A month ago, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was cleared for release under President Bush and President Obama, reported that prisoners — himself included — had resumed the hunger strike that raged from February to August last year, and, at its peak, involved up to 130 of the remaining prisoners. As the Observer described it, in a 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 [were] 29 Guantánamo hunger strikers, including him, of whom 19 [were] being force-fed.”
That number has now increased. In its latest press release, Reprieve used testimony by the prisoners to “reveal that 33 men detained in Guantánamo are on hunger strike, with 16 being force fed.” When the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo announced at the start of last month that they were no longer going to state how many prisoners were on hunger strike, because they did not want to “further their protests,” just 15 of the prisoners were refusing food, all of whom were being force-fed.
Reprieve also revealed that the authorities at Guantánamo are punishing hunger strikers by sending them to Camp V Echo, described as “the strictest of the camps.” One prisoner represented by Reprieve’s lawyers said, “My cell in the dreadful Camp V Echo is constructed in a strange manner. It is designed to torture the person who is held there. All the surfaces made of steel. The bed is steel. The walls are steel. The floor is steel. The ceiling is steel. There is no toilet, but the hole in the ground is made of steel.”
Recounting his own experiences, Shaker Aamer said, “[I was] strapped to the bed for 24 hours except to use the toilet. The [force-feeding] tube was in 24 hours a day. We would be fed for 30-40 minutes each time, with Ensure cans, two cans, three times a day. Some of the prisoners became zombies, as if they were already dead. I dropped weight to 130 pounds. I told the doctors, ‘I want to die peacefully. I want no intervention.’ But they refused this.”
The increase in the number of prisoners on hunger strike over the last month is troubling, especially given the authorities’ refusal to provide figures regarding those on hunger strike. It suggests that the prisoners understand that, although there has been some progress in the months since President Obama, spurred by international criticism provoked by the hunger strike, promised renewed action on Guantánamo, and has since released 11 prisoners, it is also likely that the release of prisoners will not be made a priority, or will not happen swiftly enough if the prisoners do not, again, risk their lives to remind the world — and the president — of their ongoing plight.
After all, 76 of the 155 men still held were cleared for release at least four years ago, and some, like Shaker, were actually cleared for release by military review boards under President Bush, in 2006 and 2007. It is unsurprising if these men are not entirely convinced that they too will be released soon.
While campaigners — myself included — work out the best ways to keep exerting pressure on President Obama, I’m posting below Shaker’s latest statement from Guantánamo, which Clive Stafford Smith made available to the coalition of groups in Washington D.C. on Saturday, where myself and others were calling on the President to keep releasing prisoners, including the Yemenis who make up the majority of the cleared prisoners, and, of course, including Shaker. 2014 must be the year that the excuses for inaction come to an end.
Today is the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of Guantánamo Bay. It has been a blot on the reputation of America, and will remain that until, first, it is closed, and second, lessons are learned from it that can help prevent any repetition in the decades to come.
It will soon be 12 years that I have been in Guantánamo. I arrived on the day my youngest child Faris was born (February 14th, 2002). Even then, I had already spent some two months in US captivity, undergoing terrible mistreatment. Those are twelve years that are lost to me forever.
What I have missed most has been the opportunity to do my part to fill up my four children’s reservoir of love. The early years of a child’s life is a parent’s best chance to show them what love is, before they become more distant with approaching adulthood. Losing this, my opportunity and obligation, is my greatest regret.
However, we must look forward, rather than backwards. Even though British agents supported the Americans in my abuse, I wish them no ill. I do not even want to see them punished. I want only to come home to my family so that I can try to make up to them what I have been unable to provide for all these years.
I am on hunger strike once more. The US military wants to repress the truth about Guantánamo, but the truth will always come out. Others suffer even more than I do. All hunger strikers in Camp VI are now being brought over for a dose of the worst medicine the military can provide here – Camp V Echo, the Alcatraz of Guantánamo Bay. The cells are all steel, and the metal chills the bones as if you are trying to sleep in a refrigeration unit. They now punish us with force feeding, and they punish us with hypothermia, all because we call for justice.
Yet justice will be restored — justice must be restored.
I must say one thing to people out there about January 11: My biggest fear is that someone will do something stupid on the anniversary. When anyone does something wrong on the outside, we on the inside have to pay the price for it. When there was that incident in Yemen, the Americans banned the Yemenis from going home — even though it had nothing to do with the Yemenis here in Guantánamo Bay. I am grateful to those who support us. But if anyone wants to demonstrate on our behalf against the black stain that is Guantánamo, please do it in good faith and good humour, and above all practice no violence.
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.
