EXCLUSIVE: “They Want Me to be Harmed”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Describes His Isolation


This world exclusive is one of two articles providing new commentary by Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — and also reproducing a statement he made about conditions in the prison, and additional notes by Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers. The two articles are being published simultaneously — here and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign. If you are interested in seeing Shaker Aamer freed from Guantánamo, please sign the e-petition to the British government calling for his release (if you’re a UK citizen or resident — whatever your age), and the international petition on the Care 2 Petition Site, which will be delivered to both the US and UK governments.

In newly unclassified commentary from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been held for ten years without charge or trial, has described how, in the last eight months, he has been subjected to routine sleep deprivation, and has been regularly prevented from cleaning himself, and from receiving any medical care. He has also explained how he has been regularly subjected to “Forced Cell Extractions” by teams of armed guards, who have injured him, and has been on a hunger strike that has seen him lose 30 percent of his body weight.

Fearful of the authorities’ intentions, he has also explained: “I have no doubt they want me to be harmed.” However, he added: “I will never harm myself. I have a wife and kids I want to go back to.”

What is particularly depressing about this state of affairs is that Shaker Aamer is not, to the best of our knowledge, one of the 82 prisoners at Guantánamo (out of the 171 remaining prisoners) that the Obama administration has determined to be eligible for a trial or, more depressingly, as eligible to be held indefinitely without charge or trial because they are regarded as “too dangerous to release,” even though no evidence exists that could be used against them in a court.

Shaker is reportedly one of the 89 prisoners cleared under Obama who are still held, even though he was first cleared for release in 2007, under the Bush administration, and his return has also been sought by the British government since 2007. His continued detention therefore remains both inexplicable and unjustifiable, as he could be safely returned to the UK today. It can only be presumed, therefore, that he has not been released because of his persistent defense of the prisoners’ rights. This has led to him being regarded as a threat throughout the last ten years, but that, of course, is thoroughly unacceptable as a reason for detaining someone — and especially someone that both the US and the UK governments have said that they want freed.

Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer and a law professor at the City University of New York, who is one of Aamer’s lawyers, reported that Aamer explained why he was still being mistreated at Guantánamo as follows during a visit on January 27:

I am being mistreated because I refuse to comply in the face of injustice. Prison authorities keep telling me that I have to become ‘compliant.’ I reply that it is they who have to become compliant. It is a constant, 24-hour struggle. They force me to fight every step of the way. I’m a free man. Don’t try to humiliate me.

From July 15 to December 3 last year, Aamer was held in solitary confinement in a block known as “Five Echo,” part of Camp Five, a maximum-security block, modeled on the Miami Correctional Facility, a state prison in Bunker Hill, Indiana, which opened in May 2004.

Camp Five once held up to a hundred prisoners regarded as having significant  intelligence value — or, it should be noted, regarded as being uncooperative, or as having influence over their fellow prisoners. Now, however, the block only holds 25 prisoners at most, including, in a top tier block, the five prisoners who have agreed to plea deals — or, in one case, have been convicted, in their trials by military commission.

The cells in “Five Echo” are, apparently, only half the size of the normal cells, and back in December, when information about this block first emerged publicly, Ramzi Kassem said that Aamer had described “abysmal conditions” in “Five Echo,” explaining that “the squat toilet is difficult to use, there are foul odors, bright lights shine on detainees and air conditioners keep it extremely cold.” Kassem said, “It is decrepit, filthy and disgusting. Those are the words he used to describe it.”

According to Aamer, the suffering to which he has been subjected — which has not fundamentally changed in the last few months — has involved sleep deprivation in “so many ways that only Lucifer can think of.” He has explained how the guards have been “speaking loud through the night with all kind of noises — cleaning, moving things, shaking the locks of the cell, turning the light on and off,” and how they have also regularly shone a flashlight in his face, and liberally spread detergent like pine oil or Clorox. He has explained how the strong smell fills his cell so that he can’t breathe.

In a brief explanation of the sleep deprivation, he has stated that he was “sleeping in light,” and there was “no darkness to sleep.” The lighting, as is typical, has been on “24/7” — and he has also been confined to his cell for 22 hours a day, with just two hours allowed in the recreation yard from 6 am to 8 am every day.

He also explained how he had been prevented from cleaning himself, and had not had a shower for more than two months. He added that he had been prevented from looking after his beard, or using a nail clipper or a comb. On January 27, he noted: “Today is the first day I take shower since the 3/12/2011 and shave because I am coming to see you.” He has also complained that he has had to “shower from the toilet,” explaining, “I take water and shower from the same place I take shit.”

In addition, in a reminder that the long years of institutional paranoia at Guantánamo are not at an end, and that prisoners are permanently and disproportionately regarded as a security threat — or are punished with having all “comfort items” taken away from them — he is also prevented from having a real toothbrush, and is only allowed a small finger toothbrush, which, he said, is “no good for brushing.”

