Monday, February 13, 2012

10 years in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer held under the harshest conditions

Shaker Aamer has been held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002. He is a legal permanent resident of the UK, married to a British national, with four British children living in London.

Shaker has long been cleared for release by the United States. He has never been charged by the United States with a crime and has never received a trial. However, he has been repeatedly abused and subjected to extended isolation in Guantánamo Bay.

Shaker grew up in Saudi Arabia with his four siblings. His parents divorced when he was a child and his father remarried. Shaker’s step-mother was unkind to her new family and at the age of seventeen, he ran away to America to join a family he had known from home.

He spent the next few years travelling in Europe and the Middle East, before moving to London where he met his wife and married. Their first child, Johina, was born in 1997.

Shaker was a hands-on dad. He changed nappies without complaint, and as time passed, the Aamer family grew and grew. Michael was born in 1999, Saif a year later and little Faris in 2002- after his father had been imprisoned. Shaker has never set eyes on his youngest son.

Shaker is a natural leader who is known for his concern for others. While in London, he worked as an Arabic translator for the solicitor who advised him on his immigration case. Helping refugees put Shaker where he loved to be – as counsel, listening and advising. But in the end, it was his dedication to the welfare of others that led to his detention in Guantánamo Bay.

In June 2001, Shaker went to Afghanistan to do voluntary work for an Islamic charity. He stayed in Kabul, which was at peace at the time. But after September 11th, the bombing of Kabul began. Fearing he would be taken prisoner by the Northern Alliance, who were suspicious of all Arabs in Afghanistan he went into hiding with an Afghan family. But his freedom didn’t last long.

Soldiers arrived at the house, stripped Shaker of his belongings and took him away at gunpoint. For the next two weeks Shaker was sold to various groups of soldiers, who accused him of killing their leader and beat him mercilessly. The abuse continued, and when Shaker and four other Arab prisoners were driven out of Kabul one night, he thought the end had come and they were to be executed.

Instead, the sound of a helicopter and American accents filled him with relief. “Americans!” he thought. “We are saved!” In fact, his transfer to US forces marked the beginning of a new nightmare. Shaker arrived at Bagram Air Force Base at the end of December 2001 where he suffered terrible abuse.

Forced to stay awake for nine days straight and denied food, he dropped 60 pounds in weight. US personnel would dump freezing water him. This treatment, combined with the bitter Afghan winter, caused Shaker’s feet to become frostbitten. He was chained for hours in positions that made movement unbearable, and his swollen, blackened feet were beaten. He was refused the painkillers he begged for.

Shaker began to say whatever the US wanted, whether it was true or not. Satisfied with confessions made by a man desperate to end his torture, the US military transferred Shaker to Guantánamo Bay in February 2002. Despite the hardships he has endured, Shaker remains the kind and supportive man he was when he was captured, with a reputation for looking out for his fellow prisoners.

When the military police beat up a prisoner while he was praying, Shaker initiated the first hunger strike at Guantánamo. More than three hundred prisoners began refusing meals. The Americans negotiated with Shaker, promising changes in the camp conditions. But the promises were broken. When the hunger strike began again in September 2005, Shaker was placed in solitary confinement as punishment. He has remained alone in a six foot by eight foot windowless cell ever since and is one of a number of prisoners to have written about the conditions in Guantánamo.

After Reprieve took up his case, Shaker was cleared for release. The British government have requested he is returned to the United Kingdom, but negotiations with the US ceased in December 2007 and have not been renewed.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith visited Shaker in November 2011 and on departure, immediately penned a letter to Foreign Secretary William Hague listing numerous physical ailments that Shaker suffers – a list that had just been cleared through the US censorship process. The letter calls for Shaker's release and meanwhile Shaker waits alone in his cell, officially cleared of wrongdoing, but still paying the cruellest of costs for his kindness to others.

For further information, see the independent Save Shaker Campaign:

How you can help Shaker Aamer

Shaker is a permanent British resident, and is married to a British citizen. He has been cleared of any wrongdoing, but the US authorities will not allow him to return to his family in London.

Pressure from the British government is vital in securing Shaker’s release – please click below to write to your MP and ask them to take action on Shaker’s case.

Shaker Aamer's case history


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