Morning, all! It’s 9.30 am in San Francisco, and another warm and sunny day. I’m heading out soon to Hastings Law School for a lunchtime talk, and I’m at Revolution Books in Berkeley this evening for a screening of the anti-torture film “Doctors of the Dark Side” followed by a Q&A. Stephanie Tang of World Can’t Wait will be with me at both events.
It’s been a busy few days – as usual on these trips! I arrived in San Francisco on Sunday and attended an inspiring “salon” style event of like-minded people at the house of old friends in Oakland, where we – lawyers, activists and WCW supporters – had a great meal, and spoke about Guantanamo and torture, and discussed ways forward in our campaigning for justice and accountability for the torturers.
Yesterday morning I was on KALW Radio with Rose Aguilar for a great hour-long show (joined on the phone by Guantanamo lawyer Ramzi Kassem in NYC and Bay Area lawyer Sharon Adams), and after some sightseeing and a great lunch with my friend Joey who was driving me – on a day of radiant beauty, we walked by the ocean, visited Twin Peaks and had shwarma for lunch – a posse of us made our way to Stanford University for a great panel discussion about Guantanamo and torture with psychologist and anti-torture writer Jeffrey Kaye (a great friend who I haven’t seen for two years), journalist and former student Adam Hudson and Stephanie Tang of WCW. Michael Kearns was there to speak about SERE, and other old friends were there too – including Almerindo Ojeda of UC Davis and the author Barry Eisler – as well as some very motivated students.
On Facebook, Barry Eisler wrote:
Andy, it was great seeing you last night and I’m glad the Bay Area is offering up proper weather for your visit! All the best and hope we’ll have another chance soon.
Yes, me too, Barry. Really great to see you. Jason already told me he’s gutted to have missed the reunion. Glad he realizes everyone who is everyone was in Stanford yesterday evening!
Jason Leopold wrote:
Would have loved to see everyone in San Francisco! Hopefully another opportunity will arise. Looking forward to seeing you in LA tomorrow Andy!
Barry Eisler wrote:
When it’ll be my turn to be jealous…
Jeffrey Kaye wrote:
It was great to be part of a wonderful evening, getting a rare opportunity to talk with Andy, Barry, Michael, get back and forth with an interested audience of students and older activists, other great speakers. A real and rare treat for me. Now I get to be jealous I won’t be there with you and Jason, except I will be in spirit, particularly if you roast what’s-his-name, Andy’s troll, on the barbie.
wanted to share this with you and all your readers …thanking you for writing and standing to expose and enlighten dark Tunnels of cruelty and deception
Symbols of shame
Another year makes twelve, a year after another and the world watches in silence as innocent souls suffer and fall one by one, they choose to turn a blind eye to their suffering and very few remember them once in a while.
We have recently witnessed the departure of another innocent soul, a man who was tortured and forced to torture others, a man who committed his life to serving humanity, Dr Abbas Khan who paid the price of his decency and selflessness in the Syrian detention centres, he is gone and along with him many beautiful things have gone.
The case of Dr. Khan is not the first and will not be the last unless every effort is made to bring an end to such inhuman detention centres, Guantanamo being on top of the list!
Guantanamo is not the only symbol of shame, all the torture facilities run by cruel and unjust governments and individuals are all symbols of shame and disgrace.
We will never cease to call for justice and nothing will silence our voices. Having suffered for years myself in these infamous dungeons of torment, my heart pours out for the detainees and their families and unto them I pass my message, tomorrow will be better and with hardship comes ease
Omar, my friend, how wonderful to hear from you. We must meet up when we can this year. Do let me know when you’re around.
Thank you for your powerful message.
Jeff, I’m glad it was a treat. Hope I can do more events with you – and getting everyone back together was wonderful, even though Jason should have been there. Our Rev Books event clashes with CIA torture lawyer John Rizzo’s book signing, sadly, but hopefully there will be other opportunities: http://warisacrime.org/content/criminals-book-tour-john-rizzo-edition
Idrees Amin Shah wrote:
Time and again…I try to avoid ur posts..but how long….I hv to go thru ur updates to knw abt my brothers inside prison..smtimz I imagine myself wd thm…held for nothing..and no trialz..I hv no patience even for one hr ..I cant tolerate this…
Cud u xplain me wht this represents..whr is whole humanity…wr is un…cruel world..r they followrs of jesus…moses ..muhammed…peace be upon them all..on whuz name they do thid deeds…let m break out …like thr mothers daughters …sons fathers…curse be upon them …curse curse curse..b upon cruel ppl…..
Idrees, I wish I had some answer for you. I was at a multi-faith event this lunchtime with wonderful people from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, all dedicated to peace and all co-operating. A better world is possible.
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.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: