In a recent letter to the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve, described how he has “just received a series of unclassified letters from various detainees who we represent in Guantánamo Bay,” which “tell a disturbingly consistent story” — of “a new ‘standard procedure’ where the FCE team [the armored guards responsible for violently removing prisoners from their cells through ‘forcible cell extractions’] is being used to abuse the prisoners with particular severity because of the on-going non-violent hunger strike protest against their unconscionable treatment.”
With particular reference to Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held despite being cleared for release since 2007, Stafford Smith noted in his letter, dated August 22, “I have not received a recent letter from Shaker Aamer as I understand that he is seriously depressed — which is not surprising given all that he has been through.”
He added, “However, our other clients have reported that ‘[o]n Sunday, Shaker ISN 239 was beaten when the medical people wanted to draw blood.'”
In a press release, Reprieve noted that Mr. Aamer “has previously described being beaten by the FCE team up to eight times a day,” and added that he “has been held for long periods of solitary confinement since 2005 and is in extremely poor health.”
Reprieve added, “An independent medical examination conducted earlier this year,” which I wrote about here, “diagnosed him with severe post-traumatic stress, and recommended urgent psychiatric treatment and ‘reintegration into his family.'”
Reprieve also explained that, in June, Hammond’s predecessor, William Hague, wrote to Clive Stafford Smith stating that the British government had “received assurances from the US Government that Mr. Aamer’s health remains stable and that he has access to” what was described as “the detainee welfare package.”
In the letter to Philip Hammond, Clive Stafford Smith also quoted from a letter in which one of Reprieve’s clients mentioned other prisoners who are being treated brutally, and who are both long-term hunger strikers — Abu Bakr Alahdal (ISN 171), a Yemeni, and Tarek Baada aka Tariq Ba Odah (ISN 178), another Yemeni, who has been on hunger strike since 2007.
Reprieve’s client wrote:
In the last four days an FCE team has been brought in to beat the detainees. Anyone who refuses to comply will be beaten. They broke ISN 171’s hand. They twisted ISN 178’s hand and leg such that he cannot use his leg to walk.
Stafford Smith also explained how Emad Hassan (ISN 680), another Yemeni, long cleared for release, who has also been on a hunger strike since 2007, “writes of the same incidents, describing a beating administered to ISN 171 [Abu Bakr Alahdal] that lasted one hour and 55 minutes.”
Stafford Smith proceeded to explain that, in another letter, another Reprieve client, Khalid Qassim (ISN 242), who is also Yemeni, “describes the same kind of matters. He was himself FCE’d in an effort involuntarily to take his weight and he described being beaten badly.”
In his letter to Philip Hammond, Clive Stafford Smith concluded by stating, “I am particularly concerned about the mental health of Mr. Aamer and other prisoners in light of this latest bout of sustained violence,” and asked for the foreign secretary’s imminent “reassurance” that the government “has raised this concern forcefully with the US government.”
Last month, when Emad Hassan submitted a letter to US District Judge Gladys Kessler in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, another hunger striker, long cleared for release, who is leading the prisoners’ legal challenges against their force-feeding, and who has secured the limited release of videotapes showing the force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions,” his description of how brutal the force-feeding is currently prompted Alka Pradhan of Reprieve to tell Jason Leopold of VICE News that she thought Mr. Hassan was “describing policy changes that have been implemented since the arrival of a new Guantánamo warden and commander of the detention facility last month,” as Jason Leopold put it. She said, “Every time you get a new commander, they will tighten up the rules if they had loosened before, and that’s what I think we’re seeing.”
If that is the case, it is time that senior officials in the Obama administration paid closer attention to what is happening at Guantánamo — although one way of doing that, of course, would be to free Shaker Aamer, Emad Hassan, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abu Wa’el Dhiab and all the the prisoners long cleared for release but still held — of the 149 men still held, the 75 cleared for release in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and the four others cleared for release in recent months by newly-established Periodic Review Boards.
If you’re in the UK, please contact Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and ask him to take urgent action on Shaker’s behalf. You can email him here via his Private Office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). A general phone number for the FCO is 020 7008 1500.
If you’re in the US, you can call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.
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 six-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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, Waris Ali wrote:
Hey Andy, is it possible for you to edit the piece and include a link for people to lobby the new foreign secretary directly on this? In Reprieve’s press release, they didn’t include a link for people to do so, nor did they suggest it. I rang them up and the guy said they’d probably put it out in the email, but that’ll be in about a week’s time for all those on their mailing list. Yet it’s not done/inserted when the articles/press releases are being shared.
Great to hear from you, Waris.
Good idea about the contact details. To contact the Private Office for Philip Hammond, the email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
A general phone number for the Foreign Office is 020 7008 1500.
I’ve added these details to the article.
And if you’re in the US, you can call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414, or submit a comment online: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments
Remember, the message is: free all the prisoners who have had their release approved by the Guantanamo Review Task Force and the Periodic Review Boards.
Ajo Muhammad wrote:
Sad to hear this!
Yes, it’s very sad, Ajo. And it’s particularly disgraceful that most of the men suffering have been cleared for release; in other words, they’re men that the US says it doesn’t want to continue holding. I find it hard to imagine a situation that is more darkly absurd and unjust.
Most of the people held there (not all of them) are innocent and did nothing wrong. If they didn’t hate the USA before, they will now.
Good to hear from you, Thomas. From my research, I’d say that some ex-prisoners are extremely disappointed by the actions of the US government, but I don’t hear about prisoners hating the USA in general, or Americans. They clearly differentiate between the actions of the government, and the American people.
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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