Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo

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. Please also sign and share the international petition calling for Shaker Aamer’s release.

Last Monday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, 45, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a federal judge to order his release because he is chronically ill. A detailed analysis of Mr. Aamer’s mental and physical ailments was prepared by an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily A. Keram, following a request in October, by Mr. Aamer’s lawyers, for him to receive an independent medical evaluation.

The very fact that the authorities allowed an independent expert to visit Guantánamo to assess Mr. Aamer confirms that he is severely ill, as prisoners are not generally allowed to be seen by external health experts unless they are facing trials. Mr. Aamer, in contrast, is one of 75 of the remaining 154 prisoners who were cleared for release from Guantánamo over four years ago by a high-level, inter-agency task force established by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.

As a result, the authorities’ decision to allow an independent expert to assess Mr. Aamer can be seen clearly for what it is — an acute sensitivity on their part to the prospect of prisoners dying, even though, for many of the men, being held for year after year without justice is a fate more cruel than death, as last year’s prison-wide hunger strike showed.

In her submission, based on 25 hours meeting with Mr. Aamer from December 16-20, Dr. Keram, an independent psychiatrist who has previously examined other prisoners facing military commission trials, reported and analyzed what Mr. Aamer had told her about his initial detention by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in late 2001, his initial imprisonment by the US — at Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan — and his 12 years at Guantánamo, and her conclusions are that he has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and “additional psychiatric symptoms related to his current confinement that are not included in the diagnostic criteria for PTSD but which also gravely diminish his mental health.”

The detailed list of his mental ailments is alarming, but Dr. Keram also provided an additional psychiatric prognosis, noting that, “In addition to the psychiatric symptoms discussed above, Mr. Aamer has suffered a profound disruption of his life, dignity, and personhood.”

She added: “The length, uncertainly, and stress of Mr. Aamer’s confinement has caused significant disruptions in his underlying sense of self and ability to function. He is profoundly aware of what he has lost. He discussed the struggle he faces if his detention were to continue indefinitely. Additionally, we discussed the struggle he will face, were he to be released, in regaining the ability to function in his family and society. He is aware that it has taken some of the former detainees years to begin to recover to the extent that they have some degree of meaning and productivity in their lives.”

That reference to “the length, uncertainty, and stress” of Mr. Aamer’s imprisonment reminded me of what Christophe Girod, an official with the International Red Cross, said back in October 2003, when the prison had been open less than two years. Girod said, “The open-endedness of the situation and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem,” and it is disturbing to realize how those factors can only have been hideously exacerbated with the passage of 12 years — not just for Shaker Aamer, but for many, if not most or all of the 154 other remaining prisoners.

In her analysis, Dr. Keram continued: “The chronic and severe psychiatric symptoms described above have gravely diminished Mr. Aamer’s mental health. In order to maximize his prognosis, Mr. Aamer requires psychiatric treatment, as well as reintegration into his family and society and minimization [of] his re-exposure to trauma and reminders of trauma.”

Dr. Keram recommended that Mr. Aamer “should receive psychiatric treatment in England in order to obtain meaningful therapeutic benefit,” and also stressed that returning him to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth — where the US has expressed an interest in returning him, even though he has a British wife and four British children, and was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK prior to his capture — would be disastrous.

As she explained: “The severity of Mr. Aamer’s psychiatric symptoms would worsen were he to be involuntarily repatriated to Saudi Arabia. He reported that should this occur he would not be reunited with his family for many years, if ever. His ongoing separation from his family significantly exacerbates his psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, the impact of a move to Saudi Arabia on his family would likely re-traumatize Mr. Aamer, as his wife and children are unaccustomed to Saudi culture. Finally, Mr. Aamer’s probable further confinement in the Saudi rehabilitation program would likely be re-traumatizing, as its goal would be to re-acclimate him to the norms of Saudi society. Mr. Aamer identifies as a British Muslim and is most comfortable in that culture.”

