G bay a ‘a US Gulag’ – Shaker Aamer tells ITV

Demonstration in Parliament Square demanding the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo
Demonstration in Parliament Square demanding the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo

As lawyers today present a motion to the US Federal Court demanding Shaker Aamer’s immediate release, he has given an exclusive interview to ITV News in which he condemns the site as a US ‘gulag’ and says that he believes he will be released this year.

Detained in Guantanamo Bay for 12 years, Aamer is one of more than 150 inmates still inside the prison despite repeated promises from the Obama government to shut it down.

Aamer was supposed to have been released seven years ago, having been cleared for release by successive White House administrations in 2007 and 2009.

He is the last British resident to be held there and has never seen his youngest son, who was born on the day he arrived at Guantanamo.

A medical report into Aamer’s mental and physical health conducted by an independent doctor after years of struggle by lawyers and charity Reprieve is being presented today to the Federal Court to demand his immediate release under the Geneva Convention.

The medical report details the toll that 12 years in Guantanamo Bay have taken on Aamer, including:

• He has been diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his incarceration

• He has headaches lasting six to eight hours (occasionally lasting up to 24 hours).

• Tinnitus consisting of three tones; a constant high pitch, a constant low pitch, and a ‘thrumming’ that sounds like ‘a hummingbird’s wings’.

• Bilateral ear pain

• Worsening vision

• Asthma symptoms

• Urinary retention

• Bilateral kidney pain

• Chronic constipation

• Lower extremity edema

• Reflux

The medical report concluded that Aamer’s life is in danger unless he is free to undergo rigorous medical treatment and even if he is freed and returned tomorrow, treatments for his conditions could take the rest of his life to cure.

A letter was also written to Foreign Secretary William Hague calling on the British government to support the motion.

The motion also included conversations from the medical report with the doctor who examined him about his torture at the hands of interrogators before he arrived at Guantanamo in Bagram and Kandahar to try and force him to confess.

Aamer also described the effects of torture on his mental state, saying: ‘It’s easy to crack an egg from the outside. It’s hard to blow up the egg from the inside.

‘They let you recover so you think you’re strong again. And then they break you again. And you thought you were strong again. And you don’t know your thoughts anymore.

‘Like the microwave, they boil you from the inside to the outside until you explode. After the microwave, the eggshell may be intact because the heat penetrated to the inside. The shell looks strong. But if you crack the egg, inside you will see charcoal.’

Exchanges in the exclusive interview supplied to ITV News included:

• Q. Prior to this visit by the Reprieve doctor when was the last time you were seen by a medical professional?

‘I have not spoken with a doctor for many months, for many reasons. One involves the lack of any confidentiality – I went to a visit once and the guard insisted on being in the room.

‘I told the doctor that I did not mind the guard being just outside the door, looking in the window, but I could not share my personal medical issues with someone who would be gossiping in the block. She (the doctor) refused this, so I refused to talk to her.’

• Q.Describe your health.

‘Bad, bad, bad. I am falling apart like an old car.’

Q. Have you asked for medical treatment?

‘The doctors do not treat us unless it is approved by Colonel Bogdan, and I don’t want the colonel in charge of my medication, refusing to help me if I am not sufficiently “compliant” to his petty rules.’

• Q. Are you on hunger strike?

‘I am back on hunger strike and have gone without food for a long time. Of course it is bad for my health. They make it worse, as they do not want me on the tube, because they know that I will let the world know what it is like, every second of the day.’

• Q. What is the number of detainees on hunger strike?

‘35 is the most recent number.’

• Q. Can you describe your treatment by the guards there?

‘Not all people are the same. Some, including the current colonel, are sadists – I do not understand them at all. Some try to be human. My task is to seek out the humanity in as many of them as possible.’

• Q.What kind of physical or mental duress are you placed under?

‘How can I answer this? The US military does not like people to call Guantánamo Bay a gulag, but I can remember a gulag run by Joseph Stalin where fifty per cent of the prisoners had been told they were cleared to go, but could not go.’

• Q.William Hague, David Cameron both say they want you returned, so in your opinion why are you still in Guantanamo Bay?

‘I have seen evidence that British intelligence has briefed against me, perhaps because they are afraid of what I have to say about their complicity in my torture. I have done everything I can to neutralise their paranoia. I have no wish to see the small fry MI6 agent prosecuted for standing by while I was being mistreated – that was a policy imposed on him by his superiors. So I have asked the British police to drop their criminal investigation.

‘What was done to me cannot be undone, and it is all in the past … I do want the truth ultimately to come out, but only so that we can make sure that nobody has to go through this nightmare in the future.’

• Q. What do you make of President Obama and his State of the Union speech where he repeated his intention to close Gitmo this year?

‘President Obama needs to learn to keep his promises. A lot of men have lost all hope here, five years after he said he would close the prison, five years when the rate of prisoner releases slowed from even the snail’s pace of the Bush Administration.’

• Q. What would you say to those who believe that you must have committed some sort of offence to be sent to Guantanamo Bay?

‘Ah, I see some people believe in the infallibility of the US intelligence services … I have two replies: first, the US has itself conceded that more than 90 per cent of the detainees in Guantánamo were not the terrorists that were promised; second, if anyone wants to give me a fair trial for any crime, bring it on and let me inevitably be acquitted, instead of just lying about me.’

• Q. Would you agree to conditions being attached to your return to England?

‘I am not begging to be released, and I never will. However, I have already voluntarily agreed to security arrangements. I have nothing to hide, which is more than you can say of the US and their treatment of prisoners here in Guantánamo.’

• Q. What has it done to you to be without your family?

‘How can I answer that question? How can I say how my family is coping when I cannot be with my family?

‘The first years of a child’s life are the time when a father can fill his reservoir with love. After that, the child must draw on that reservoir for the rest of his life. What I have lost, and what has been stolen from my wife and children, can never be given back.’

• Q. Do you believe you will see freedom this year?