“I Wish I Was Dead,” Shaker Aamer Says from Guantánamo, as David Cameron Writes to His Daughter


In a desperate message from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, told one of his lawyers by phone, “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”

Shaker, who was cleared for release from the prison under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009, was speaking to Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, and his words were reported in the Observer, which also noted his claims that “the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees.”

As the Observer explained:

Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.

The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff.

Shaker also told his lawyer about his “declining health” and “how the camp’s regime deliberately inflates the weight of detainees on hunger strike,” as the Observer put it. “They said I was 160lb,” he explained, “but I was 154lb a few days ago. Unless there has been a miracle, my weight has not gone up without eating. But they cheat by adding shackles and sometimes even pressing down as they do it to add to your weight.”

Shaker added, “If you have a medical standard for when a detainee should be force-fed for his own health, then force-feed him when it can still save his health. Don’t wait until his body is so harmed by the lack of food that all you are protecting is the US military — from the harm of a prisoner dying for a principle.”

He also described his daily diet at Guantánamo as “a cup of tea or two each day with a low-calorie sweetener and occasionally an Ocean Spray powder mix that has 10 calories — enough to give an energy boost.”

Clive Stafford Smith told the Observer, “These gruesome new details show just how bad things are in Guantánamo. The whole thing is at breaking point. Clearly the US military is under enormous pressure and doing everything it can to hurt the men and break the hunger strike.”

The suffering of the prisoners on hunger strike remains deeply alarming. According to the US authorities, 104 of the remaining 166 men are taking part in the hunger strike which is on its 139th day, although the prisoners allege that the true number is a least 130. Even more alarming is the fact that 44 of these men are being force-fed, a situation that caused over 150 doctors from the US and around the world to write a letter to President Obama last week calling for an end to the force-feeding, and for independent medical personnel to be allowed to visit the prisoners, and that also caused Sen. Dianne Feinstein to write to the Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, calling for an end to the force-feeding. In her letter, Sen. Feinstein explained that she was writing to “express to you my concerns and opposition to the force- feeding of detainees, not for reasons of medical necessity but as a matter of policy that stands in conflict with international norms.”

Despite promising to resume releasing prisoners in a major speech on national security on May 23, President Obama has not, to date, released a single prisoner, even though the power to do so in his hands. Congress has raised severe obstacles to the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous or countries where there is a single alleged case of “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), although none of these restrictions apply to the UK, and as a result Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment remains thoroughly disgraceful, and ought to be a source of shame for both President Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Observer noted that the “momentum” behind efforts to release Shaker “mounted sharply last week with David Cameron raising the issue directly with the US president, Barack Obama, during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.”

On Wednesday, responding to a parliamentary question about his discussion with President Obama, David Cameron stated that he would be writing to the President about the “specifics of the case and everything that we can do to expedite it,” adding, “Clearly, President Obama wants to make progress on this issue and we should help him in every way that we can with respect to this individual.”

The Observer described David Cameron’s comments as “the most positive indication to date that Aamer will eventually be freed,” which to some extent is true, although as Clive Stafford Smith told the Huffington Post, in response to a letter from David Cameron to Johina Aamer, Shaker Aamer’s daughter, and the eldest of his four children (the youngest of whom he has never seen), David Cameron “has far more power to secure the detainee’s release than was revealed in the letter.”

In response to a wonderfully eloquent letter from Johina, which I’m cross-posting below, David Cameron wrote to her to explain that, “Despite efforts to secure his release, it remains the case that he has been cleared for transfer but not for release,” adding, “It also remains the case that any decision regarding your father’s release remains ultimately in the hands of the US Government.”

Clive Stafford Smith told the Huffington Post, “It is the repeatedly stated policy of the UK government that Shaker can and should come home to the UK. This is in David Cameron’s hands and to suggest that he doesn’t have the power to influence the US in this matter is slightly embarrassing.”

That is certainly true, and it is important to refuse to accept claims, by the Prime Minister, or any other representatives of the UK government, that there is some kind of difference between “transfer” and “release,” when there is not. All the prisoners cleared for release have technically been “approved for transfer,” but the conditions involve a desire on the part of the US authorities to have released prisoners monitored, which would not be difficult for the British government. What the Prime Minister didn’t explain openly is that the US wanted — or perhaps still wants — to send Shaker back to Saudi Arabia, overlooking the UK’s own obligations to bring Shaker back to the UK, which are not negotiable, as Clive Stafford Smith noted. The UK has been requesting Shaker’s return since August 2007, and no acceptable reason can be provided for him not to be returned here, to his home and his family.

David Cameron also told Johina that the question of her father’s release “had been repeatedly raised with the US,” and that the government had also received information about his hunger strike. “The US authorities have assured us that he is in a stable condition and that he is being offered medical treatment,” he wrote, even though the words themselves mean very little.

Graciously, Johina told the Times, “My family and I are grateful to the Prime Minister for having the courtesy to respond to us directly after being ignored by the Labour Government.” Nevertheless, she added, “However, 11 years is too much for anyone to take, and our desire is that the UK uses … its political strength to force the US to return our father home to us.”

