The last British resident in Guantanamo Bay claims he is being assaulted, sometimes sexually, during prison searches as he continues a hunger strike against his unlawful detention.
In a declassified phone call with his lawyer last week, Shaker Aamer, who has been held in the Cuban prison for more than 11 years without being charged with any offence, said he still faces “forced cell extractions” on a daily basis.
“They flip me over for the search. Mostly, that’s just an assault, sometimes a sexual assault. We call it the Gitmo massage,” Mr Aamer said. “There is meant to be a board, like a wooden stretcher, and they are meant to roll me on. But now they don’t have them. Now they carry me like a sack of potatoes, which is really painful for me.”
Along with scores of other detainees, Mr Aamer, who is 46, has been on hunger strike since January over conditions at the camp and a lack of progress on individual cases. The comedian Frankie Boyle recently went on a week’s sympathy hunger strike to draw attention to Mr Aamer’s plight.
The latest developments come barely six weeks after David Cameron, said he had raised Mr Aamer’s case with US President Barack Obama during the G8 conference amid concerns that the US is trying to render the man known as prisoner 239 to Saudi Arabia.
A British resident, Mr Aamer was born in Saudi Arabia but has a wife and four children in London. He had indefinite leave to remain in the UK when he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001. He claims he was doing charity work; the US claims he was assisting the Taliban.
Earlier this month, the US announced two Algerians detainees would be released from the prison but said there were no plans to return detainees to Britain. Mr Aamer’s lawyers said this could be because the US wanted to send him to Saudi Arabia where he could be silenced from speaking out about the torture and rendition, including sometimes in the presence of UK secret service agents, he said.
Mr Aamer’s lawyer in the US, Clive Stafford Smith, said: “Surely the US cannot think they can render him involuntarily for further abuse in Saudi Arabia, never to see his British wife and kids, and never to give evidence against his torturers in the ongoing criminal investigation by the Met Police?”
“They flip me over for the search. Mostly, that’s just an assault, sometimes a sexual assault”
We call the searches the ‘Gitmo Massage’
The FCE (Forcible Cell Extraction team) are still using the Darth Vader uniforms after all these years. They use some female FCE members now. They bear down on my cell – stomp! Stomp! STOMP!
“239!” shouts the WC [Watch Commander]. I have heard these words in my sleep. “239! Lay down on your stomach! Your hands behind your back! Cross your legs! DO NOT RESIST THE TEAM!”
Then comes the translator. He says the same in Arabic, in a thin, reedy, whiny voice. Then comes the front guy in the FCE team, shouting. “I see the detainee! He’s laying on his back! He’s in the middle of the pen! He doesn’t have a weapon! The floor is dry! The detainee is dry!” Always the same words, rote.
On this occasion, it is about my on-going protest. I won’t come in from the rec cage without being forced to. I have said what I want to do: just sit there for a week, doing nothing, just sitting. It’s about as non-violent, non-problematic protest as you could imagine, but they won’t let me do it.
Ultimately, it’s all about control, and if they feel they are not always in control, then that’s a threat to national security, a threat to the thousands of soldiers with their M16s at Guantánamo.
I refuse to do what they tell me, even though I know I am about to get beaten up. Sometimes, you just have to make a stand, however pointless that stand might seem to be.
The front guard is called FCE-1. Vooom! He runs at my head. FCE-2 through FCE-5 take their position, one on each arm, one on each leg. FCE-6 is back up.
The “Head” guy is the worst. He is meant to “protect” your head, but actually he is grabbing pressure points to subdue you.
If I shout, he pushes the pressure points to shut me up.
They pin me down.
“Leg FCE!” comes the shout and they shackle my legs.
“Arm FCE!” and they shackle my arms. They might use steel or plastic shackles, though it’s mostly plastic.
Sometimes they get the shackles on backwards. I shout at the Watch Commander and the Corpsman, who are observing all this, as it’s painful. The Head man squeezes my neck. “Stop resisting!” he shouts.
“Team! Prepare to search!” They flip me over for the search. Mostly, that’s just an assault, sometimes a sexual assault. We call it the Gitmo massage. There is meant to be a board, like a wooden stretcher, and they are meant to roll me on. But now they don’t have them. Now they carry me like a sack of potatoes, which is much harder on the guards, and really painful for me.
“Team!” shouts FCE-6. “Push the detainee towards me!” They push me like a potato sack.
Pat! Pat! Pat! More Gitmo massage.
“Team! Prepare to lift!” They are meant to do a fireman’s lift, but they actually seize an arm or a leg and just yank. You are on your side, so one of them tends to be doing a half-nelson on me, in handcuffs. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition torture Strappado — you feel as if your shoulder is being dislocated.
FCE-6 has my head now. He is walking backwards, directing the others. “Watch the stairs! Step! Step! Step!” Up six steps; down six steps; through ten doors.
“Watch Commander! Watch Commander!” I shout. “Look at my hand! It’s going to be broken!”
If I try to move my hand, it’s “Stop Resisting! Stop Resisting!”
They get me to my cell. It’s been 150 metres. There’s a rec cage three metres from my cell, but they don’t let me use that one. They know then I would make them FCE me every time, as it wouldn’t hurt so much. So they take me 150 metres, through ten doors.
“Team! Prepare to lower! Team! Lower!” They are all in touching distance of each other, but they have to shout. They put me on the cold concrete floor on my face.
“Key in!” says FCE-6.
“Key to Hands!”
“Key out! Leg shackles out! Hand shackles out!”
I am on my stomach. The Pig has his hands pushing down on my back. My legs are crossed and pressed up towards my lower back.
The Pig is 270lb, and there are 600 more pounds shoving him from behind, doggy style.
“239! Stay on the floor! DO NOT GET UP! Do not resist the Team! Stay down until we close the door!”
They go out one at a time. One of them falls over backwards. It seems rather comical. I lie still on the floor, because I know what is coming next. If you stay still, they come back in.
“239! Do you need medical attention! Do you need Tylenol?”
“You fool!” I reply. “You were meant to prevent me from getting hurt. And now you’re telling me I can have a Tylenol.”
“239 seems responsive!” he says.
Then I start singing. Today, it will be “Get up! Stand up!” by Bob Marley. Last time it was “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics.
Shaker Aamer, July 26, 2013