This paranoia on the part of the authorities — and the response to it that involves punishment — also extends to a ban on the use of cups, even the Styrofoam cups that prisoners used to scratch poems onto in the long years of the Bush administration. Aamer is not allowed to use a cup. “I have to drink my hot coffee and tea from water bottles,” he said. He also explained that, in the first week of December, he received a number of prohibitions:

No more condiments. No yoghurt, cheese, peanut butter, olive oil, honey. No toothpaste, no toilet paper. Why? In the name that I use it to cover the camera.

Describing the violence to which he has been subjected, he said that he was subjected to “Forced Cell Extractions” every day from December 3 until his meeting with Ramzi Kassem on January 27. On one occasion, during an early morning cell extraction, he said:

I got beaten up on my knee and my finger is almost broken. Swelled for few days … they refuse to give me any treatment not even knee brace. Bruises and swelling all over my body. Squeezing my neck so bad I could not breathe. Try to break my hand and fingers. Pressure on my back, stomach and chest, so much pressure. Tight, the plastic cuffs so tight the blood circulation stop.

He has also complained that he has “no privacy,” and that he has had “no medical care whatsoever” since being placed in isolation in “Five Echo.” In a visit in November, one of his attorneys, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, listed his many ailments, and wrote to the British foreign secretary William Hague that he “is gradually dying in Guantánamo Bay.”

In addition, as Aamer explained to Ramzi Kassem in January:

Since 3/12/2011, when they moved me out of 5 Echo I am going to rec alone and I haven’t seen my doctor for long time and I refuse to take any meds from the medical staff. I am very worried about my health and my life in this place. I feel so vulnerable and any time they can do anything to me no one knows.

I have been on hunger strike since the 15/7/2011 and my weight went from 208 [pounds] to 148 [pounds] but they did not give me the tube to feed me so I start to eat fruit and salad sometimes so I don’t harm my body. I have no doubt they want me to be harmed.

One thing I know for sure if something bad happen to me it happened with the hand of the American. I will never harm myself. I have a wife and kids I want to go back to. Anything happen to me, they done it.

There is so much to say about the evil they do in this place, specially the small things that no one pay attention to it but one thing you need to know:

They control the air we breathe. Control the light, control the noise, control the food, control the water. They control everything and they use it against me any time they want. All that you need to know about this place you just need to read 1984 by George Orwell.

I swear to my only Lord there is no human being in this place. Guards with no feelings, they do what they are told, regardless of anything.

Andy Worthington is 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. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

31 Responses

  1. British State Broadcaster Describes Torture as ‘ill-treatment’ » Ten Percent says...

    […] Please read Andy Worthington’s EXCLUSIVE: “They Want Me to be Harmed”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, … [Translate] Tweet April 4, 2012 | RickB | No Comments […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Ruth Gilburt wrote:

    sharing, Andy x

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Missy Comley Beattie wrote:


  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Lidia Berger wrote:

    sharing andy

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:


  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Graham Ennis wrote:

    Tragic. When you get even a small place of darkness, it spreads, like a disease, if not disinfected. Now it has spread into Amerika’s mainland prisons, into it’s police, into its new repressive laws. When you light a fire, it burns indiscriminately. This is a fire that will not go out, now, until any freedom in Amerika is turned to ashes.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ruth, Missy Comley, Lidia, Waris, Graham and everyone else who has liked and shared this. As I mentioned, I’m honored that Ramzi and his team made this available to me, and encourage you to publicize it as widely as possible. Thanks also for the specific comments, Graham, about how the darkness at the highest level of the US government under George W. Bush has spread, contaminating everything it touches.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Lidia Berger wrote:

    the residue of it is still with us

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    It certainly is, Lidia. It’s why it was so important for Barack Obama and the Democrats to thoroughly repudiate what happened under Bush and to hold people accountable (even senior officials and lawyers). Because that didn’t happen, what has happened instead is that the acceptance of arbitrary detention and torture has continued to contaminate society like a virus.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Lidia Berger wrote:

    and it still does in some sense. Will Obama do something about the secret detentions? Time will tell.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Lidia Berger wrote:

    you are being very generous Andy, I think it is more like a terminal cancer.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Unfortunately, Obama has never shown any inclination to let us know what happened to all the victims of Bush’s extraordinary rendition and torture program, Lidia, and that’s a part of the problem of allowing the torture apologists to continue to spread their poisonous message essentially unchallenged.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Lidia Berger wrote:

    yes, we can and we do, and Obama has to show some spine. I will vote for him with a very heavy heart, but the culture of torture is so prevalent.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    And please remember, everyone, to sign the e-petition to the British government calling for Shaker’s release (if you’re a UK citizen or resident — whatever your age): http://www.freeshaker.com
    And also the international petition on the Care 2 Petition Site, which will be delivered to both the US and UK governments: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/shaker-aamerguantanamo-bay/

  15. paki nwieland says...

