Born in Saudi Arabia, Shaker is a British resident, and is married with four children. He was captured in Afghanistan, where he had been involved in a project to build a school with the released British prisoner Moazzam Begg, after the US-led invasion in October 2001, and was sold to the Americans, who subjected him to torture in a secret CIA prison and in a prison at Bagram airbase, and then flew him to Guantánamo. An enormously charismatic man, Shaker has persistently campaigned for the rights of the prisoners in Guantánamo, and as a result is regarded, erroneously, as a senior figure in al-Qaeda by the American authorities.
Since August 2005, when he led a short-lived Prisoners’ Council, which negotiated with the authorities to provide better treatment, he has been held in solitary confinement, and in January 2007 he embarked on a hunger strike as the only method left to him to highlight his predicament and that of his fellow prisoners. For their pains, the hunger strikers – and Shaker is one of dozens – are restrained, using 16 separate straps, twice a day for an hour and a half in a special chair, and force-fed through a thick tube which is forced up their noses and into their stomachs. The procedure is extremely painful, but anaesthetics are rarely used, the military staff responsible for the force-feeding are untrained – and sometimes force the tube into prisoners’ lungs instead of their stomachs – and the tubes are removed after each feeding. Designed to “break” the prisoners, and to force them to abandon their campaign, the force-feeding effectively tortures prisoners who – seeing no way out of their illegal imprisonment – wish to die to end their suffering. As long ago as November 2005, when he was taking part in a huge hunger strike, which, at its height, involved at least 200 prisoners, Shaker wrote, “I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to all of us. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for years. Rather than humiliate myself, having to beg for water, I would rather hurry up the process that is going to happen anyway… I want to make it easy on everyone. I want no feeding, no forced tubes, no ‘help,’ no ‘intensive assisted feeding,’ This is my legal right.”
Speakers at the conference – which was extremely well-attended – included Zachary Katznelson, one of Shaker’s lawyers at Reprieve, human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, activist Bianca Jagger and former prisoner Moazzam Begg. The most poignant moments of the event, however, were when one of Shaker’s daughters, and one of Moazzam Begg’s daughters, addressed the audience. Their words are reproduced below.
My Life Without My Dad
Lines written by Johaina Aamer, the 9-year old daughter of Shaker Aamer, 29 June 2007.
After school, when I have reached home,
“I have a surprise for you,” says my mum.
I get excited. What if my dad has returned?
It would be the best thing that ever happened.
“A chocolate cake and some games for fun.”
How can I say, “Thanks mum, but I want none.”
I run to my room with my heart broken.
My dad in a cage, locked up in a prison.
He was sold to the people with no hearts or emotions.
Where is the justice, for my dad is innocent’?
A long, long waiting but no sign of return.
Each day is same for my brothers, me and mum.
I miss you everyday, you are never forgotten.
I wish to say goodbye to the world of corruption
So we can be together and rejoice in heaven.
I hide my tears and smile for this reason.
Written and spoken by Marium Begg, daughter of released Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, at the Shaker Aamer conference, “A South London Man in Guantánamo,” 30 June 2007.
Bismillah al Rahman al Raheem. As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. I greet you all with the Muslim greeting of peace.
Before I start I would like to say I am not used to talking in public, like my father, so if I make any mistakes then you can blame him! I would like to begin by giving you a taste of how I felt during the three years whilst my father was not with me. Imagine one night you are playing with your father who is very close to you. The next morning you find he has disappeared. “Where to?” you ask your self. Why would your beloved father leave you without telling anyone? You ask your mum and she says your father’s in a bad situation and he had to go. But you don’t know what that means. And because you are the eldest daughter at the age of six you have to help your mother with her difficulties and you have to help your brothers’ and sisters’ progress. How hard would life be for you all the time your mother calls you to do this and do that and when you walk into your father’s office to play with him his not there? How would you feel?
My family and I were put in this situation for three years and Johaina and her family are still in this situation. When my father was taken away, once I had understood what had happened, I used to cry every night. When I thought about him whilst at school I burst out crying, and when I saw his picture I would imagine him reading me a bedtime story, or giving me a kiss good night or picking me up and throwing me in the air. When he finally came back, after many years, I was too old to be picked up or thrown in the air.
When your friend asks you why your father never picks you up from school and you tell your friend he is in jail, they automatically assume he is a bad person. But how do you explain to that friend that there is such a place as Guantánamo? How do you tell that friend there is such a place, where the rule is “guilty until proven innocent”? How does a mother explain to her daughter that she has no idea when her father is coming back or that he might never even come back? I know that it was very difficult for my mother to explain to us children what had happened. And it was even harder for us to understand. Before this we never thought Americans were bad – we even liked watching American cartoons. But that notion began to change as we grew up without our father.
Both Johaina’s father and mine were kidnapped almost six years ago, but I am very fortunate because mine came back. He saw my youngest brother for the first time in 2005. Uncle Shaker is still in Guantánamo, who’s been there all this time. He has never seen Johaina’s youngest brother Farris. It’s about time he did. I ask you all to join the campaign by my dad, Cageprisoners and others to call for the return of Johaina’s dad to his family and for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, so that all the other children can be reunited with their missing fathers. Thank you.
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To demand the return of Shaker Aamer and the other British residents in Guantánamo, write a letter to Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary. The full address is: Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Secretary of State for the Home Office, Home Office, 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, London SW1H 9AT.