Dr. Keram also analysed Mr. Aamer’s extensive physical ailments, which include severe edema (swelling caused by fluid retention in the body’s tissues, and also known as dropsy), severe migraines, asthma, chronic urinary retention, otitis media (middle ear infection), tinnitus, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux disease) and constipation.

In reporting the motion filed on behalf of Mr. Aamer, the New York Times helpfully explained that it represented “a new tactic by lawyers seeking the release of Guantánamo detainees by building on a court’s decision last year that a Sudanese detainee should be allowed to leave because of health problems.” The Times continued, “Both the Sudanese case and now Mr. Aamer’s focus on laws and regulations governing the repatriation of prisoners of war that could become increasingly important as the detainee population at Guantánamo ages.”

The New York Times added: “The law of war permits detaining enemy fighters without trial to prevent their return to the battlefield. But it requires repatriating those who are seriously wounded or sick even before an armed conflict is over. A Geneva Conventions article says detainees shall be repatriated if their ‘mental or physical fitness seems to have been gravely diminished’ and they seem unlikely to recover within a year.

The Times continued: “A United States Army regulation says wartime detainees who are ‘eligible’ for repatriation include sick or wounded prisoners ‘whose conditions have become chronic to the extent that prognosis appears to preclude recovery in spite of treatment within one year from inception of disease or date of injury.”

In the motion submitted last Monday, Mr. Aamer’s lawyers argued that he “should be released immediately because his illness has become so chronic that recovery, even with optimal circumstances and care, is precluded within one year, and is likely to take many years or the full course of his remaining natural life.”

The New York Times noted that Mr. Aamer’s condition “appears less severe” than that of the Sudanese prisoner, Ibrahim Idris, who was freed in December after the Justice Department refused, for the first time, to challenge a prisoner’s habeas corpus petition (Mr. Idris’s, in October). Mr. Idris’s lawyers had described him as morbidly obese and schizophrenic, and had argued that his “long-term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released.”

However, Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, whose legal clinic represents Mr. Aamer, refuted the Times‘s claim about the gravity of Mr. Aamer’s illness compared to that of Ibrahim Idris. “The law does not require a prisoner’s total and permanent incapacitation,” he said in an interview, adding, “The grave illnesses with which Shaker has now been diagnosed, taken together or separately, meet the legal standard for release under international and domestic law.”

I thoroughly endorse Ramzi Kassem’s analysis, and fervently hope that the judge in his case in the District Court in Washington D.C. — Judge Rosemary Collyer — agrees.

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 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.

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses “The State of Guantánamo Today” with Rose Aguilar, Ramzi Kassem and Sharon Adams in San Francisco

Andy Worthington at KALW Public Radio's studios in Los Angeles on January 13, 2013, photographed by Rose Aguilar after appearing on her show, "Your Call."I’m currently in southern California — on the campus of Cal Poly (aka California Polytechnic State University) in San Luis Obispo, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles. As I wait for the last public event of my 12-day “Close Guantánamo Now” tour, with the support of the World Can’t Wait, I have some time, while hiding from the sun — which alarmingly, is currently hotter than the hottest day in summer in the UK — to catch up on some of the events in which I’ve taken part.

I recently posted videos from my first event — a panel discussion in New York — and a video of the creative protests in Washington D.C. last Saturday, January 11, on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo.

The morning after, I flew out to San Francisco, where I stayed for three days, and after a gathering of like-minded individuals at the house of friends in Oakland on the Sunday evening, Monday began with a visit to KALW Public Radio, high up on San Francisco’s hills, for an interview with Rose Aguilar, as part of her “Your Call” show from 10-11am.

