refuse to give me proper vitamins and supplements to help me with my health.”
He also explained how he expected to be force-fed soon. “According to their rules,” he said, “they should start to force-feed me at 154 [pounds]. That will mean being strapped into the chair twice a day, then the 110cm tube up my nose, the liquid forced into me, and the tube hauled back out. I’ve been through it before. It’s horrid … If I have to, I will try to endure. But they are ignoring me. If it’s anything like before, they might make me go down to 130 [pounds]. I won’t pretend I am not afraid of what might happen then. I might lose my heart, or my kidney. I don’t want to go as a vegetable, or even in a coffin.”
Clive Stafford Smith also revealed that William Hague had written to Shaker, “promising,” as the Observer put it, that “he is doing all he can to bring him home.” This is a familiar line, although Clive Stafford Smith didn’t doubt William Hague’s sincerity. He told the Observer, “Shaker was absolutely thrilled with the letter from Hague, it shows how a certain amount of personal commitment by someone in power can help someone who has been downtrodden in such a ghastly way. It reflects very strongly that the government is working hard for Shaker, but underlines that some elements are not playing it straight. If there were no opposition to his release, he’d come home tomorrow.”
That opposition, as Clive Stafford Smith also made clear, appears to be the British security services. As the Observer described it, Reprieve believes they are “the stumbling block to [Shaker's] release,” with both MI5 and MI6 accused of making “defamatory statements” that have contributed to his long imprisonment without charge or trial — nearly seven years since he was first cleared for release under President Bush — and his torture, which was accepted by a judge in 2009, and led, earlier this year, to a three-day visit to Guantánamo by Metropolitan Police officers, who interviewed him about British complicity in his torture.
As we approach the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo (on January 11, 2014), and the 12th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo (on February 14), it is clear that sustained pressure on the British government is still needed, that pressure on President Obama is also needed (as Congress finally moves towards helping him to resume releasing prisoners), and that here in the UK we also need to find new and creative ways of highlighting the hypocrisy of the security services.
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.
On Facebook, Dejanka Bryant wrote:
I loath this government. They are doing nothing to bring him home. He will be released when on death bed. Horror!
I do hope that you’re wrong, Dejanka, but I fully understand why you would feel that way. There is an absence of the vigour needed to really push for Shaker’s release at the British end, and a similar absence in the US, not only for Shaker but also for the 81 others cleared for release. I do believe we are getting the message out, and that we continue to gain the moral high ground, but everything is moving at such a horribly slow pace. The British government’s claimed inability to secure his return is permanently infuriating, and only America could get away with not only holding people indefinitely, but doing so after conducting a review process that concluded, nearly four years ago, that over half the men still held should no longer be held. As I have said before, that kind of injustice would make a dictator blush, so where does that leave America?
Chenae Meneely wrote:
Thanks for sharing, Chenae. Much appreciated.
Anne McClintock wrote:
Obama forgot to mention this at his speech extolling freedom at Mandela’s funeral
Oh, Anne, how do he – and his speechwriters – dare to keep wheeling out the same old silver-tongued lies? It’s such a great, great shame that we no longer have politicians with convictions – except for those with right-wing convictions, of course.
J.d. Gordon wrote:
Thanks, Andy. I’ll take it as a compliment. Glad to appear on ABC Washington tonight to discuss Pres. Obama’s declining popularity in Europe, per latest Pew Global poll and my last two weeks in Europe on think tank circuit. Arguing the moral high ground through efforts to close Gitmo and ban coercive interrogations, quickly rings hollow when we consider a six-fold increase in drone strikes that have killed 3,000 people, including U.S. citizens, without so much as a hearing, whilst conducting massive NSA surveillance on US citizens and allies alike.
David Knopfler wrote:
I have no idea what point Gordon is trying to make here. Two almost entirely unrelated wrongs don’t make a right though. The drone program is a disgrace but what has that to do with the legal disrepute that the US government perpetuates for every day they fail to respect international laws they signed up to? If he’s saying that the drone program is an even greater contempt it may be but that does nothing to mitigate torture, kidnapping and illegal ongoing detention and endless weasel words to try to justify it.
Thanks, David. Yes, that’s political maneuvering at work, isn’t it? Trying to cover up the crimes of one’s own side by pointing out the crimes of the other. We are right to keep the spotlight on Guantanamo.
On the other issues, however, I do note that It’s rare for us all to agree on something, but it appears that the horrors of drones is just that, although I know J.d. and his associates would rather capture and “interrogate” those they identify as terror suspects than return to the laws and treaties that existed pre-9/11. I can tell that al those involved are marinaded in the lies and distortions of the “war on terror” because the words “terror suspects” get hurled around with gay abandon, even though what they are mostly is military adversaries (when they’re not civilians, that is).
As for unwarranted surveillance, it takes some lack of self-reflection for an official under George W, Bush, who introduced the Patriot Act, to try to draw a line between the Bush and Obama administrations, when, on surveillance, there is evidently nothing to choose between them.
He will be released….to Saudi Arabia.
Thanks for the comment, Thomas, but I very much hope that you’re mistaken.
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