That is extremely well put, and I would only add that David Cameron needs to stop procrastinating, and needs to use the “political strength” Johina refers to, in order to get her father back immediately.

The endless excuses are so tiresome now that it is no longer possible for them to be regarded as even vaguely acceptable. Shaker Aamer needs to be put on a plane tomorrow, and flow back to the Uk to be reunited with his family.

For further confirmation of why this is so necessary, please read Johina’s letter to David Cameron about her father, which was written two months ago.

Johina Aamer’s letter to David Cameron, April 19, 2013

The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street


My name is Johina Aamer, and I am the daughter of the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer. To be honest, it is a little tiring writing that introduction, as the fact that I need to introduce myself highlights the extent to which I feel my family and I have been betrayed by our own country for the last 11 years.

I had just turned four when my family was deprived of a father and husband. He has been in Guantánamo Bay for more than 11 years while the British government allowed him to be tortured, causing both physical and mental scars. His petition has now surpassed the 100,000 signatures mark meaning his case will now be discussed in parliament next week, on Wednesday 24th April 2013 [see the transcripts of the debate in Westminster Hall here and here]. I question, however, whether this parliamentary discussion will be enough to bring my father home — if you felt the compassion that the signatories feel for my father, you would not have allowed him to remain in Guantánamo Bay for this long.

Like the public you are most likely to be knowledgeable of the fact that my father has been cleared for release many times in the past, which leads me to question why is he still in prison? I am also wondering how many times it will take for me to say “My name is Johina Aamer, I am 15 years old and my dad is in prison” until someone from the government takes our plight seriously, and actually does something to help?  My father is now one of the many Guantánamo detainees who are on hunger strike: exhausted by our government’s neglect of his situation, he is starving himself out of protest. My father has been on hunger strike many times in the past but now his lawyer has attested to the fact he is genuinely frightened for his survival this time. Do you have any concept of what it is like for me, my brothers and my mother to hear this news?

I am writing to you to ask — please explain to me what you have been doing to secure my father’s release? I previously wrote to the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, but he did not consider my family’s difficult situation important enough to reply — I hope that you will not be so inconsiderate.

Although I am young, I have come to understand that maybe you are delaying my father’s return due to the Justice and Security Bill I keep on reading about. I would like to say that I would want to add my name to all those who have opposed this bill, including the 702 lawyers who have signed the petition [actually a letter] in opposition to it. The reason for this is that my family has felt the impact of secret evidence more than most — we have a personal experience of how damaging it can be to be left in the dark about allegations and not to have the opportunity to defend yourself.

The closed material procedure is fundamentally immoral and takes away yet another basic human right. I know that the British Government is using this law to escape anything in court that may cause humiliation. However adopting the bill will just cause a greater state of shame in addition to giving the government a bad reputation for not being able to confess to their involvement in torture.

I see the injustice of the Justice and Security Bill on my father’s release. I clearly recognise that the British government is not willing to take any action until the law gets passed because my father’s return to Britain will cause additional disgrace upon the British government, especially after the case of Binyam Mohamed. This is also being shown by how fast the government have rushed the bill through parliament. Even though it is wrong and instead of finding ways to stop the country’s involvement in human rights abuses, it is supporting torture and rendition by allowing it to be covered up.

If the Justice and Security Bill is an imperative for my father’s release, then I strongly suggest that you continue your inaction against him. My father would not under any condition buy his freedom at the price of injustice.

While I am not confident that you will, if you conclude that you are willing to write back, then I would like the answers to my questions and for you to allow me to acquire your exact accomplishments that are beneficial to my father’s case.

Yours sincerely

Johina Aamer
15 years old
The daughter of Shaker Aamer

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 four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “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.

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16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    This is utterly heart-breaking.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Pauline, and for your comment.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Thanks Andy, all this bleating from the Obama regime about Edward Snowden and the rule of law -there is no rule of law if Shaker Aamer continues to languish in the Guantanamo gulag. Sharing.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, thanks, Willy. Every time this man, with his big heart and his compassion for others, speaks, his words shame the government holding him and the one that still hasn’t done enough to get him back. This disgusting notion about sending him back to Saudi Arabia needs to be done away with once and for all, so we can get him back here, and pour the necessary scorn on the US claim that he will need monitoring. Shaker? Have these people learned nothing from holding him for 11 years, about how he’s not a threat?

  5. Tom says...

    Like everyone else here, I need a break from the relentless Snowden global MSM Celeb Hype. Instead of focusing on the actual issue (civil liberties, illegal spying and more), it’s turning into troll attacks and let’s rip Glenn Greenwald into a million pieces.

    If Snowden is telling the truth, then yes, he should get asylum. Also, to his credit, both he and Assange are playing this MSM frenzy in a smart way. Assange knows that attaching himself to Snowden’s case will help him to stay “relevant” in the social media world. Snowden’s basically faking the MSM out. Go to a HK hotel, then go underground. The MSM continues to check only hotels and not local flats. Then in Moscow, nice move #2. Say you’re going to Cuba, and then leave the MSM either standing around or not able to travel to Havana (due to the embargo).