The 53-minute show, entitled, “What’s the state of Guantánamo today?” is available here, and I do hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. I’ve spoken to Rose on my visits before, and it’s always good to spend some time with her, and with her indefatigable producer, Malihe Razazan. Read the rest of this entry »

Although Two Men Weigh 75 Pounds or Less, Guantánamo Prisoner Moath Al-Alwi Says, “We Will Remain on Hunger Strike”

Moath al-Alwi (aka Muaz or Moaz al-Alawi), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For six months, Guantánamo managed to be in the news on a regular basis, as a prison-wide hunger strike succeeded in pricking the consciences of the mainstream media. Unfortunately, since the numbers of those involved fell (from 106 on July 10 to 53 a month later), the media largely moved on. At the height of the hunger strike, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, a process condemned by medical professionals, but although the US authorities state that just 15 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike, all of them are being force-fed.

Moreover, as was explained this week in an op-ed for Al-Jazeera America by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni prisoner also known as Moaz al-Alawi, the men who are still hunger striking have no intention of giving up, even though, as al-Alwi explains, some have lost so much weight that their appearance would send shockwaves around the world if a photograph were to be leaked. As he states, “one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility.”

The situation for the prisoners who are still on a hunger strike is clearly horrific. As al-Alwi states in his op-ed, which I’m posting below, the force-feeding remains “painful and horrific,” as it was when he described it previously, in another op-ed for Al-Jazeera in July that I’m also posting below. Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Support for an Independent Medical Evaluation for Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo

Following my recent article about a newly-submitted motion to a US court on behalf of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling for him to be examined by an independent medical expert of his choice, I am pleased to be able to post a detailed declaration submitted by Clive Stafford Smith, one of his lawyers, and the founder and director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held in Guantánamo. Please also see the declaration by Ramzi Kassem, posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website.

As I explained when I posted the original article:

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

The lawyers also note, “Additionally, as his past and continued mistreatment threatens irreparable harm, Mr. Aamer is entitled to the relief sought herein in the form of an injunction.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Court, Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Asks for Independent Medical Evaluation

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. Please also sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, which currently has over 4,900 signatures. Please also see the declarations by Clive Stafford Smith and Ramzi Kassem.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., seeking to persuade Judge Rosemary Collyer to compel the US government to “permit his examination by a medical expert of his choice,” retained by his lawyers.

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Zuhair, Long-Term Former Hunger Striker at Guantánamo, Speaks

Last week I published an article, “Meet the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Wants to be Prosecuted Rather than Rot in Legal Limbo,” about Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian prisoner, following up on an article written by Jess Bravin for the Wall Street Journal and published in July. As I explained at the time, “Throughout the spring and summer, while the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo raged, taking up most of my attention … I missed some other developments, which I intend to revisit over the next few weeks.”

Following up on that promise, this article revisits an Associated Press article by Ben Fox, published in June, which featured an interview with Ahmed Zuhair, a Saudi citizen and former sheep merchant released from Guantánamo in June 2009, whose story I covered in detail three months before his release, in an article entitled, “Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home.” This recent article was based on a phone call with Zuhair, who is now 47 years old, for which Fox was accompanied by Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), who represents other men still held, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident, and Abdelhadi Faraj, a Syrian prisoner.

At the time of his release, Zuhair was one of three hunger strikers who had been on a hunger strike since the summer of 2005, when as many as 200 prisoners engaged in prison-wide hunger strike, and had not given up when the first restraint chairs arrived at the prison in January 2006. Fox noted that he now weighs 190 pounds, but that, in December 2005, he weighed just 108 pounds, and, prior to his release, just 115 pounds. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Hunger Striker Abdelhadi Faraj Describes the Agony of Force-Feeding

Although I’ve been very busy for the last few months with a steady stream of articles about Guantánamo and the ongoing hunger strike, I haven’t been able to keep track of everything that has been made available. In terms of publicity, this is an improvement on the years before the hunger strike reminded the world’s media about the ongoing existence of the prison, when stories about Guantánamo often slowed to the merest of trickles, and everyone involved in campaigning to close the prison and to represent the men still held there was, I think it is fair to say, becoming despondent and exhausted.

