His hunger strike is approaching its seventieth day. He is beyond the point where experts say “irreversible cognitive impairment and psychological damage” can result yet British prisoner Shaker Aamer, who has been detained without charge or trial in the Guantanamo Bay prison camps for eleven years, remains committed to resistance.
The Observer in the United Kingdom has published an op-ed he wrote from prison. He writes, “I’ve never been charged with any crime. I’ve never been allowed to see the evidence that the US once pretended they had against me. It’s all secret, even the statements they tortured out of me.”
Every day in Guantánamo is torture – as was the time they held me before that, in Bagram and Kandahar air force bases, in Afghanistan. It’s not really the individual acts of abuse (the strappado – that’s the process refined by the Spanish Inquisition where they hang you from your wrists so your shoulders begin to dislocate, the sleep deprivation, and the kicks and punches); it’s the combined experience. My favourite book here (I’ve read it over and over) has been Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell: torture is for torture, and the system is for the system.
His political consciousness, however, prevents him from being willing to beg for mercy, end his hunger strike and accept what the system is doing to him.
“More than a decade of my life has been stolen from me, for no good reason,” Aamer declares. “I resent that; of course I do. I have missed the birth of my youngest son, and some of the most wonderful years with all my four children. I love being a father, and I always worked to do it as best I can.”
He wants to go home to London, but states, “I am never going to beg. If I have to die here, I want my children to know that I died for a principle, without bowing to my abusers.”
Clive Stafford Smith, lawyer and executive director for the UK-based legal charity, Reprieve, shares that Aamer, who is “widely regarded as a robust and resourceful character, has started to raise the possibility that he might die inside Guantánamo Bay.” He has asked Smith to “brief” his wife “that he might not make it out alive after all.”
If he dies in Guantanamo, President Barack Obama, his administration and the wider United States government will bear great responsibility, but, according to allegations and details being shared by Smith, Britain and Saudi Arabia may be responsible as well.
Aamer is one of 86 prisoners cleared by all intelligence agencies for release, however, there is a wicked catch. According to Reprieve, he is “alone among the 779 who have been detained in Guantánamo Bay in having purportedly been cleared for release, but to only one country – Saudi Arabia.” Reprieve believes if he was repatriated to Saudi Arabia he would be “detained indefinitely, his access to media and his lawyers hugely curtailed.” In fact, Aamer has protested “forced repatriation to Saudi Arabia.”
“The sole reason for the US to send Shaker to Saudi Arabia is to have him silenced, most likely by sentencing him to a long imprisonment after a sham trial,” Smith contends.
The Observer further reports, “Two Metropolitan police detectives interviewed Aamer, gathering an estimated 150 pages of testimony and allegations that MI5 and MI6 were complicit in his torture. These included claims that a British officer was present while US soldiers tortured him and that MI6 officers made allegations to the CIA they knew to be false, including that Aamer was a member of al-Qaida.”
Aamer could testify to how British security services were complicit in post-9/11 torture, and that is one aspect of why he may still be in detention.
Smith also claims that British agents are “misleading their US counterparts to ensure he is never allowed to return to Britain to tell his story.” He is being “bad-mouthed” and they are “saying things that are simply false.” They have fabricated evidence that he was a member of al-Qaida, met Bin Laden and that he served as an ”attack planning and propaganda production base for al-Qaida.”
On top of that, during his eleven-year detention, Aamer has developed into a leader of inmates in Guantanamo. He’s a “thorn in the side of the prison authorities.” He was responsible for starting the first hunger strike in 2005. It is possible the US is not releasing him to Britain because he is such a steadfast resistor of authority in the facility.
This likely explains why “the goon squad” or the Forcible Cell Extraction, or FCE, team has been repeatedly sent to bat him up when he asks for something like medicine, bottled water, a shower, etc.
Aamer, in his op-ed, shares there is a prisoner in his block, who has been on strike since 2005. ”Can you imagine it? He’s only alive today because the Americans force-feed him, preventing him from making that ultimate statement of principle, the same one they have on their New Hampshire licence plates: ‘Give me freedom, or give me death.’”
Like other prisoners, he is aware of the growing support and solidarity among citizens around the world, who understand he and many others in the prison should not be experiencing this inhumane treatment and abuse that is essentially torture. And, as a result, he states, “There is more solidarity among the prisoners than ever before.”
The military has sought to downplay the number of prisoners participating in the hunger strike since early February. In the past few days, the number of men the military admits are on hunger strike has nearly doubled to 84 prisoners, according to the Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg.
Sixteen men are being forced fed, a practice which a bipartisan task force this last week called attention to as inhumane abuse that depending on how brutally administered could be torture.
“I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow,” Aamer concludes. “But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.”
President Obama, his administration, Congress and, to a logical extent, the people of America, bear responsibility for the brutality and horror that completely innocent men like Aamer continue to experience. The system has fought the closure of a prison that five years ago seemed like a place that would be cleared of tortured souls.
An overwhelming majority risk death through a long-term commitment to resistance because they recognize the prison is not closing any time soon and there is no due process that will get them out of here alive. The best they can hope for is the creation of a crisis that captures the world’s attention and leads to an impossible to ignore crisis that can only be brought to an end by setting prisoners free.