Shaker Aamer’s First Phone Call from Guantánamo to His Lawyers Since Publication of the Senate Torture Report

8.1.15

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).NOTE: Andy is currently in the US on a short tour to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11. See here for further details. You can contact Andy on 347-272-3576.

In the Mail on Sunday on January 4, long-time Guantánamo reporter David Rose, who worked for the Observer for many years, wrote an article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, after he was given access to the notes of Shaker’s first phone conversation with one of his lawyers — Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve — following the publication, last month, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning 6,700-page report about the CIA’s torture program.

The Mail has recently dedicated itself to Shaker’s case, inspired in part by We Stand With Shaker, the campaign that I established in November with activist Joanne MacInnes, which features numerous celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — demonstrating how he is the elephant in the room of US-UK relations. Twice approved for release (in 2007 and 2009), his return has also been requested by the British government since 2007, and as a result his ongoing imprisonment is a shame and a disgrace for both countries.

On January 6, after Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, told the New York Times that “the Defense Department continues to aggressively pursue the transfer” of those prisoners “who have been declared eligible” for release — currently 59 of the remaining 127 prisoners — Reprieve urged Prime Minister David Cameron, who is “reportedly traveling to the US in January to meet President Obama,” to “raise his case and return from the visit with a clear date for Mr. Aamer’s release.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, said, “Mr Lewis says that those who have ‘been declared eligible’ should be released from Guantánamo. No one could be more eligible than Shaker who has been cleared for release twice and who has a country — and beloved family — ready and waiting for his return. If we are to believe that the US-UK relationship is as special as the Prime Minister claims, he must secure Shaker’s release.”

In the Mail on Sunday, under the heading, “Phone call from hell: He’s tortured in his cell, punished for feeding kittens and banned from Raisin Bran for breakfast,” David Rose explained how, in his recent phone call, Shaker “delivered his response to last month’s devastating US Senate report on CIA torture — and revealed that one particularly brutal technique deployed by interrogation teams was common at Guantánamo.”

I’ll leave you to discover what that is, but I will say that one of the shocking facts that leapt out at me from Shaker’s latest account was the fact that one of the long-term hunger strikers, Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani, weighs only 6st 8lb (92 pounds, or 41.4kg), which must make him look like a prisoner in a concentration camp.

I also found it interesting that Shaker was allowed to explain how there are four groups of prisoners who are regarded as difficult and generally held in isolation because they are uncooperative and/or are regarded as having a trouble-making influence on other prisoners — the “Bad Influences” (including Shaker himself), the “Risk” prisoners, the “Co-operative Risk” prisoners, and the “Fighters.”

Rather more prosaically, however, Shaker’s account began with “a description of an argument with his guards last Friday over what he should be allowed for breakfast.”

The rest of what follows is Clive Stafford Smith’s account of what Shaker told him.

Shaker Aamer’s latest account of life in Guantánamo

I get to argue with Colonel Heath [Camp Commander Colonel David Heath] and his lackeys over anything I like. This morning it was over a packet of cereal. They insisted on giving me low-calorie Rice Krispies rather than Raisin Bran.

You might think this was a foolish thing to argue about. You are right. I should not have to argue. They had the Raisin Bran right there and they could have just given it to me.

It is a sign of how this place is that I had to argue for 40 minutes about it. But if a soldier did that he would lose his rank. At least I have the freedom to challenge every absurd violation of basic decency.

The guards are pretty stressed too nowadays. I tell them that my life is better than theirs and that much is true.

I do not have to bow down to the Colonel and do the things that he orders me to do when he is being unjust. Yet they have to.

The guards are all scared. It is as if they are slaves. Now they have a dog called Titan who is their stress dog — they are meant to stroke him and feel better.

I recently read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. I was touched by the gay soldier who takes the worst of the bullets and saves Corelli, and the woman who cares for the baby that was not hers.

I feel I wasted time reading some American authors. I think Europeans have a passion and a broader experience of life that translates into literature.

[Rose notes, “Many books are banned at Guantánamo, among them George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, and, bizarrely, the fairytale Jack And The Beanstalk. Magazines deemed acceptable include Yachting Monthly — but Runner’s World is forbidden.”]

We are no longer allowed to get near to the cats who wander around near the exercise yard and we get punished if we feed them.

