Shaker Aamer Speaks from Guantánamo, and His Family Talk About His 13-Year Ordeal

We Stand With Shaker: the logo for the campaign to secure the release  from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, launched on November 24, 2014.Today, the Daily Mail, which has thrown its weight behind We Stand With Shaker — the campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I launched three weeks ago with my colleague Joanne MacInnes — published an article dealing with Shaker’s recent phone call to his family from the prison — shockingly, the first call he has been allowed to make in two and a half years. The article also included comments made by his father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, and by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, who visited Shaker at Guantánamo last week.

The Mail began its coverage by describing the call — on an iPad provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who also facilitated the call — noting that the screen was “filled by a familiar round face with a white-flecked beard and deeply-etched lines,” but adding, “Though the man forced one of his big, trademark smiles, fear and misery were seared in his eyes.”

The family, the article explained, “bolstered his spirits with uplifting stories about their lives — how his children were faring well at school and growing up to make him proud,” although it added that they too — his wife, Zin, and their four children (the youngest of whom is 13, and has never met his father) “struggled to mask their sorrow.”

The very fact that he was allowed to call his family, however, must give hope that his release may be imminent. Although he was banned from talking to his family in 2012 — presumably, though this is not stated, as a punishment for his refusal to be cooperative and to cease his persistent resistance to the injustice of being held indefinitely without charge or trial — he “has been permitted to make two Skype calls to them in the past month.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Georgia and Slovakia and Who Is the Repatriated Saudi?

Abdel Ghalib Hakim, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo who was released to start a new life in Georgia in November 2014. Hakim is seen in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On November 20, five men — long cleared for release — were freed from Guantánamo to begin new lives in Georgia and Slovakia. Four of the men are Yemenis, and the fifth man is a Tunisian. Two days after, a Saudi was also released, repatriated to his home country. The releases reduce the prison’s population to 142, leaving 73 men still held who have been approved for release — 70 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and three this year by Periodic Review Boards, a new review process that began in October 2013. Of the 73, it is worth noting that 54 are Yemenis.

The Yemenis given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia are the first Yemenis to be freed in over four years — since July 2010, when Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized by mistake, was released after having his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge. Until Thursday’s releases, he was the only exception to a ban on releasing any Yemenis that was imposed by President Obama in January 2010 (and was later reinforced by Congress), after a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane from Europe to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Last May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing any Yemenis, stating that their potential release would be looked at on a case by case basis, but it took until last Thursday for any of them to be released.

The release of these four Yemenis to Georgia and Slovakia strongly indicates that the entire US establishment’s aversion to releasing any Yemenis to their home country remains intact, which cannot be particularly reassuring for the 54 other Yemenis approved for release, because most third countries persuaded to take in former Guantánamo prisoners don’t take more than a handful. Read the rest of this entry »

We Stand With Shaker Website Launches, Plus Campaign Video Featuring My “Song for Shaker Aamer” With My Band The Four Fathers

The logo for the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched on Nov. 24, 2014.What a day it’s been! A great launch, for We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, including the launch of our website, which features photos of supporters all around the world holding their own signs that say “I Stand With Shaker.”

Also released today — and also on the website — is the campaign video, made by Billy Dudley, featuring my band The Four Fathers performing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote for the campaign, which is available below, via YouTube. Please watch it if you have three minutes to spare, and please share it if you like it:

Our special guest for the launch in Old Palace Yard, opposite Parliament, was Roger Waters (Pink Floyd’s chief songwriter), who told me last night that he was coming, but we were also delighted to welcome Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve (and Shaker’s lawyer for many years), Green MP Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell MP (who has organised a Parliamentary meeting tomorrow evening with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, at which I’m speaking), the comedian Jeremy Hardy and, unexpectedly, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Read the rest of this entry »

We Stand With Shaker: Come to the Launch in London on Monday Nov. 24 Calling for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

We Stand With Shaker: the logo for the campaign to secure the release  from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prson, launched on November 24, 2014.Initially published on the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner, as “We Stand With Shaker: New Campaign Launches on Nov. 24 Calling for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo.” Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Monday Nov, 24, a new campaign, We Stand With Shaker, will be launched in London, calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and his return to his family in the UK. Shaker has twice been approved for release by the US authorities — under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009 — and the British government has been calling for his return since 2007, and yet, inexplicably, he is still held.

The launch takes place from 12.30pm to 1.30pm in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and will be attended by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, John McDonnell MP (Labour, Hayes and Harlington), Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion), comedian Jeremy Hardy, Andy Worthington, the director of the campaign, and others tbc. Those attending will be standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, designed to represent how he is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to Britain’s dealings with the US.

