On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise.
Much of Shaker’s testimony is, of course, very harrowing — aspects of his capture, imprisonment in brutal conditions in Afghanistan, and, of course, his 13 years and eight months in Guantánamo — but I’m glad to note there are also opportunities to see his dancing eyes and his winning smile, when discussing happier things, or when dark humour provides an opportunity for his extraordinary energy to express itself.
So please, if you have the time, watch the video and share it with your friends and family. Watch Shaker talk about being reunited with his family, and the joys and difficulties that brings, about why he went to Afghanistan in July 2001, how he was seized — along with so many others, fleeing the death and destruction that followed the US-led invasion after 9/11, in search only of safety but instead finding betrayal, as anyone who could be sold to the US as a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban was sold by the US’s Afghan and Pakistani allies.
Watch Shaker talk about the brutality of his treatment in US custody in Bagram, in Afghanistan, and how a British agent was present while he was being violently abused by his US captors, watch as he talks about how an interrogator in Kandahar threatened to rape his five-year old daughter, and watch also how — for legal reasons, presumably — he is not yet able to speak freely about what happened to Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the training camp director who he encountered after his capture, and who was then flown to Egypt where he was tortured and told lies about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that were used to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Al-Libi later recanted his lies, but was returned to Col. Gaddafi in Libya, where he died in prison in May 2009, allegedly by committing suicide, although that explanation has always seemed extremely unlikely.
Asked if Tony Blair and Jack Straw should be prosecuted for their involvement in his treatment, Shaker responds that he is only interested in them telling the truth, and what particularly motivates him is a desire to see Guantánamo closed (this is from 35:50 to 36:50).
He then speaks about the brutality in Kandahar, which was even worse than in Bagram, and then responds to the allegations against him, which can be found in the classified military file released by WikiLeaks in 2011. He responded to Victoria Derbyshire’s questions about these allegations by, quite accurately, denying them all, because they are all profoundly untrustworthy, as I touched upon in my article from early October, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo.”
The interview then deals with Shaker’s time at Guantánamo. Asked how to describe it, he compares it to Azkaban from the Harry Potter books, which sucks out all the happiness from life — and later calls it a world of mental and physical destruction engineered by psychologists, who “know how to manipulate you and to make you get scared.” He also speaks about the specific torture program that took place in the early years, when prisoners were held in isolation, subjected to extreme cold, loud music and noise, short-shackled in painful positions, and more — and see below for his confirmation that, for some prisoners, this kind of abuse has never stopped.
Shaker also speaks about the Extreme Reaction Force (ERF), the teams of armed guards who punish any perceived infringement of the rules with brutality. Shaker was subjected to ERF attacks on hundreds of occasions, and, asked why he resisted — in connection with an apple stem, for example, which he used as a toothpick — he explained that it was important for him not to be broken, something that was made abundantly clear throughout his imprisonment.
Shaker also speaks about the three deaths at the prison on June 9, 2006 — evidently not believing the official story that it was a triple suicide — which he mentions in the preamble to discussing how he became friends with ants during a horrendously long period of isolation. He also speaks about how important the cats that roamed the grounds were to the prisoners, and he also discusses the birds he befriended.
Asked more about the night of the three deaths, Shaker explains, as he has before, that he was tortured that night, adding — as was not known before — that it was because the guards wanted to take a retina scan and a photo, which he wouldn’t allow. He was then held in isolation for a month, without being told what had happened, but when asked to speak more about the deaths he said he was not able to talk about it right now, but will when he can — again, presumably, for legal reasons.
Asked how he coped with being approved for release but not freed — for eight years in total, from 2007 until his release two months ago — he says he blames himself for not going to Saudi Arabia, as the authorities wanted in 2007, and again in 2009, when, in addition, he thought Guantánamo would soon be closed, because of President Obama’s promise to close it within a year of taking office. He also, however, explains why he was extremely wary of returning to Saudi Arabia.
Shaker also speaks, with powerful indignation, about how torture is still used at Guantánamo on prisoners regarded as uncooperative — hunger strikers, for example, who are still held in Camp Five Echo, which I wrote about here and here (in the latter case, via Shaker himself).
Shaker also thanks those who campaigned to free him, and who kept his spirits up when he found it difficult to maintain his extraordinary resilience, and he specifically mentions Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and Jo and myself from We Stand With Shaker.
When he is asked, “Will Guantánamo ever close?” Shaker says yes, and when asked when that will be, he says, “When the world knows the truth about it.”
For my part, I hope to be able to help Shaker to tell the truth about Guantánamo and to get the prison closed.
Towards the end of the interview, Shaker gets to speak about a song that meant a lot to him as a young person, when he was working in the US — “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake — and repeats the chorus:
Here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone
An’ I’ve made up my mind, I ain’t wasting no more time
I hope, one day, that Shaker will join me on stage with my band The Four Fathers — to sing “Here I Go Again” if he wants — but primarily to take part in my “Song for Shaker Aamer,” which was used in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, and which features Shaker shouting from his cell in Guantánamo during a visit by a US TV crew in 2013.
At the very end of the interview, Shaker points out that rethinking what has happened since 9/11 — including the existence of Guantánamo — is necessary for the US and its allies. As he says, “Justice will bring justice and injustice will bring injustice.”
I am with you, Shaker!
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, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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.
