Clive Stafford Smith’s Fast For Shaker Aamer Hunger Strike Diary

25.10.15

Andy Worthington points out, to President Obama and David Cameron, that the 30-day notification period required by Congress before any Guantanamo prisoner can be released has now come to an end in Shaker Aamer's case, and he should immediately be returned to the UK. Today, October 25, was supposed to be the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was released and flown back to the UK to be reunited with his family, who he has not seen for over 14 years.

Shaker is still held, despite being approved for release eight years ago, under George W. Bush (and again under President Obama in January 2010), although campaigners for his release, his lawyers, and, of course, his family and Shaker himself, are hoping it will take place in the next couple of days.

Sustained campaigns — and significant pressure from MPs — finally led, a month ago, to a promise by President Obama that Shaker would be freed, and today is the end of the 30-day notification period demanded by Congress before any Guantánamo prisoner can be released.

And yet, Shaker is still not home — and, as the Mail on Sunday reported today, “The release of the last Briton held at notorious US detention centre Guantánamo Bay has been delayed. Shaker … saw his hopes of finally being reunited with his family this weekend dashed thanks to a political visit to the base … [T]he visit of three Republican senators, on a ‘fact-finding’ mission to the base, once again delayed his long-awaited flight to freedom.”

Shaker’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, said, “Shaker is being held for purely logistical and political reasons now, which is dreadful. They [the US authorities] have had 30 days to prepare [for his release] — it only took 28 days after 9/11 to start a war in Afghanistan.”

As I wrote in an article yesterday:

I am pleased to have played a role in this story — as a campaigning journalist for the last ten years, and through campaigning with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and, in the last year, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign I set up with Joanne MacInnes, with its giant inflatable figure of Shaker that attracted so much celebrity support, and initiatives like the open letter to President Obama on July 4, and the Fast For Shaker campaign that has been running for the last two weeks.

With Shaker’s return delayed, now is a good time to fast — or to fast again — to keep pressure on the Obama administration to honour its commitment to free Shaker immediately. 393 people have so far fasted or pledged to fast — and 23 people are fasting tomorrow, including Dr. David Nicholl, neurologist and human rights campaigner, and Tom Davies and Lucy Wake of Amnesty International.

Why not join them? We are committed to maintaining the rolling 24-hour fasts until Shaker’s return, and, to help you, I’m cross-posting below an article by Clive Stafford Smith from the Huffington Post, written after Clive had been fasting for two days. He intended to fast for a week, but made it to Day Five — quite an achievement, as I found just one day difficult enough, although as Clive points out, this is nothing compared to what Shaker and other Guantánamo prisoners have been through over the years.

Joining the Guantánamo Bay Hunger Strike
By Clive Stafford Smith, Huffington Post, October 21, 2015

I have now been without food for 48 hours. That is not very long. Shaker Aamer has frequently done it in Guantánamo Bay for weeks. I suspect I’ve dropped a couple of pounds. Shaker’s weight has fluctuated from roughly 16 stone (224 lbs) when he was first taken into US custody, to ten stone (140 lbs) at the nadir of his many hunger strikes. He is currently towards the lower end of the scale. There have been times in the past when Shaker has been put through the gratuitously violent force feeding process — illustrated when the rap star Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) agreed to undergo the procedure for us on video [note: seen by 6,676,145 people!]

As his lawyers, at Reprieve we thought it sensible to persuade him to let us take his strike on, so he could start eating again, and be somewhat more healthy to come home — we hope — at the end of the 30-day Congressional notice period, on October 24th. A second purpose is to keep the pressure up, so that the bureaucrats in London and Washington do not delay Shaker’s reunion with his family after 13 long years. Some wonderful folk have organized this and more than 250 people have taken the challenge [note: now nearly 400 people] – for example, David Morrissey did October 16th, Brandon Neely (a former Guantánamo guard) is taking the 17th, David Davis MP (former Home Secretary) the 18th, Harriet Walter the 19th, Juliet Stevenson the 20th, and Mark Rylance joins Roger Waters the following day. Perhaps by the 22nd, we will have heard news that Shaker is about to be put on a plane, and this will save Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP the trauma, but I fear he’ll have to limit himself to water.