If you’re in London, or anywhere near, and want to bring an end to Shaker’s 13 unjustifiable years of imprisonment without charge or trial, please come along, in an orange jumpsuit if possible, and with a sign saying “I Stand With Shaker” to show your support, but if you don’t have any of these, or can’t get hold of them, don’t worry; please come along anyway and show your support. You will be warmly welcomed. Read the rest of this entry »

“We Stand With Shaker,” A New Campaign Calling for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Launches Monday Nov. 24

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Next Monday, November 24, I’m launching a new campaign, “We Stand With Shaker,” with my colleague Jo MacInnes, and the support of organisations including Reprieve, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and Close Guantánamo, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, born in Saudi Arabia, who has a British wife and four British children.

Please follow us on Twitter, and like and share us on Facebook. The website will follow in the next few days, and there’ll be a launch outside Parliament on Monday Nov. 24, the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s capture by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, where he had travelled with his family to provide humanitarian aid.

November 24 will also see the release of a promotional video for the campaign, featuring my band The Four Fathers performing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the campaign song that I wrote. Furthermore, key elements of the campaign involve celebrities and members of the public — across the world — showing support for the campaign, and I’ll be providing more details about that in the next few days. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Human Rights Groups Dismiss Rendition and Torture Inquiry as a Whitewash

An image of torture.Nine human rights groups in the UK are boycotting the official British inquiry into the treatment of “detainees” in the “war on terror” and the UK’s involvement in rendition, “grievously undermining the controversial inquiry,” as the Guardian described it.

The nine groups, who have written a critical letter to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, stating that they “do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of [the] inquiry,” are Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture), JUSTICE, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve and Rights Watch (UK).

Britain’s treatment of prisoners and its involvement in rendition was a matter of concern to Conservative MP William Hague when he was the shadow foreign secretary, prior to the Tories forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010. Hague seemed genuinely appalled by what had taken place since 9/11 — a litany of broken laws and human rights abuses, including, most noticeably, the torture of Binyam Mohamed, whose case had reached the High Court in 2008, causing embarrassment to both the UK and US governments. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Abuse in Guantánamo Dismissed by British Foreign Secretary

In disappointing but predictable news, the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, who replaced William Hague on July 15 this year, has “dismissed concerns over the abuse” of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, in a letter to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve, as described by the charity in a press release.

In August, as I explained at the time, Clive Stafford Smith wrote to Philip Hammond after he had “received a series of unclassified letters from various detainees who we represent in Guantánamo Bay,” which told “a disturbingly consistent story” — of “a new ‘standard procedure’” whereby the FCE team (the armored guards responsible for violently removing prisoners from their cells through “forcible cell extractions”) was being “used to abuse the prisoners with particular severity because of the on-going non-violent hunger strike protest against their unconscionable treatment.”

Stafford Smith also explained how one of Shaker Aamer’s fellow prisoners, Emad Hassan, a Yemeni who, like Shaker, has long been cleared for release, described how, on the Sunday before he wrote his letter, “Shaker ISN 239 was beaten when the medical people wanted to draw blood.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Violence: Prisoners Report Shaker Aamer “Beaten,” Another Man Assaulted “For Nearly Two Hours”

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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nine Years of Hunger Strikes and Force-Feeding at Guantánamo: A Declaration in Support of Emad Hassan by Clive Stafford Smith

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Last week, I wrote an article, “Guantánamo Prisoner Force-Fed Since 2007 Launches Historic Legal Challenge,” about Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who is challenging the US authorities’ self-declared right to force-feed him, following a ruling in February by the appeals court in Washington D.C., allowing legal challenges to go ahead and reversing rulings made by lower court judges last summer, who believed that their hands were tied by Bush-era legislation preventing any legal challenges to the running of Guantánamo.

Emad Hassan is one of the most persistent hunger strikers at Guantánamo, and has been on a permanent hunger strike — which has also involved him being force-fed — since 2007. The irony is that, throughout most of this whole period he could have been a free man, as he — along with 74 other men, out of the 154 still held — was cleared for release from Guantánamo by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009.

That he is held at all is a disgrace, but Yemenis make up 55 of the 75 cleared prisoners, and are held because of concerns about the security situation in their homeland. This is bad enough, given that this is a form of “guilt by nationality” that makes a mockery of establishing a task force review process that is supposed to lead to the release of prisoners, but when it also transpires that some of these men — like Emad — are being force-fed instead of being freed, we are in a place of such dark and surreal injustice that it appears to have no parallel. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoner Force-Fed Since 2007 Launches Historic Legal Challenge

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last month, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) delivered an important ruling regarding Guantánamo prisoners’ right to challenge their force-feeding, and, more generally, other aspects of their detention. The force-feeding is the authorities’ response to prisoners undertaking long-term hunger strikes — or, as Jason Leopold discovered on March 11 through a FOIA request, what is now being referred to by the authorities as “long-term non-religious fasts.”

The court overturned rulings in the District Court last summer, in which two judges — one reluctantly, one less so — turned down the prisoners’ request for them to stop their force-feeding because of a precedent relating to Guantánamo, dating back to 2009.

As Dorothy J. Samuels  explained in a column in the New York Times on March 11, revisiting that ruling: Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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