I used to be able to stroke Sou-Sou, but it is harder now. But sometimes I see her tumbling around outside the wire and that allows me to escape in my mind for a few moments.

The new rule is that we are not allowed pens. They told me that it was because it is dangerous, but that is not the case. After all, a pen is four inches long and made of flexi-plastic.

It’s hard to stab anyone with that and do much damage. Yet now they give us cheap Chinese plastic toothbrushes, which you really could file down to a shank if you had a mind to.

I cannot imagine why anyone would want to, and anyway there are 20 soldiers for each prisoner, and they have M16 rifles, so a sharpened toothbrush would not be much of a threat.

I was very inspired to receive a letter from Roger Waters of Pink Floyd recently [who is one of the supporters of the We Stand With Shaker campaign].

He wrote about the Magna Carta and how King John got in trouble for locking people up who had not had a trial. Would someone mind telling President Obama about this? It was, after all, only 800 years ago this year that the point was recognized.

There is a sense that President Obama does want to empty the place, if only because it makes him look so weak to keep saying he will and never getting around to it.

But when each person leaves, there is a mixture of happiness for that man and, for some, despair at remaining here.

In many ways the regime is worse than before. There are a number who are like zombies because they have been on hunger strike so long.

Ahmed Rabbani, from Pakistan, is only 6st 8lb. He has been on hunger strike for well over a year, and he is not even demanding they stop force feeding him, which would be his right.

All he wants is to be force fed humanely, rather than the intentionally torturous way they do it here.

He has been vomiting for five or six hours, and he fainted next to his toilet. We told the guards but they did not do anything.

After two hours, a guard came along and he had regained consciousness. The guard said: “I thought you were doing yoga.” Ahmed does do yoga, as do I, but that was pretty silly.

We have a relatively new colonel, Colonel Heath, and he seems intent on repeating all the mistakes of the past. The day after my lawyer last came to see me I was locked up in isolation for a month and a half for nothing, as usual.

I’m considered compliant at the moment: I’ve even had my orange uniform taken and am in brown to show I am not considered a “bad boy”. But they punish me all the time.

I was taken to Camp V Echo, which is the worst of the worst in this place. I asked why, and they said it was not discipline, but just one of Colonel Heath’s orders.

It’s not considered “isolation” of course, as they don’t have “isolation” in Guantánamo. Here, it’s called an SCO, which stands for Single Cell Operation.

Colonel Heath has singled me out because he has four groups he wants to have buckle to his will.

One group (mine) is made up of “Bad Influences”. There are three of us and we are alone in the same cell block, but separated by many empty cells to try to stop us from communicating at all.

Then there are the “Risk” prisoners, who are oppositional and will disobey them at all costs. There are a group of “Co-operative Risk” prisoners, who co-operate with their orders, but are still considered a problem for control of others.

And finally there are the “Fighters” who fight the guards at every turn, refusing to obey any of the orders. It’s just like the old days.

Most people in Guantánamo, even of the 130 or so who are still here [now 127], were not involved in any terrorism.

They were in Pakistan or Afghanistan trying to keep away from people like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi or any number of despots in the Middle East and beyond.

If we are going to avoid the injustice of the past, then we need to know what happened. Everyone has the right to know what really happened.

The idea of the torture report was interesting, though I don’t particularly care if I never get to read it.

You may not have heard about rectal rehydration, but we certainly had. I have lived that torture report every day for thousands of days.

I used to ponder over how they [his guards] could sit around at lunch and talk about what torture strategy they would use next.

There were all the things that you would have read about. But there were also the silly things that they would do, because they were all amateurs who had no idea what they were doing.

There was one chap who would make me sit in a cold room for hours. He would come in and play chess with himself, refusing ever to say a word. Torture is ultimately a drug. You start taking it, then you lie to yourself about why you are taking it, and then you find you cannot stop taking it.

The last thing you can ever do is admit to people around you that you are an addict.

[At this point, Rose notes, “Despite rumours of his imminent release, Mr. Aamer says he has not heard anything himself. In the meantime, he says he has requested a transfer to Camp Iguana, a small compound in the detention camp complex that originally held child detainees.”]

Back some years ago when someone was going to be released, he was allowed to live [in Camp Iguana]. Although you are locked up you can see the sea.

I said that since I have long been cleared for release, I should at least not be treated like some criminal, and should be held somewhere that is not quite as bad until they let me go. But I have heard nothing as usual.

