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

by Andy Worthington | June 24, 2013

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
London
SW1A 2AA

Sir,

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. This article originally appeared on his website on June 24, 2013.

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
London
SW1A 2AA

Sir,

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

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

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