Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo: I Am “239,” a “Package”; If My Children Call Me Daddy, Will I Know Who I Am?


On the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, I can think of no better person to remind the world of the ongoing injustice of the prison than Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has persistently challenged the cruelty and idiocy of his captors in the most articulate manner.

I have been writing about Shaker, who has been cleared for release since 2007, and who longs to be reunited with his wife and his four children in south London, for many years, and last year, when the men still held embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to remind the world of their plight, Shaker’s words — issued via Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, following phone calls with Shaker — regularly provided a powerful and informative commentary on the realities of life in the prison, as can readily be ascertained from the following accounts: From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike, “People Are Dying Here,” Shaker Aamer Reports from Guantánamo, As Petition Calling for His Release Secures 100,000 Signatures and From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells BBC He Is “Falling Apart Like An Old Car”, as well as Shaker’s own op-eds in the Observer (in May), the Guardian (in June) and the Huffington Post (in November). Please also check out the CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast from Guantánamo, which was powerfully hijacked by Shaker shouting from his cell to attract the attention of Lesley Stahl.

Via Clive, Shaker has provided a statement that will be read out at today’s protest outside the White House, which I will be posting here very soon, but for now it’s my great pleasure to cross-post Shaker’s latest op-ed, as published last Sunday in the Observer, in which he reflected on his own dehumanization by his captors, and also highlighted the extent to which the US has betrayed the values it once upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the basis of “national security” — which, sadly, has in fact been used by the authorities for 12 years as an excuse for numerous criminal activities for which no one has been held accountable, and which continue to keep 155 men at Guantánamo, mostly without charge or trial, and even though 77 of them have been cleared for release.

In Guantánamo, ‘national security’ rides roughshod over human rights
By Shaker Aamer, The Observer, January 5, 2014

The military justifies its actions by claiming to protect the US — but it is also violating the constitution it is meant to uphold

The language that they use here at Guantánamo reflects how they treat us prisoners. Just the other day, they referred to me as a “package” when they moved me from my cell. This is nothing new. I have been a package for 12 years now. I am a package when en route to Camp Echo, the solitary confinement wing. I am a package en route to a legal call. “The package has been picked up … the package has been delivered.”

It is not enough that we are called packages. At best, we are numbers. I worry that when I come home that my children will call for “Daddy”, and I will sit unmoving. I am 239. I even refer to myself as 239 these days. I am not sure when I will ever be anything else. It is much easier to deny human rights to those who are not deemed to be “human”.

I have been reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) so I could mark it with the violations the US government commits against us in this facility at Guantánamo Bay. I have been studying each article and on virtually every occasion I have noted how the US military is doing the opposite. After going through all of the articles, I have identified one underlying motive that leads the US to violate the whole declaration.

It is national security. This is the coathanger the government uses to suspend all of these rights. It is always a matter of national security. The US military violates its own constitution. What is almost sadder is to watch the rest of the world credulously accept that the US government has good reason to jettison the very liberties that the US constitutional convention felt were so important — all in the name of protecting those same rights. At the same time, they conduct a daily charade here in Guantánamo — they stage everything that visitors see, and they brag about how well this place is run. What shameless people they are.

In all of this, the US sows the seeds of its own destruction. Prior to 9/11, few people paid any attention to what is called “Islamic extremism”. Since that time, many people have paid no attention to anything else. What is called “extremism” has nothing to do with a correct interpretation of Islam. Yet Guantánamo is the archetypal example of US hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that is provoking people to turn to extremism. How, for example, can the US purport to export the rule of law to Afghanistan or Iraq when the US tramples on the law at home?

So as I studied the UDHR it was not enough that I should recognise that the US military has instituted a GDNHR — Guantánamo Declaration of No Human Rights. I felt I also had to understand why this was: national security, national security, national security.

It is time for the world to wake up and smell the coffee (or, in the case of English people, you might want to wake up and smell the tea). If we want to preserve and foster peace, we must reject the coathanger of national security, and turn once again towards justice.

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, 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.

7 Responses

  1. lois granda says...

    please free this man to go home to his children. please! just do it!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Lois. Can’t say it better than that!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Frances Madeson wrote:

    We love you, Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Shared and also posted:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Pauline, for sharing and for posting CCR’s press release. It’s been another long day, but it went well. Although the rain was torrential at noon, we persevered. Several people spoke outside the White House, including myself, Tom Wilner, Leili Kashani of CCR and others, and we then marched to the National Museum of American History, where Witness Against Torture activists took over a number of exhibits in an extraordinarily powerful manner, by, for example, having hooded figures in orange jumpsuits standing in front of an exhibit about America’s wars, and, while patriotic jingles played, having a speaker describe the realities of indefinite detention, force-feeding and torture at Guantanamo. Visitors to the museum were confronted with questions they never expected to be confronted by in a very challenging manner.

  6. Thomas says...

    He’s probably going to be told he’s free and being sent back to London, but will end up being sent back to Saudi Arabia instead.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Horrible idea! I very much hope not, Thomas.
    Good to hear from you. Hope all is well with you.

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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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