Monday, May 03, 2010

Shaker Aamer’s 3000 Days In Guantánamo: Moazzam Begg Speaks

By Andy Worthington

03 May, 2010

All week, the journalist Paul Cahalan has been writing articles about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, for the Wandsworth Guardian (in Shaker’s home borough). Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, continues to be held at Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release in 2007.

Shaker’s story features in the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (directed by filmmaker Polly Nash and myself), which is currently on a UK tour, and I have also reported his story at length in a number of articles (see, for example, here, here and here). In these articles, I have cast doubts on the British government’s assertions that they have done all in their power to secure his return, for the simple reason that Shaker — as the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights in Guantánamo — knows so much about what has taken place at the prison (and in the prisons in Afghanistan where the men were held beforehand) that when he is finally released his accounts will prove profoundly embarrassing to both the British and the American governments.

To mark Shaker’s 3000th day in Guantánamo (which is today, according to his lawyers), and which was marked by a protest outside Downing Street last Saturday, Paul Cahalan asked former prisoner Moazzam Begg to write about his friend, and I’m cross-posting the article below. As I mentioned in my review of last Saturday’s protest, the plight of Shaker Aamer has slipped off the radar completely since the General Election was announced (as have Britain’s unjust counter-terrorism policies in general). I added:

[W]hoever is in 10 Downing Street on May 7 needs to press the US not only for Shaker’s return, but also to offer new homes in the UK to other cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture; in particular, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian (represented by the legal action charity Reprieve and also cleared for release in 2007), who is terrified of returning to Algeria, and who lived in the UK for nearly three years until he was kidnapped in Pakistan and sent to Guantánamo, but also other cleared prisoners, who have no connection to the UK, but who will not be freed until third countries offer to help out, as has happened with Albania, Belgium, Bermuda, France, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Palau, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland.

Whoever is in 10 Downing Street on May 7 needs to understand that trying to take the moral high ground, as David Miliband has done by hectoring other countries to take cleared prisoners, while claiming that the UK has already played its part in helping to close Guantánamo, is both dishonest and disgraceful. Britain has only taken in its own citizens and residents, and should follow the example of the countries mentioned above, if only to show some willingness to atone for the government’s enthusiastic embrace of the Bush administration’s "War on Terror," which has recently been exposed in the British courts.

On Friday, I’ll be writing about how those of us concerned with this ongoing travesty of justice can put pressure on the new government (updating the letter to foreign secretary David Miliband that is available here), but for now, here are Moazzam’s comments about Shaker. For Paul Cahalan’s other articles this week, see this exclusive interview with David Miliband, and also see here, here, here and here.

Friend of Shaker Aamer reveals personal message of thanks
Wandsworth Guardian, May 2, 2010

Former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg reveals a personal message of thanks from his friend Shaker Aamer as he talks about his capture and daily routine in Guantánamo.

I have known Shaker since 1997 when he came to the UK and got married. He was working a translator in a legal firm. I knew him on-and-off until the time we both went to Afghanistan to build a school. We had seen postcards of the school and both helped in the project, raising funds, speaking to teachers. We both lived in the same house in Kabul. At the time we were with our wives and children. When the attacks of September 11 happened, Shaker was very upset and shocked. We evacuated the region outside Kabul. We heard the shells coming and we were separated. The next I heard of him is when I was in Kandahar as a prisoner.

It is clear US soldiers were impressed by him but I believe his personal character and charisma is what keeps him in Guantánamo as opposed to anything he has been accused of. At the same time everyone who has met him — interrogators, soldiers — have really liked him as an individual.

When I speak to former detainees they say I have a message from Shaker. I ask, 'How is he?’ He has gone through all sorts of trauma for standing up for the rights of prisoners. Recently some prisoners were released to Albania, and Shaker sent a message [often messages are shouted across the camp] saying he appreciates all the campaigning and he wants to come back home.

He is seeing all these people released and he is still being held. People have been released to Ireland, Portugal — detainees who have no connection to those countries, being accepted as refugees in Europe and elsewhere. For Shaker it is devastating.

His family hasn’t received a letter from him for a very long time. I think about him every day. I was there for three years — he has been there nearly three times that.

I’m not sure about his routine, it changes, but based upon what I know, his routine is: he would wake up in the morning, have morning prayer, have breakfast handed over to him through a beanhole in the door. I believe he is in the maximum-security camp, Camp 6, which has all isolated cells. Which would mean he spends most of the time in that cell with no communication with any human being and that they would take him out into the recreation yard at the end of the day where he would see a little bit of light.

There will be [electric] light in his cell 24 hours a day. They may dim it a little bit at night. He will be sleeping on a metal bunk. His physical make-up would change. Shaker was a big man but from what I have been told he has lost a great deal of weight. His mental state is up and down but remains strong and that is one of the reasons he continues to get punished.

Despite what he has gone through he still stands up for people’s rights. The prisoners love him as an individual. He is communicable and funny and talks with the Americans on their own terms. He will speak out and that is why there is a fear he won’t return.

I know he knows enough that would embarrass British and Americans. He was involved with high-level discussions with the colonels about breaking hunger strikes and he has information about the intelligence services that people don’t want heard.

All basic human rights only get given to you as much as you co-operate. You get no doctor, no proper communication with your family — you give them to the worst convicted prisoners on the planet, but not those in Guantánamo.

Somebody has to recognise this is wrong and common sense has to prevail. Shaker has never been tried, let alone charged. It makes no logic or sense. There is no justice. The campaign to free Shaker needs to get that out.

Andy Worthington is 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). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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