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Watch Shaker Aamer: a south London man in Guantanamo
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Shaker Aamer is a long-term British resident, originally from Saudi Arabia, who has spent close to seven years in Guantánamo – without charge or trial. Shaker had been in the UK since the early 90s where he worked as a translator at a legal firm and eventually met his wife. In the summer of 2001, Shaker began looking for a suitable Muslim country where he might bring some social benefit to people less fortunate than himself. Ever the keen community worker, Shaker visited Afghanistan in June 2001 with his wife and three children to undertake voluntary work. During his stay he shared a Kabul house with Moazzam Begg– the British detainee who was released from Guantánamo Bay in early 2005 – and worked with him on projects to support a girls’ school and of building wells.
Shortly after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan it is believed Shaker, like hundreds of others, was sold for a bounty of $5000 by tribal warlords eager to receive the lucrative rewards offered for foreign Muslims by the US military. As a captive, Shaker suffered particularly vicious torture in the Dark Prison in Kabul. When he arrived in Guantánamo Bay, he became a respected spokesman for the prisoners and was dubbed ‘The Professor’ by the US military. During the prison-wide hunger strike in July 2005, he became a leader on the prisoners’ council and successfully negotiated a settlement with the military before any of the prisoners died. The authorities agreed to respect the Geneva Conventions and treat prisoners who have been neither charged nor convicted of any crime in a humane manner. However, the administration reneged on their promise shortly after and Shaker was returned to isolation and was forcibly made to ingest liquid food with tubes through his nostrils.
Like most of the Guantanamo detainees Shaker is accused of nebulous ‘links’ to al-Qaida without any evidence being presented against him. He has not even been designated for trial by the courts known as ‘military commissions’ – described by leading jurists as a ’mockery of justice’ that derives ‘from the jumps of the kangaroo’– and it is widely believed that he only remains in custody due to his vociferous advocacy for prisoners’ rights in Guantánamo. As a result, Shaker has spent much of his time in solitary confinement in Camp Echo, a facility that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described as ‘extremely harsh’. Shaker’s wife and children are all born and bred British Citizens; he has never seen his youngest child – who is nearly eight years old. The complete isolation has taken a severe toll on Shaker’s mental health and placed incredible strain on his family. Letters from him have not been received since 2006 when he noted:
“I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to all of us. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for many years…I have problems many problems from the filthy yellow water…I have lung problems from the chemicals they spread all over the floor…I am already arthritic at 40 because I sleep on a steel bed, and they use freezing air conditioning as part of the interrogation process. I have ruined eyes from the permanent, 24-hourfluorescent lights. I have tinnitus in my ears from the perpetual noise…I have ulcers and almost permanent constipation from the food. I have been made paranoid, so I can trust nobody, not even my lawyer. I was over 250 lbs. I dropped to 130lbs in the hunger strike. I want to make it easy on everyone, I want no feeding, no forced tubes, no ‘help’, no ‘intensive assisted feeding.’”
On August 7, 2007 the United Kingdom government requested the release of Shaker Aamer and four other men who had been legal British residents without being British citizens, since they had been granted leave to remain in the UK prior to their incarceration. Since the release in early 2009 of Binyam Mohamed, Shaker Aamer is the only one of these men still held in Guantanamo. But nothing has happened in Shaker’s case since. The latest information on Shaker in Guantanamo is that he is in a tiny glass cell and has just come off a hunger-strike. He is believed to have lost almost half his body weight as a result. Although US president Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo prison there is no guarantee that Shaker Aamer will be sent home to his family. It is time that the US authorities released him and let him rejoin them.
Shaker Aamer has indeed left a lasting effect on many of those who have been in his company - from both sides of the divide. Former Guantanamo guard Terry C Holdbrooks commented on Shaker:
“He’s a wonderful character - unbelievably intelligent, very polite, very well-mannered, great etiquette… no matter whom the guard was he was working with - whether it was a very ignorant uncaring American with no recognition for his situation… He was a wonderful person -I absolutely enjoyed spending time with him.”
However, detention without charge has taken its toll on Shaker’s family. His eldest child, Johaina Aamer said, in a statement to Cageprisoners on the eve of the release of British resident, Binyam Mohamed, from Guantanamo:
“My name is Johina Aamer. I am 11 years old.I haven’t seen my dad for more than seven years. My dad is a British resident who hasn’t come out of Guantanamo yet. My little brother, Faris Amer, is seven and he’s never seen his own father. We have also had lots of Eid festivals without our dad which is not the same as him being here. We would not like to miss any more Eids. We want our Dad to pick us up from school and take us to the park like all other Dads. I am happy for Binyam Mohamed to be coming home but please don’t forget my dad.”
In an exclusive interview after his release, Binyam Mohamed told Cageprisoners:
“I spoke to the Foreign and Commonwealth officers on the plane about Shaker, and they did say that he was meant to be on the plane, and the UK had requested from the US for his release. But the only problem they’re having right now is that the US is refusing Shaker’s release to the UK.”
Cageprisoners calls on the UK government to press for the immediate repatriation of Shaker Aamer. The release of Binyam Mohammed and other British residents has already demonstrated that it has the power to do so.