In newly unclassified commentary from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been held for ten years without charge or trial, has described how, in the last eight months, he has been subjected to routine sleep deprivation, and has been regularly prevented from cleaning himself, and from receiving any medical care. He has also explained how he has been regularly subjected to “Forced Cell Extractions” by teams of armed guards, who have injured him, and has been on a hunger strike that has seen him lose 30 percent of his body weight.
Fearful of the authorities’ intentions, he has also explained: “I have no doubt they want me to be harmed.” However, he added: “I will never harm myself. I have a wife and kids I want to go back to.”
What is particularly depressing about this state of affairs is that Shaker Aamer is not, to the best of our knowledge, one of the 82 prisoners at Guantánamo (out of the 171 remaining prisoners) that the Obama administration has determined to be eligible for a trial or, more depressingly, as eligible to be held indefinitely without charge or trial because they are regarded as “too dangerous to release,” even though no evidence exists that could be used against them in a court.
Shaker is reportedly one of the 89 prisoners cleared under Obama who are still held, even though he was first cleared for release in 2007, under the Bush administration, and his return has also been sought by the British government since 2007. His continued detention therefore remains both inexplicable and unjustifiable, as he could be safely returned to the UK today. It can only be presumed, therefore, that he has not been released because of his persistent defense of the prisoners’ rights. This has led to him being regarded as a threat throughout the last ten years, but that, of course, is thoroughly unacceptable as a reason for detaining someone — and especially someone that both the US and the UK governments have said that they want freed.
Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer and a law professor at the City University of New York, who is one of Aamer’s lawyers, reported that Aamer explained why he was still being mistreated at Guantánamo as follows during a visit on January 27:
I am being mistreated because I refuse to comply in the face of injustice. Prison authorities keep telling me that I have to become ‘compliant.’ I reply that it is they who have to become compliant. It is a constant, 24-hour struggle. They force me to fight every step of the way. I’m a free man. Don’t try to humiliate me.
From July 15 to December 3 last year, Aamer was held in solitary confinement in a block known as “Five Echo,” part of Camp Five, a maximum-security block, modeled on the Miami Correctional Facility, a state prison in Bunker Hill, Indiana, which opened in May 2004.
Camp Five once held up to a hundred prisoners regarded as having significant intelligence value — or, it should be noted, regarded as being uncooperative, or as having influence over their fellow prisoners. Now, however, the block only holds 25 prisoners at most, including, in a top tier block, the five prisoners who have agreed to plea deals — or, in one case, have been convicted, in their trials by military commission.
The cells in “Five Echo” are, apparently, only half the size of the normal cells, and back in December, when information about this block first emerged publicly, Ramzi Kassem said that Aamer had described “abysmal conditions” in “Five Echo,” explaining that “the squat toilet is difficult to use, there are foul odors, bright lights shine on detainees and air conditioners keep it extremely cold.” Kassem said, “It is decrepit, filthy and disgusting. Those are the words he used to describe it.”
According to Aamer, the suffering to which he has been subjected — which has not fundamentally changed in the last few months — has involved sleep deprivation in “so many ways that only Lucifer can think of.” He has explained how the guards have been “speaking loud through the night with all kind of noises — cleaning, moving things, shaking the locks of the cell, turning the light on and off,” and how they have also regularly shone a flashlight in his face, and liberally spread detergent like pine oil or Clorox. He has explained how the strong smell fills his cell so that he can’t breathe.
In a brief explanation of the sleep deprivation, he has stated that he was “sleeping in light,” and there was “no darkness to sleep.” The lighting, as is typical, has been on “24/7″ — and he has also been confined to his cell for 22 hours a day, with just two hours allowed in the recreation yard from 6 am to 8 am every day.
He also explained how he had been prevented from cleaning himself, and had not had a shower for more than two months. He added that he had been prevented from looking after his beard, or using a nail clipper or a comb. On January 27, he noted: “Today is the first day I take shower since the 3/12/2011 and shave because I am coming to see you.” He has also complained that he has had to “shower from the toilet,” explaining, “I take water and shower from the same place I take shit.”
In addition, in a reminder that the long years of institutional paranoia at Guantánamo are not at an end, and that prisoners are permanently and disproportionately regarded as a security threat — or are punished with having all “comfort items” taken away from them — he is also prevented from having a real toothbrush, and is only allowed a small finger toothbrush, which, he said, is “no good for brushing.”
This paranoia on the part of the authorities — and the response to it that involves punishment — also extends to a ban on the use of cups, even the Styrofoam cups that prisoners used to scratch poems onto in the long years of the Bush administration. Aamer is not allowed to use a cup. “I have to drink my hot coffee and tea from water bottles,” he said. He also explained that, in the first week of December, he received a number of prohibitions:
No more condiments. No yoghurt, cheese, peanut butter, olive oil, honey. No toothpaste, no toilet paper. Why? In the name that I use it to cover the camera.
Describing the violence to which he has been subjected, he said that he was subjected to “Forced Cell Extractions” every day from December 3 until his meeting with Ramzi Kassem on January 27. On one occasion, during an early morning cell extraction, he said:
I got beaten up on my knee and my finger is almost broken. Swelled for few days … they refuse to give me any treatment not even knee brace. Bruises and swelling all over my body. Squeezing my neck so bad I could not breathe. Try to break my hand and fingers. Pressure on my back, stomach and chest, so much pressure. Tight, the plastic cuffs so tight the blood circulation stop.
He has also complained that he has “no privacy,” and that he has had “no medical care whatsoever” since being placed in isolation in “Five Echo.” In a visit in November, one of his attorneys, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, listed his many ailments, and wrote to the British foreign secretary William Hague that he “is gradually dying in Guantánamo Bay.”
In addition, as Aamer explained to Ramzi Kassem in January:
Since 3/12/2011, when they moved me out of 5 Echo I am going to rec alone and I haven’t seen my doctor for long time and I refuse to take any meds from the medical staff. I am very worried about my health and my life in this place. I feel so vulnerable and any time they can do anything to me no one knows.
I have been on hunger strike since the 15/7/2011 and my weight went from 208 [pounds] to 148 [pounds] but they did not give me the tube to feed me so I start to eat fruit and salad sometimes so I don’t harm my body. I have no doubt they want me to be harmed.
One thing I know for sure if something bad happen to me it happened with the hand of the American. I will never harm myself. I have a wife and kids I want to go back to. Anything happen to me, they done it.
There is so much to say about the evil they do in this place, specially the small things that no one pay attention to it but one thing you need to know:
They control the air we breathe. Control the light, control the noise, control the food, control the water. They control everything and they use it against me any time they want. All that you need to know about this place you just need to read 1984 by George Orwell.
I swear to my only Lord there is no human being in this place. Guards with no feelings, they do what they are told, regardless of anything.
Andy Worthington, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. He maintains a blog at andyworthington.co.uk.