However, it is also profoundly depressing that it took a prison-wide hunger strike to wake people up to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, where 86 cleared men are still held (cleared for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force), and 80 others are, for the most part, held indefinitely without charge or trial. And it is just as depressing to note that, despite making a powerful speech eight weeks ago, and promising to resume releasing prisoners, President Obama has so far failed to release anyone.

With Ramadan underway, there has been a slight dip in the total number of prisoners on the hunger strike — 80, according to the US military, down from 106, although there has been a slight increase in the number of prisoners being force-fed — from 45 to 46. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.

The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House

Guantánamo protestors and the Washington MonumentPeace bikeFree Djamel AmezianeGuantánamo protestors and the White HouseGuantánamo protestors in front of the White HouseThe poet Luke Nephew calls for the closure of Guantánamo
Close Guantánamo: Black hoods, orange jumpsuits and the White HouseAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Andy Worthington in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of Guantánamo in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Protestors outside the White House
Close Guantánamo: Two protestors outside the White HousePardiss Kebriaei and Leili Kashani at the "Close Guantánamo" protest outside the White HouseLeili Kashani calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Bagram and GuantánamoInaugurate Justice, Close GuantánamoCruel, Inhuman and Degrading
Close Guantánamo: Witness Against Torture's White House protest166 orange ribbons and the White House

Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House, a set on Flickr.

These photos, following on from the previous set, capture some of the key images and the principled, decent and tireless campaigners for justice involved in the protest in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to call on President Obama to fulfil the promise he made to close the prison when he took office in January 2009, or be remembered as a failure, who succumbed to political expediency and settled for a path of cowardice rather than confronting his political opponents, both in the Republican Party and in his own party, and doing what needed to be done.

This, of course, involved the still-pressing need to restore some semblance of justice in the wake of the horrors inflicted on the law, on America’s reputation, and on hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the so-called “war on terror,” but instead of addressing the issues, President Obama has expanded the US government’s drone program of extrajudicial assassinations, and has failed those in Guantánamo — especially the 86 men (out of 166 still held in total), who were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009. The Task Force spent a year reviewing the prisoners’ cases before reaching its sober and considered conclusions, and, in addition, some of these men were actually cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, some as long ago as 2004. Read the rest of this entry »

Eleven Years of Guantánamo: Andy Worthington Visits the US to Campaign for the Prison’s Closure

Contact me from 10am Eastern Time on January 9 (until January 16) on 347-581-2677.

It’s over 24 hours since I arrived in the US, with the support of Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait and Close Guantánamo, for a series of events to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a shameful anniversary that should not have come to pass. Four years ago, when he took office, President Obama promised to close the prison within a year, but he failed to fulfil that promise. His lack of courage has been matched by opportunistic intervention from Congress, where lawmakers have passed legislation designed to thwart any efforts to close Guantánamo. To complete the failures of all three branches of the US government, the courts too have added their own contribution, with the D.C. Circuit Court gutting the habeas corpus rights of the prisoners, which lawyers spent many years fighting for, and the Supreme Court refusing to revisit the prisoners’ cases, when given the opportunity last year.

As I — and others who still care about the closure of Guantánamo — continue to point out, the ongoing existence of Guantánamo is an affront to all notions of justice and fairness. Distressingly, of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and yet, through the combination of cowardice, indifference, opportunism and scaremongering outlined above, they remain held, even though one long-cleared prisoner, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, died at Guantánamo last September, and even though President Obama won reelection in November, and is now free to act to secure his legacy rather than focusing all his attention on campaigning — and not mentioning anything contentious. If he wants a legacy that doesn’t describe him, amongst other things, as the man who promised to close Guantánamo but then failed to do because it was politically inconvenient, he needs to act now. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Afghans Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington Bagram British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Guantanamo Habeas corpus Hunger strikes Lewisham London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Photos President Obama Reprieve Save Lewisham A&E Shaker Aamer Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts WikiLeaks Yemenis