I have been thinking of what I would say to President Obama. I think it is this. The only thing a person can never have too much of is justice.

We can certainly have too much hate. We can certainly have too much poverty. I think we can have too much wealth; even sometimes too much love, when someone is so jealous that he does something cruel because of his feelings.

I can guarantee you that we can have too much colour — I have had too much of the colour orange for these past few years. But we can never have too much justice.

Since 9/11 the world has taken a wrong turn, led by the US, which got angry. The US adopted the mentality of the righteous and decided that the way to deal with violence had to be more violence, combined with revenge.

In a way, what this is seeking to achieve is the first real World War — they even call it a Global War on Terrorism.

The First World War was not a world war as such, more a European war. The same was mostly true about the Second World War, which did not really touch a lot of countries. But what they are trying to do now really would be world wide, which is a great shame.

When I finally get out of here, most of all I want to be with my family. But I also want to establish the King’s College Centre for Justice and Philanthropy, in London.

Let me explain the name. In Islam, first you have the five pillars, which include praying five times a day, zakat (charity) and so forth. Then you have the six pillars of faith.

But beyond that you have what is called Ihsan, which means literally ‘philanthropy’ but which means a belief in God as you see him and as he sees you all the time.

So, for example, if you are walking along and you see broken glass, you pick it up — not just because you worry that someone might tread on it, but because it is the right thing to do, and it will please God.

I have a big plan in my mind. I hope that I can bring it off. I would like to set up a bank for the college, where people can get loans without any interest to pay. It would be recycled through the trust we would have in each student to pay the loan back, and through help from others who have graduated.

That way people can go to college without being forced to pay more and more when they graduate and it would free them up to pursue their dreams.

But it is dangerous, here in a prison cell, to think too much about the future.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, 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.

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

9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Jamal Ajouaou wrote:

    Mr David cameron should pick the phone and demand shaker’s immediate release, inshallah

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jamal. Good to hear from you.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    So here’s what you can do. Write to David Cameron via this page to ask him to demand Shaker’s release without further delays: https://email.number10.gov.uk/
    Press the PM for action via Twitter: https://twitter.com/david_cameron

  4. Anna says...

    I’ll never stop being amazed at Shaker’s spirit, in spite of and after all the horrors he has been enduring. I do hope his children – and their mother – derive some solace from the pride they can take in having such a formidable dad and that soon they will be able to tell him that personally.

    And while you’re in the US Andy, please say hello for me to all our common friends.
    I’ll be with you guys in thought :-).

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. I wish you were here. Right now I’m with Witness Against Torture in Washington D.C. at the church where they’re staying, making preparations for the next few days. Inspiring, as usual!

  6. Anna says...

    This will not help … : http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2015/01/yemeni-al-qaeda-claims-french-magazine-attack-201511073656841867.html
    … nor will the mostly one-sided global reactions to these atrocious murders.
    Words of reason and reconciliation are more vital than ever. Especially tomorrow.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Fortunately, despite the irresponsible reporting, it is simply unacceptable to draw comparisons between the murderers in France and the men held at Guantanamo. All that connects them is that they are Muslims – and only Islamophobes, racists and bigots (although there are many of them) are willing to stand up and try to defend their comparison, because they would openly be revealed as racists.
    I hope so anyway. I intend to talk tomorrow about justice, the poison of indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the absolute prohibition on the use of torture, which no decent person can argue with.

  8. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks for sharing this with us Andy.

    With regard to the stray cats Shaker mentioned — I’ve read what the two weekly newspapers published at the base say about stray cats, feral cats, and the veterinary clinic there. GIs adopt pets there, and then set them free, at the end of their hitch. The policy is to try to bring the population of stray and feral cats down to zero. If a stray is not seen as adoptable it is euthanized. If an adoptable stray is not adopted, it is euthanized.

    Efforts are made to conserve the populations of native wildlife, like the Hutia (cat sized rodents that look like rats, called “banana rats”), Iguanas, Boas and other reptiles. Endangered sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches. On the other hand someone introduced deer to the base at some point, and they are hunted and killed too.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your interesting comments about the animals of Guantanamo, arcticredriver – and let’s not forget how lawyers made a stink many years ago when they learned that iguanas received protections that the human captives of the prison didn’t.

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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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