    Now, he’s going to Ecuador and maybe he’ll get asylum. Meanwhile, almost 90% of the online comments in this have nothing to do with actual facts. Instead, it’s literally find and kill Snowden. We must destroy Greenwald at all costs. Maybe worst of all? Obama can’t deal with the fact that a former CIA/NSA tech guy is eluding every major intelligence organization worldwide:

    MI5 and MI6
    Chinese intelligence
    and so on

    MI5 has spent at least (US)$10 million in a 24/7 monitoring of Assange’s communications from the Ecuadorian Embassy. Yet, they weren’t able to find Snowden? Are Assange’s encryption codes better than the NSA’s and GCHQ’s? If that’s true, what does THAT tell you?

    It may not keep him from getting extradited or killed. Then again, if Snowden is telling the truth, at least he can maintain his self respect.

  6. Tom says...

    From a psychological perspective, Aamer has to deal with two key things. One, he’s still stuck in Guantanamo, and to many they won’t admit that he exists. They’ll throw out all kinds of manipulations of the facts to both keep him there and to validate themselves. How then does he continue to not completely disappear (both psychologically and literally)?

    When he does come out (and he will), he’ll still have to deal with this denial from others. Why were you there to begin with? You must have done something wrong. Even if he shows them proof that he’s innocent, he and his family will probably be harassed everywhere they go. It’s like adding insult to injury.

    It’s amazing to me that there are literally millions who will look at you with a straight face and not be bothered about the govt. monitoring everything they do. Meanwhile, many in the UK MSM will follow their Stateside counterparts and continue to promote the govt. line. If we contradict the govt., it’s classified. We lose access to 10 Downing St. And then we get sacked. Cameron’s taking the same approach as Obama.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom, for the interesting points. From former prisoners, I realize that they’re constantly aware of people holding the US government’s allegations against them, as though the mere fact of the existence of the allegations demonstrates some fundamental truth, when in fact, of course, it’s a collection of generally very dubious material – generally, statements made under conditions that are not conducive to telling the truth. I guess being ground down by this is one reason why so many former prisoners remove themselves from the public eye.
    It’s difficult to know how Shaker will react when – as you say, rather than if – he is released. I suspect he will very much want to help those left behind, and to tell the truth, but he also has a family that needs him.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    As for Snowden, Tom, and more particularly the dismal apology for journalism that the 24-hour rolling news cycle has become, people need to switch off. I haven’t watched TV for nearly a year, and my life is much improved as a result. I tend to check the Guardian’s front page once or twice a day to see what the big stories are, but otherwise I pro-actively look for what interests me, rather than passively being fed the construct of reality (full of fear, obedient to authority, requiring a short attention span, and dazzled by celebrity) that is pumped out by the mainstream media.
    As for the revelations regarding the scale of the state’s surveillance, I think it ought to provide people with another example of why our leaders can’t be trusted, and why our illusion of democracy is a sham. Generally to be found sucking up to corporations and the super-rich, it turns out that our leaders are also hugely paranoid.

  9. Tom says...

    Just out of curiousity, since you don’t watch TV, does the BBC fee collector still come around?

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, good point, Tom. We still have a TV, so yes, I paid. We did watch one series, Doctor Who, and we also listen a lot to Radio 6, so I thought £3 a week was actually not a rip-off.

  11. wikispooks says...

    Hi Andy

    Big thankyou for the work you do.

    I’ll post the letter on the Wikispooks Shaker Aamer page.

    Anyone interested in adding/updating/editing it (or other pages where they have expertise/specialist knowledge) is also welcome – provided they are the undertaking required of editors.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, wikispooks!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    The history books will plainly have no difficulty in roundly condemning the lack of testicular fortitude of this Administration, Senate and Congress for allowing this unconstitutional scandal to drag on indefinitely. I think it has to be unprecedented. Where there is a will there is a way. The list of organisations that have roundly condemned their conduct, or lack thereof, is probably too long to print … from the UN to Amnesty and Red Cross. Plainly when it comes to their own convenience, these politicians have no difficulty in coming up with a swift solution, as we saw with recent air traffic legislation… No amount of hand wringing is going to wash the sins of these bad-Samaritans clean.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Attia Hasan wrote:

    Andy, what else can be done now. I mean a lot has been done to raise the profile of Shaker Aamer, so what now do we just wait And hope the powers to be to do something?? I’m really hopeful that Shaker will be released very soon InshaAllah.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David and Attia, for your considered comments. David, you’re absolutely right, and I only hope that one day we will be able to look back on it all as a terrible mistake. We’re still a long way from that, however.
    And Attia, I don’t know what new pressure we can exert in Shaker’s case. Cameron writing to Johina looks like a positive move, but then he spouted that clap-trap about Shaker only being cleared for transfer and not release, as though that explained his ongoing detention. Sooner or later Obama’s going to have to release someone …

  16. Gitmo News and more.. | Miscellany101's Weblog says...

    […] earlier but who still languish in Gitmo Bay for unknown, unexplained reasons.  One such person is Shaker Aamer English: A photograph of Shaker Aamer cropped from File:Abdul Shaker with Children.jpg. (Photo […]

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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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