Shaker Aamer: 'I may have to die. I hope not. I want to see my family again'
April 21, 2013
Shaker Aamer was sent to Guantلnamo Bay in 2002, and cleared to leave in 2007. Now, weakened by hunger strike, he asks what his fate has to do with justice
The Guantلnamo hunger strike is, in the end, a protest against George Orwell’s Big Lie. I have not been able to read much during the 11 years I have been held here, and right now I am so dizzy from lack of food that I can barely focus. But when I have had the opportunity, I have read and re-read Orwell’s 1984. It is very instructive: "The key-word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings … it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts."
The Big Lie here in Guantلnamo is the idea that holding 166 prisoners in Cuba somehow makes America safe from extremism. In some kind of international Hollywood epic movie, America is the good world policeman, putting the shackles on the bad guys. These 166 wicked people could, apparently, somehow topple a mighty nation if not kept under 24-hour lock and key.
Originally there were some 779 prisoners here, labelled by the former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld as the "worst of the worst" terrorists in the world. Presumably that means those who remain are the "worst of the worst of the worst".
Of course I understand the impact of 9/11. Killing civilians is an offence against Islam. But Guantلnamo Bay is no solution for the victims of 9/11. Instead, the hypocrisy of the place recruits people to an anti-American banner.
Ultimately, any Big Lie falls apart, but only if people care to look closely at it. You don’t have to look very closely here: 613 prisoners have been sent home and the US has cleared 86 of the prisoners still in this forsaken place. Overall, that’s 699 people – just over 90 per cent of the total – who even the Americans admit were slandered by Rumsfeld.
To clear me, they had to consult with all six main American intelligence agencies, and all agreed that I – like so many others – was no threat to anyone. It is difficult, then, to make the case that we are the worst terrorists in the world.
Meanwhile, though, as with so many of the Big Lies in history, the reality is excruciating for those of us who must live through it. Colonel John Bogdan, the officer in charge here, said to one of the detainees: "I have kids, so I know how to deal with you." I have children too, though I have not been allowed to hold them for 11 years, and I fear for the Bogdan kids. He seems to think that this is some kind of rodeo, where wild horses have to be broken to his will.
They used to call their goon squad the ERF, or Emergency Reaction Force. We called it the Extreme Repression Force. More recently, they changed euphemisms and now they call it FCE, or Forcible Cell Extraction. The abuse remains the same. When I hear the tramp, Tramp, TRAMP of the boots coming to my cell door, my body floods with adrenalin and my stomach cramps up. I know they are coming in to beat me up again.
Right now, I have bruises all over my body. I think I bruise easier now, 60 days into my hunger strike, with my physical defences breaking down.
I have special FCE privileges: they send the team in no matter what the issue. It used to be only when I disobeyed an order – something that I do quite routinely, as I refuse to be their slave. But now, the FCE team come tramp, Tramp TRAMPING into my cell if I need a bottle of water, if I ask for my medicine, or if I want a shower. So I’ve not had a shower for many days; I go without medication; and I only sip from my water bottle, despite the escalating heat.
Sure, the hunger strike began because the guards disrespected the Koran again, but it’s about much more than that now. It’s about the fact that they told me six years ago that I was cleared to leave, and return to my wife and four children, but here I am, still in Guantلnamo. It’s about the man in the cellblock with me who is in a wheelchair, or would be if they had not taken it from him as a punishment for striking. It’s about the man who got so desperate that he tried to kill himself – so they patched him up and put him back in Camp V Echo, the inner ring of this hell.
These are dark hours in a dark, dark pit. Yet I can see the light: well over 100 prisoners are striking in solidarity. We’re not going to take it any more. But let me be clear: we are not begging to be treated better. We are demanding that our basic human rights be respected.
It’s hardly a novel idea. I lived in America many years ago, and I remember the motto on the New Hampshire licence plate: Live Free or Die. I may have to die. I hope not, because I want to see my wife and family again. But the Americans should understand what it means to fight for liberty. They began their revolution with the "shot that was heard around the world" on 19 April, 1775. Some lackey to King George III doubtless labelled them the "worst of the worst", for they were the terrorists then. If demanding a fair trial makes me a terrorist, then we are all terrorists now, and on that anniversary, we celebrate our own revolt.