Shaker Aamer Discusses His 13 Years in Guantánamo, Built to “Destroy Human Beings,” and Adjusting to Freedom Since His Release

Shaker Aamer photographed by Craig Hibbert for the Mail on Sunday, December 8, 2015.The Mail on Sunday yesterday featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below, following my first article yesterday, are excerpts dealing with his 13 years and eight months in Guantánamo — over 5,000 days — and his adjustment to life since his release: the changes in the world, and, in particular, getting to know his family again after so long separated from them. Also included are great anecdotes about Shaker helping someone in a wheelchair — a rather typical act, I believe, for someone renowned for wanting to help others — and what happened when he tried to open a bank account. As the co-founder of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, established just over a year ago to call for his release, it is reassuring to me that he has now undertaken major media interviews — including with ITV News and with The Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2, broadcast today — and that he will, hopefully, soon be free to devote more of his time to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo. If viewers outside the UK have difficulty accessing the broadcasts, there are clips from the BBC interview on Twitter here, here and here.

Please also feel free to listen to me on BBC Radio London this morning. The section on Shaker began at At 01:06:27, and my interview started at 01:08:26 and finished at 01:15:10. A good interview, I thought. Please have a listen, and share it if you agree. And please also free to check out my interview with Wandsworth Radio, recorded in the evening.

Shaker Aamer speaks about Guantánamo

Remembering brutality in Guantánamo, and recalling, in particular, the approach of the Forcible Cell Extraction team, six armored soldiers, empowered to suppress, with violence, any perceived infringement of the rules, Shaker told David Rose, “You feel scared.” In Shaker’s case, FCE visits to his cell were shockingly regular, and as he said, “You know you can get hurt, because there are some huge guys there, 18, 20 stone guys, muscular. You could be paralyzed. Anything can happen. Anything.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Speaks: First Newspaper Interview Since Release from Guantánamo, in the Mail on Sunday

A photo that Shaker Aamer made available to the We Stand With Shaker campaign to thanks all his supporters who worked so hard to secure his release from Guantanamo.The Mail on Sunday today featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below are excerpts dealing with his life from 1989 to February 2002, when he arrived at Guantánamo, providing information not previously discussed — in particular, about the circumstances of his visit to Afghanistan and his capture. As someone who campaigned for many years for his release — including in the last year with the We Stand With Shaker campaign I co-founded last November — it is wonderful to hear from him.

Speaking to David Rose, Shaker spoke about his experiences in the US after he left Saudi Arabia, where he was born in 1966, in Medina. From 1989 to 1995, he explained, as Rose noted, that he “lived mostly in Atlanta, in the US state of Georgia, working as a chef in restaurants. In those days he lived a Westernised life: a lover of rock music, he often attended concerts by his favourite bands — including AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. In this period, in 1990, he responded to a US army recruitment drive for Arabic/English translators during the first Gulf War — which is how he came to find himself working for the US infantry in Saudi.”

“First I was in the south, then at a base in Tabuk, near the Jordanian border,” Shaker said, explaining that he needed security clearance for the job. “Of course I had to be checked. I was right inside the US base. I got to know those guys very well, especially the colonel — his name was Johansen. Later, I used to tell my interrogators: call Colonel Johansen, he will tell you I’m not a terrorist, that I’m a good guy, and that I’m telling you the truth. I’m sure they never did.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer, Freed from Guantánamo, Is Reunited With His Family

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers welcome Shaker Aamer back home from Guantanamo.Now that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US prison at Guantánamo, is back home in the UK, we are beginning to hear some information about his health, and his reunion with his family. Shaker arrived at Biggin Hill Airport on Friday and was then taken to a secret location — a clinic — for a medical evaluation after years of medical neglect in Guantánamo, where, on Saturday, he was reunited with his family, his wife and his four children, who are all British citizens. A Saudi by birth, Shaker was granted residency in the UK in 1996.

The Mail on Sunday had the first story of Shaker being reunited with his family, noting that, on Saturday, he “finally embraced the teenaged son he had never seen yesterday in a tearful meeting on his first full day of freedom in 14 years.” Faris, Shaker’s youngest child, was born on February 14, 2002, the day Shaker arrived at Guantánamo, and the meeting, as the MoS explained, “came at a London clinic” where Shaker, who has four children with his British wife, “is being treated for a catalogue of physical and psychological illnesses.” Faris was joined by Johina, who turned 18 last week, and Michael, 16, and Saif, 15.

The Mail on Sunday also explained that, as Shaker arrived back in the UK, “more details emerged about the arrangements being made for his new life — and his continuing fears for his safety.” The article stated that a “private London Hospital owned by an American firm — the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) — refused to treat him at the last minute,” that Shaker “was so worried about being poisoned by his American captors that he didn’t dare eat or drink anything during his private jet flight home,” and that a “£1 million compensation package has already been agreed with the UK government” after his long ordeal of nearly 14 years held without charge or trial and subjected to torture and abuse, and years of solitary confinement. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; On a Hunger Strike, Fearful That He Won’t See His Family Again

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo). The birthday card is by Dot Young, and the message, of course, was ironic, and meant to shame both the British and American governments.Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.

Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”

This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s First Phone Call from Guantánamo to His Lawyers Since Publication of the Senate Torture Report

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).NOTE: Andy is currently in the US on a short tour to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11. See here for further details. You can contact Andy on 347-272-3576.

In the Mail on Sunday on January 4, long-time Guantánamo reporter David Rose, who worked for the Observer for many years, wrote an article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, after he was given access to the notes of Shaker’s first phone conversation with one of his lawyers — Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve — following the publication, last month, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning 6,700-page report about the CIA’s torture program.

The Mail has recently dedicated itself to Shaker’s case, inspired in part by We Stand With Shaker, the campaign that I established in November with activist Joanne MacInnes, which features numerous celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — demonstrating how he is the elephant in the room of US-UK relations. Twice approved for release (in 2007 and 2009), his return has also been requested by the British government since 2007, and as a result his ongoing imprisonment is a shame and a disgrace for both countries.

On January 6, after Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, told the New York Times that “the Defense Department continues to aggressively pursue the transfer” of those prisoners “who have been declared eligible” for release — currently 59 of the remaining 127 prisoners — Reprieve urged Prime Minister David Cameron, who is “reportedly traveling to the US in January to meet President Obama,” to “raise his case and return from the visit with a clear date for Mr. Aamer’s release.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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