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.”

In a letter dated October 7, Philip Hammond told Stafford Smith in a letter that “we made enquiries with US Government officials who assured us that the report of an incident, relayed to you by another detainee, is not accurate.” As the Guardian described it, Philip Hammond also insisted that Shaker Aamer’s release “remains a high priority for the government.” and “said UK officials have no access to the British resident and are solely reliant on US sources for information.”

It is, of course, 100% predictable that the US authorities would deny allegations of abuse at Guantánamo — although that is not to say that all allegations made by prisoners are necessarily credible. However, as Stafford Smith explained, “similar descriptions of escalating punitive abuse at Guantánamo, which would appear to corroborate Mr. Hassan’s allegations, have for some time been emerging from the prison.”

He proceeded to explain how, in a letter to William Hague in May, he included testimony from Mr. Aamer, in which he stated that “he is sometimes FCEd up to eight times a day,” and included an excerpt from a recent letter of from Shaker Aamer, in which he stated, “Last night, as I came back from my legal call, I was FCEd in much the same way I always am, as I peacefully refused to cooperate with them again. This time they did not just force me down on the floor of the room. They apparently decided that they had to get me dirty, so they threw me down in the passage way.”

Responding to the letter from Philip Hammond, Clive Stafford Smith said, “The US military is not telling Mr. Hammond the truth about the abuse of Mr. Aamer, any more than they did to Judge Kessler, who had the good sense to demand to see the video footage” — a reference to the ongoing case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, also long cleared for release, who had the release of videotapes to his lawyers showing his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions” ordered by District Judge Gladys Kessler in May this year.

Stafford Smith added, “I have just returned from a visit and the brutal nature of the FCEing — to which Shaker is subjected probably more than any other prisoner — is only getting worse. Mr. Hammond says that the UK is doing all it can to help Shaker but if it were his son or brother being beaten up every day, he would show a little more interest in evidence, and a little less in bland and false denials. It is far past time that Shaker was home with his wife and children.”

What you can do now

To call for the British government to do more to secure Shaker Aamer’s release, please contact Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and ask him to take urgent action on Shaker’s behalf. You can email him here via his Private Office at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). A general phone number for the FCO is 020 7008 1500.

If you’re in the US, you can call the White House on 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 or submit a comment online.

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, the full military commissions 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.

13 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article about Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in ‪‎Guantanamo‬, and what I call the “disappointing but predictable” news that Britain’s new foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, believes US assurances that reports of Shaker being abused, relayed to him by Clive Stafford Smith, are “not accurate.” Open the prison up to outside scrutiny, let NGOs and reporters talk openly to the prisoners, and then we’ll see …

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan shared it and wrote:

    Yes. Long past time for some transparency.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing, Pauline. Much appreciated.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Denialism is the disease of politicians – especially when it comes to Guantanamo Bay Detention Center…Sadly, it appears to be communicable as too many Americans have caught it.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, and this is textbook denial from Philip Hammond too, Jan, who is very much an old school Tory. All that’s changed since the Bush days is that then the spokespeople used to always say how the prisoners were Al-Qaeda, and they’d all been taught to lie. The reference point in those days was the “Manchester Manual,” a so-called Al-Qaeda training manual, apparently found in a house raid in Manchester. I remember Omar Deghayes telling me how suspicious they all found it when this manual suddenly started being mentioned in interrogations at Guantanamo.
    Now they don’t mention these things openly, but they still think them obviously, which is just as disgraceful – and racist – as it has always been.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    And don’t forget what Ellwood told me (and the MP who asked him on my behalf) in August. Academic study in emptiness.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for posting that letter, Sarah. I encourage everyone to take a closer look. This was Tobias Ellwood writing to Alan Campbell MP, and it is indeed, as you so wonderfully put it, an “academic study in emptiness.” The FCO “is not able to provide consular assistance to Mr Aamer due to our clear policy in relation to non-British nationals,” he writes – and for “not able” read “thoroughly unwilling.”
    He continues, “However, we do receive regular updates on his health and welfare through our engagement with the US, and they continue to assure us that Mr Aamer’s health remains stable.”
    So that’s all right then. Let’s just ignore, shall we, what an independent US medical expert, Dr. Emily Keram, found when she visited Shaker last December, which I wrote about here:

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    You know I certainly agree, Andy… One of the worst things that happened to the planet was the paradigm shift towards open racism justified by the “War on Terror”. Not our greatest moment… In fact, one of the worst moments in the past century. I still remember all the fear-mongering used to scare us about communism and the USSR. They torture their prisoners, they lie to their citizens and they spy on the people….

    Now we, the Northern European (the US is very much still a Northern European nation by culture taking the worst of it and discarding the good) imperialists, do the same in the name of “national security” while dehumanizing those who just aren’t quite like “us”…

    Somebody please deliver us from tories (in both the UK and the Americas)…That somebody must be us.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jan, for the succinct history lesson. We avoided the worst of America’s anti-communist fervor, although we were always ready to lend a hand to destablize countries that were heading in a socialist direction.
    I’m still waiting for a neo-socialist awakening. We’re sorely in need of it, but as in Europe in the 1930s (and in certain circles in the US too – hello, Charles Lindbergh!), what we’re getting instead are “populist” far right movements – the Tea Party in the US, and here, actively promoted by the supposedly responsible media, the dreadful UKIP and their leader Nigel Farage, the “man of the people” who’s actually a former financial trader.
    Good Facebook post here:

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Exactly, Andy… I agree with the need for a neo-socialist movement – I am all on board (being a socialist . Not an easy thing in the US).

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult almost everywhere, it seems, Jan. Certainly in the UK we’re seeing a move away from accepting socialism – in terms of the common good, which is a great way of understanding it (the NHS, for example) – into an aggressively selfish new world, in which people who are better off than the average don’t want to pay for anyone else. That’s how they see it, even though it doesn’t make sense. It ignores the costs to society as a whole, which are extensive, both economically and psychologically, and, in terms of the NHS, for example, it ignores how effective it is as a service provided for everyone through general taxation, all because a new selfish class of people don’t ever want to stand in line with those who may be poorer than them.

  12. Jeff Kaye says...

    Britain is complicit with US in so much of the latter’s counterterrorism abuses, as in East Africa, or the Middle East. It is not surprising the UK government is complicit in the US attempt to silence Shaker Aamer. They are furthering his death. It is so sad, frustrating and infuriating. I can only imagine how awful for his family.

    Thanks so much, Andy, for helping publicize his plight and trying to do something about it!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jeff, for your concerns. Good to hear from you, as always. The more time goes on, and this “war on terror” proves to be as unending as the Bush administration intended, the more it becomes clear to me how the “special relationship” between the US and the UK is based on all our most unpleasant characteristics.
    Like you, I worry about Shaker’s health, and it is disgraceful that the US authorities claim he is OK, and the British claim to believe it, when Emily Karam’s analysis of his mental and physical health, based on several days spent with him, so clearly refutes those claims.

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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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