On February 14, 2014, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a protest outside MI6 headquarters on Albert Embankment in London. The photo to the left here is part of a set of photos I took on the day. See the full set on Flickr here.
The protest was called to mark the 12th anniversary of Shaker Aamer‘s arrival at Guantánamo, and the 12th birthday of his youngest child, who, of course, he has never seen. Shaker is the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has a British wife and four British children, and had been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK prior to travelling to Afghanistan with his family, to undertake humanitarian aid, in 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion that led to his capture by bounty hunters, who then sold him to the US military.
Crucially, he was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007, and again in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. His continued imprisonment is, therefore, completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, and it reflects very badly on both the US and UK governments — the former for not having released him to be reunited with his family, which should be a straightforward matter, and the latter for not having made his release and return to the UK an absolute priority.
I spoke at the demonstration, as did Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and others, and I urge you, if you wish to take further action, to please sign and share the international petition calling for Shaker Aamer’s release from Guantánamo, and, if you’re in the UK, to write to your MP to ask them to demand his immediate release, and his return to the UK. You can contact your MP here.
Below, expressing what is happening to him more eloquently that I can manage, is Shaker Aamer’s latest message from Guantánamo, made available by Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of Reprieve, who is one of his lawyers. This article was originally published on the Huffington Post, and, as well as describing eloquently what it means to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, Shaker also reports that there are now 35 hunger strikers, 18 of whom are being force-fed, and also reports rumors about plans for a large number of Yemeni prisoners to be returned to Yemen for trials, or to be put through a rehabilitation center, or to be released outright.
77 of the remaining 155 prisoners have been cleared for release by the US authorities (all but one since 2010), and 56 of those men are Yemenis, whose release was blocked between January 2010 and May 2013 because, in December 2009, a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen tried and failed to blow up a US-bound plane with a bomb in his underwear, and in the resultant backlash the Yemenis at Guantánamo became pawns in a political game, and had their release prevented by President Obama and by Congress. I hope Shaker is right about the plans for the Yemenis, and that this particular injustice will be brought to an end — and I also hope, of course, that he too will be released soon. Every day that he remains at Guantánamo is an indictment of both Britain and America, and their claims to respect justice and the rule of law.
It’s 14 February. In Britain it will be Valentine’s Day. In 2002, it was the day I arrived in Guantánamo Bay, and the day my youngest child was born — Faris, whom I have never been allowed to touch.
Yesterday, my fellow detainee Emad Hassan did not take his legal call, for the same reason every time he misses a phone call or a meeting. They intimidate him by telling him before he goes, “we’ll do a full body search” — the “scrotum groping search” as they call it. So Emad goes with them to the Camp 5 exit where they plan to do the search, and when he sees them ready to carry out a full body search, he tells them that he refuses the humiliation, and demands to go back to his cell.
Indeed, the authorities don’t want someone like Emad to let the world know what has happened to him. Recently, he encountered the worst doctor here in Guantánamo — the “Doctor of the Dark Side”. I told him to write as much as he can about it and send it out, but it takes time for him to write in English, and it takes time for the letters to get through the censors.
I am on my hunger strike. Last night, I took one cup of coffee and added two creamers. As a consequence, all this morning I had bad diarrhoea and went to the toilet more than six times in half an hour. That is why I am writing now. I can’t go to sleep, plus it is nice to write something about this place on the first day of my New Year.
There are 35 hunger strikers now. Eighteen of them are being tube-fed. These brothers go and return from feedings by the FCE [Forcible Cell Extraction] team. They even are weighed by the FCE team, but it’s impossible to take someone’s weight whilst he is shaking so hard on the digital scale and tied to a board. But this means there are 11 or 12 soldiers required every time they have to be moved, as many as five or six times a day.
It is exactly 8:00AM and the National Anthem is playing so loudly. There are big rumours going around, and we hope they are true. It is said that the Government dropped the charges against 12 Yemenis and that only two Yemenis will be prosecuted ([Walid] Bin Attash and [Abd al-Rahim al-] Nashiri). The eligible ones will go to Yemen in three groups: only those who have conditions will be kept in the planned rehabilitation centre; those who have no conditions will be free; and the third group will be those who are to be prosecuted in Yemen, serving their jail sentence in Yemen.
What else … How do I feel with another year of my life gone unjustly and another year started? Truly, I feel numb. I can’t even think about it. Years are passing like months and months like weeks. Weeks pass like days and days like hours. Hours feel like minutes, minutes seconds, and seconds pass like years. And it goes around in a strange circle that makes no sense. It all takes an age, and yet an age of my life seems to pass too fast. On and on and on.