    I fast, vigil and commit acts of civil resistance in Washington, D.C. to close Guantanamo. I will continue to raise my voice for Shaker Aamer and all the detainees receive justice. Thank you for your work on Shaker’s behalf, for us all. Paki

  16. martin gugino says...

    When the prisoners are cleared for release, they should be let out of jail. There is no reason that they could not work at the McDonald’s there, or get other contractor jobs on site. They should be able to have access to the internet and receive donations from PayPal, and send money back to their families, or leave the camp altogether by walking to Havana, and catching a Cubana airlines flight home.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, Paki, for your support of Shaker Aamer and the other prisoners.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks also, Martin. These are excellent suggestions, and not ones that are ever mentioned as possibilities — or as moral requirements — anywhere in the mainstream media.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Graham Ennis wrote:

    Hi, I am looking grimly at all this, and also at the UK Government, who are already deeply complicit in the crimes of the Amerikans. The UK are now introducing relentless new measures of surveillance and snooping, which strip us bare of all our remaining privacy. Theresa May, she of the “Nasty Party”, is not going to give up until the Blair national security state is fully established. What hope, that such people care a shred about Shaker. Only relentless public pressure is going to free him.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Sun Beams wrote:

    He is so brave, May God Bless him and help him to get home to his family.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    This group has been set up for all of the activists/volunteers and to spread awareness of the Shaker Aamer campaign, Shaker is the last british resident in guantanamo Bay, he has been tortured and he has been there for over 10 years without charge. Please join us and help to set him free! http://www.facebook.com/groups/272301572855853/
    Heres the epetition link for him http://www.freeshaker.com please sign and share 🙂

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Graham, and thanks also, Sun Beams and Waris. I agree, Graham, about the need for consistent pressure regarding Shaker, especially as the Tories are relentless in their assault on us on so many fronts. I’ve been away for six days, mostly offline, and I’m already alarmed at how much I’ve missed. The UK version of the PATRIOT Act’s warrantless snooping is dreadful, of course, and hopefully will go down badly. People need to work out that these scumbags can’t have it both ways — the Tories are either for small government and individual liberties, or they’re not. They can’t, with any honesty, claim to believe that there can co-exist a Big Brother state and an age of government-shrinking austerity. Like Thatcher, they will hopefully be revealed as liars — talking about shrinking government, while actually increasing it.

  23. Jeff Kaye says...

    Thanks so much, Andy, fighting for Shaker and all the oppressed. This reveals the true face of Obama’s Guantanamo.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff. And thanks also for all your tireless work continuing to expose what Obama’s decision to look forwards and not back means when it comes to normalizing torture and trying to ensure that no one will ever be held accountable. Hopefully your work will eventually overcome this cynical state of affairs, and articles like your most recent (with Jason Leopold) will have played a part: http://truth-out.org/news/item/8278-exclusive-guidebook-to-false-confessions-key-document-john-yoo-used-to-draft-torture-memo-released

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Sharon Askew wrote:

    There really is no logic to this, the US say they don’t want to keep him and the UK want him back, yet he still remains at Guantanamo Bay…Or are the US really waiting for Babar Ahmad first? Surely Shaker Aamer isn’t just being held out of spite, but then again the Cuban blockade seems to resemble just that these days!
    Don’t know if you have read about Stephen Gough, I remember hearing about this man some years ago and then suddenly all went quiet, what a sad story.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sharon. Good to hear from you. Spite seems to be a good description of what’s motivating much of what’s going on. That plus embarrassment, and a refusal to accept that refusing to tackle the crimes of the previous administration has led to them being normalized. It’s a great shame. As for Stephen Gough’s story, I hadn’t realized he’d been in prison for most of the last six years. What a disgrace.

  27. Last Brit in Guantanamo; Parliamentary Meeting Oct 29th Hse of Commons | Radio Free Brighton says...

    […] In April, two more exclus­ive art­icles about Shaker Aamer’s treat­ment in Guantá­namo were pub­lished here and on the “Close Guantá­namo” […]

  28. “I Affirm Our Right to Life”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Explains His Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike « freedetainees.org says...

    […] Kassem, one of his lawyers. The two articles are being published simultaneously — here and on Andy Worthington’s website. If you are interested in seeing Shaker Aamer freed from Guantánamo, please sign the e-petition to […]

  29. “I Affirm Our Right to Life”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Explains His Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike « freedetainees.org says...

    […] of his lawyers. The two articles are being published simultaneously — on Close Guantanamo and on Andy Worthington’s website. If you are interested in seeing Shaker Aamer freed from Guantánamo, please sign the e-petition to […]

  30. freedetainees.org | From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike says...

    […] last British resident in Guantánamo, whose story has been a focus of my work for many years. See here, here and here for reports made available to me by Shaker last year, and see here for an e-petition […]

  31. Outspoken Guantanamo Detainee Finally Walks Free, Years After Being Cleared Of Any Wrongdoing says...

    […] 2012, Aamer likened his treatment to the torture in George Orwell’s “1984,” which became a favorite book of his while at […]

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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