When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:
Please, please watch this if you haven’t already – it’s Victoria Derbyshire’s full 90-minute interview with Shaker Aamer, the first since his release from Guantanamo seven weeks ago. Shaker is bright, charismatic and emotional, as he discusses being reunited with his family, his brutal experiences in US custody in Afghanistan and, of course, at Guantanamo, the false evidence against him, and the absolute need to get Guantanamo closed.
Apologies for posting this so late. I was rehearsing with my band The Four Fathers for our two gigs in south east London tomorrow. It was a great rehearsal and we’re raring to go! Further details about the events are here – and at the second event I’m speaking about We Stand With Shaker and Guantanamo before our set: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/12/08/in-london-andy-worthington-discusses-shaker-aamer-and-guantanamo-and-his-band-the-four-fathers-play-three-gigs/
Gia Duffy wrote:
It was an eye-opener I tell you.
Shohidul Islam wrote:
Excellent, very interesting and inspirational brother he is
Donia Isted wrote:
I WATCHED THE WHOLE INTERVIEW SUBHAN ALLAH
HE HAS BEEN THROUGH SOOOOOO MUCH ALLAH HAS KEPT HIM SANE AL HAMDOLILAH YOU JUST CANT IMAGINE WHAT HE AND ALL OF THEM AND ARE ALL STILL GOING THROUGH ITS LIKE HELL ON EARTH
ALLAH HELP HIM AND HIS BELOVED WIFE WHO WAITED FOR HIM FOR 14 YRS MAY ALLAH LET HIS CHILDREN LEARN TO LOVE HIM MORE AND MORE AAMEEN
WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SOUL WE LOVE YOU DEAR BROTHER WALAHEE YOU ARE A MODERN DAY INSPIRATION
Natalia R Scott wrote:
What a great man.
Thanks, Gia, Shohidul, Donia, Natalia and 앤서방. Good to hear from you all.
Andrew Brel wrote:
Book Shaker to make an appearance and maybe sing a song? Give him the chance to hear the sound of applause.
Wouldn’t that be nice, Andrew?
Cathy Castro wrote:
Appreciate it Andy I recently watched CAMP X-RAY… Deplorable and despicable what goes on at Gitmo. I’ve been searching for Guantanamo Trap, to no avail. Looking forward to viewing the video you posted.
Thanks, Cathy. Was Camp X-Ray good? There were decent reviews. I also recall seeing mention of “The Guantanamo Trap” when it was released, but all I can find online is the option to watch it by paying here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/12318
And have you seen the documentary I co-directed, Cathy?
Felicity Arbuthnot wrote:
No damn immunity, no, no, no.
I completely understand your position, Felicity, but it may be that seeking the truth rather than punishment is the only practical way forward. It’s certainly, I think, put the UK government on the spot in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan who they helped extraordinarily render to Gaddafi, who wants just £1 damages and “an unequivocal admission of liability from the British government,” as part of the truth being openly revealed:
Mohsina Bukhari wrote:
You’re amazing for standing up for justice Andy! Such a role model during these difficult times.
Thanks, Mohsina. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Anika Kamal wrote:
Thank you for sharing this, Andy, and for not giving up on him. What an amazing example of a human being Shaker is..to have been through what he has and still remain humane, forgiving and compassionate.
Yes, his humanity is really quite extraordinary, isn’t it, Anika? And, of course, in comparison it makes even more apparent quite how disgustingly inhumane the US authorities have been – and continue to be.
Cahide Sen wrote:
Andy, thank you for all what you have done for Shaker. Please keep up the good work
Thank you, Cahide, for the supportive words. I will continue to work towards the closure of Guantanamo, to free everyone who isn’t going to be charged, and to demand trials for the handful of men against whom the US government claims to have a case.
After Ben Griffin shared this, Terry Griffin wrote:
Best he does not live in Tottenham where the police already implement the shoot to kill policy…De Menezes…Duggan. ..a growing list…and Blair Peach…They will get you into your place…interesting no Muslims…well none that we are told about…Funny how they did not take down the killers of Rigby. ..even though in the cross hairs…
Thanks for that, Terry.
Marc Malone wrote:
Everyone needs to watch this to understand this was happening in our own backyard. #BobbySands https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOWJ-1h7RYQ
Fiona Gallagher wrote:
Marc Malone, absolutely right. Been happening here for decades. My brother was inside with Bobby Sands. Both savagely beaten and abused as was the order of the day.
Thanks, Marc and Fiona. Since 9/11, in the UK, Muslims have been the new Irish, with British nationals subjected to internal exile and a form of house arrest, and dozens of foreign nationals imprisoned without charge or trial, or also held under a form of house arrest. Most people don’t even know about this.
And for the US, of course, Muslims became the replacement for the Soviet Union, after the end of the Cold War. And let’s not forget who was the US defense secretary at that time, when there should have been a peace dividend – yes, step forward, Dick Cheney!
Fiona Gallagher wrote:
Andy would you believe that I said to my mother exactly what you said about the Muslims being the new Irish when it was reported who allegedly was responsible for the attacks!! Straight away I knew that would happen. A whole people persecuted for others actions. You’re absolutely spot on with everything you’ve said.
Cheryl Ward wrote:
I will never understand how it is possible to incarcerate someone without charge for 14 years.
Absolutely, Cheryl – and there are 107 men still held, also, for the most part, held for nearly 14 years without charge or trial: http://www.closeguantanamo.org/Prisoners
Sadaqah Shaam wrote:
Amazing man sad world!
Yes indeed, Sadaqah. Good to hear from you.
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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