I live in the dark, knowing nothing. Here I am, cleared for release for seven years, more than half my time here. What, why, when, how, where? These questions have no answers, only total darkness.
I feel lonely and lost. Not knowing my future is the worst torture. I am living just to die. I am confused about everything and everyone. It is not enough for them to leave us alone with all this pain we are suffering. It is not enough for us to live only with our memories, which bring more pain. Dead people are better off than us. They are living a new way of life, knowing that they are dead and facing the consequences of their past actions.
But our suffering is endless — and with it, our loved ones’ suffering is endless. We are not dead but they forget us after awhile, because they cannot see us or feel us and know how we truly are.
Yet still they do more harm to us: humiliating and insulting us, degrading us, anything to make us more miserable. Welcome to the Hell on Earth, welcome to Guantánamo. Welcome to the year 1984, the year 2014.
I have no doubt justice will prevail and the light of the truth will shine all over the world. What is happening to us and others is a small price for justice, peace, and happiness which will cover the whole world soon. Always, after total darkness, the sun rises again. I hope to see the sun of justice, peace, and happiness with my own eyes. It will be a great day.
If I don’t get to see that sun, please remember that I have endured all this in the name of justice.
Alone in Guantánamo
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.
When I posted the link to the photos on Facebook, I wrote:
Here are my photos from last Friday’s protest outside MI6 headquarters, calling for the release from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer the last British resident in the prison. Organized by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, it took place on the 12th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantanamo. It is now nearly 7 years since he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him. Free him NOW!
Kim Chi wrote:
7 Years? So why is the U. S. Holding him? Is it because of the U.S. soldier that is still imprisoned with the Taliban? Normally the U.S. doesn’t Negotiate.
No, there’s no prisoner swap with Shaker, Kim. He was a legal British resident, with indefinite leave to remain, and a British wife and kids, so he should come back here to the UK. It seems the US would like to send him to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, and I’d say the UK government isn’t averse to that idea either, but it mustn’t be allowed to happen. Cameron must know that the large and vociferous human rights community in this country – and our good judges and lawyers – wouldn’t stand for it.
Both the US and the UK are afraid because Shaker is eloquent and outspoken and has resisted the terrible injustices of the “war on terror” from the very beginning. On release, he will embarrass them, but both governments have made sure that no politicians will be held accountable in a court of law for their actions, so they really haven;t got anything to worry about. They are just putting off the inevitable, and playing with a man’s life while doing so.
Thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this. One of the important pieces of information from Shaker, who really is working as a frontline reporter behind the wire – and whose reports should be front-page news – is that there are now 35 men engaged in the latest hunger strike, and 18 of them are being force-fed. We hear very little about this now that the military stopped reporting the figures, and most of the mainstream media moved on. Again.
Willy Bach wrote:
Thanks Andy, very appropriate to draw attention to the odious role of MI6.
Yes, exactly, Willy. They get away with their wretched business far too lightly here in the UK, and the Tory-led government’s plans for secret courts are a huge new step into unacceptable territory. These plans were driven by the scandals revealed in the UK regarding the treatment of the British Guantanamo prisoners, and Binyam Mohamed in particular, and are designed to shield the intelligence services from any meaningful scrutiny or accountability, although the legislation, of course, is intended to have a wider remit, and to protect the government in general from scrutiny or accountability. As is usual with this government, the Tories lied abut this while in opposition, and while campaigning in the last general election. They are beneath contempt.
Ajo Muhammad wrote:
Go Andy, let’s keep the pressure boy! You are wonderful!
Thank you, Ajo! I love your encouraging messages!
Abiodun Ishola Adamo wrote:
before coming to power, politicians promise mountains but later on they do the contrary of their promises. Thanks for your effort. I hope sincerely God will intervene
Thank you, Abiodun. I certainly hope so too – though I will continue to do what I can as well! You are correct, though, about politicians. More and more, it seems to me, they lie to get votes, when in reality they no longer care about us, and care only about banks and corporations.
Robert Corsini wrote:
Andy — keep up your passion for telling this story. Here is a link to a piece we produced here in LA calling for the closing of Guantanamo and an end to U.S. torture abroad and in American Prisons. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-tZokkyLSM
Thanks, Robert. I have been making your video available since Andy Griggs let me know about it.
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