I decided to see how long I could go, rather than limit myself to one day. I went for a week once before, in sympathy with the mass strike back in 2013. Mine was a fairly piffling commitment compared to Shaker’s, and to the other seven men who are still engaged in their peaceful protest. Ahmed Rabbani, my Pakistani client, is a simple taxi driver rather than the mega-terrorist promised to us by the Bush Administration. He has been on strike without a break for a year and three quarters now. They force feed him, but he is now not much above six stone (84 lbs), barely still alive.

I have followed Shaker’s rules for hunger striking since he is, in his own words, a professional. That meant eating mainly prunes and other fruit for a couple of days before the strike. Shaker says that the worst fate of a striker is to suffer from constipation, and I don’t want to find out if he is right.

Then, rather more than 48 hours ago now, I just stopped taking in anything but water and — thankfully, permitted by Shaker — black tea or coffee.

For the past two days, I have been surrounded by food. Somehow it is all people mention. And the process of baking a fresh loaf — for that marvellous smell in the morning! — to prepare a packed lunch for my seven year old to take to school has become torturous. And yet I am the fortunate one. I have been very busy, in part spending two days with a class of ten year olds, re-enacting the trial of Nurse Edith Cavell, executed as a British spy by the Germans 100 years ago last Monday. The kids did better than the German high command, and did not shoot her at dawn this time. What with this and keeping busy on a number of real capital cases, I did not have time to ponder what I was missing.

But imagine being Shaker, cleared for release in 2007. Imagine sitting lonely in a cell in Guantánamo Bay, wondering whether the promise of release means anything at all this time. Imagine not having the pleasure of preparing your child for school, because you have not even been allowed to see him for 13 years (Shaker has never even met his youngest son, Faris, who was born on February 14th, 2002, the very day Shaker arrived in the Cuban prison). Imagine having no work to do, and not being allowed to read — many of the books I have taken for him have been banned, including predictably the Gulag Archipelago. Imagine how the ache for food would consume your day then.

So as I move forward with my own pettifogging hunger strike, I magnify my discomfort perhaps 1000 times. Then, at last, I might be approximating what Shaker and the others with him suffer every day.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, the co-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 the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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.

6 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my cross-post of Clive Stafford Smith’s ‪Fast For Shaker‬ diary, which he wrote after fasting for two days, and which I’m publishing to coincide with the end of the 30-day waiting period for Shaker Aamer’s release from ‪Guantanamo‬, when he is still not back in the UK, even though he could – and should – have been back today. Keep up the pressure! Pledge to fast for 24 hours, like the 393 other people who have fasted or have pledged to fast. 23 people are fasting tomorrow. http://www.fastforshaker.org.uk/pledge-a-fast/

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    So I found out who the three Republican Senators are, who are visiting Guantanamo right now, and whose visit is apparently preventing Shaker from being freed – for bureaucratic reasons, no doubt to do with “security”: Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Tim Scott (R-SC). Ayotte is one of the more rabid Republicans when it comes to Guantanamo. Her press release about the visit is here: https://www.ayotte.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=2270
    See here for my article condemning Sen. Ayotte for introducing and seeking to pass the “Detaining Terrorists to Protect America Act of 2015″ earlier this year: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/02/19/a-tale-of-two-guantanamos-mohamedou-ould-slahis-world-of-torture-vs-the-senates-terrorist-fantasies-3/

  3. Cynthia Papermaster says...

    Thank you Andy and Clive for your extraordinary commitment to justice and humanity.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks Cynthia. Good to hear from you.

  5. Dixie Searway says...

    Hoping he has been released, but am beginning a fast tomorrow as I agree he should have been released long, long ago and that Guantanimo should be closed and returned to Cuba. The base, prison is a disgrace.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dixie. Great to hear from you. Please sign up for your fast: http://www.fastforshaker.org.uk/pledge-a-fast/
    And please send a photo of yourself with a poster if you’d like! http://www.fastforshaker.org.uk/download-poster/

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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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