By Andy Worthington, October 8, 2013
Last week, we published an exclusive article entitled, "In Court, Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Asks for Independent Medical Evaluation," drawing on a motion submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. by lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, asking Judge Rosemary Collyer to compel the U.S. government to "permit his examination by a medical expert of his choice," retained by his lawyers.
Mr. Aamer, as regular readers will know, was cleared for release from Guantánamo by a military review board in 2007, and again by President Obama's inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, and yet he is still held, like 84 other cleared prisoners, because of obstacles raised by Congress,and because of President Obama's unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles.
The lawyers provided three very good reasons why an independent doctor should be allowed to visit their client. Firstly, they state, "An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators."
Secondly, they state that an independent medical examination will aid themselves and the Court "in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings" -- a reference to his habeas corpus petition, which, like those of the majority of the prisoners still held, has not been ruled on by a judge despite the Supreme Court affirming, over five years ago, that the prisoners have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.
Mr. Aamer should not need to continue with his habeas corpus petition, having been cleared for release, but as he and the 83 other cleared prisoners have come to realize, being cleared for release and being told by the US authorities that they have no interest in putting you on trial or continuing to hold you indefinitely means nothing to the Obama administration.
The third reason why Mr. Aamer should be allowed a visit by an independent doctor is, as the lawyers state, because "his past and continued mistreatment threatens irreparable harm," he "is entitled to the relief sought herein in the form of an injunction."
In support of the motion, Ramzi Kassem, who made the motion available to me, and who made unclassified notes of his meetings with Mr. Aamer available to me last year at his client's request (see here and here), submitted a declaration, which I am also posting here, as it provides further details of the abuse to which Mr. Aamer has been subjected over the last few years in Guantánamo. This includes the last eight months, when he has been one of the many hunger strikers whose actions, prompted by despair, reawakened the world's media to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.
It also includes Ramzi Kassem's shocked account of his client's drastic weight loss as a result of the hunger strike, in which his weight has dropped from 208 pounds to approximately 148 pounds. As he explains, "When I met with him on June 28, 2013, he was literally skin on bone: I could see his ribs protrude sharply beneath his skin."
We hope you find the declaration useful and encourage you to share it widely. Please also feel free to sign and share an international petition calling for Shaker Aamer's release, on the Care 2 Petition Site, for which we are seeking 10,000 signatures.
- Andy Worthington
1. My name is Ramzi Kassem.
2. I am a professor of law at the City University of New York School of Law where I direct the Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, a component of Main Street Legal Services, Inc., through which my students and I represent Shaker Aamer in the above-captioned matter.
3. Mr. Aamer is a Saudi Arabian national and legal resident of the United Kingdom who has been imprisoned at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (“Guantánamo”) without charge for over eleven years. The U.S. military has assigned Internment Serial Number (ISN) 239 to Mr. Aamer.
4. The information in this declaration is drawn from my meetings with Mr. Aamer at Guantánamo and from correspondence written to me by Mr. Aamer. During my meetings with him at Guantánamo, Mr. Aamer explained how the conditions of his confinement are interfering with his ability to participate in his case. As detailed below, Respondents have interfered with his ability to prepare for meetings with his attorneys or respond to legal mail with necessary information for his case.
5. For example, Mr. Aamer described how prison authorities held him in solitary confinement for a period of approximately six months from July 2011 and did not allow him to interact with fellow prisoners in that time.
6. Mr. Aamer also told me that, on December 3, 2011, he was the only prisoner who remained in an all-steel punishment section of the prison. The guards finally resorted to an Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) team -- guards in full riot gear -- to move him to another area of the prison. These teams are also referred to as Forced Cell Extraction (FCE) teams.
7. After this removal took place, prison authorities did not allow Mr. Aamer to shower for almost two months. He had to use water from his toilet to clean himself.
8. During a meeting, Mr. Aamer also informed me that he was returned to the solitary confinement block “Five Echo” in Camp V in April 2012.
9. While in solitary confinement, Mr. Aamer is only allowed out of his cell for two hours a day, which he spends alone in a recreation cage. Each day in solitary, Mr. Aamer stages a peaceful protest, refusing to leave the recreation cage and, each day, he is forcibly removed from the cage by an IRF team. Mr. Aamer is typically beaten and sometimes choked in the process.
10. As Mr. Aamer recounted to me on June 28, 2013, the process typically begins with six IRF members rushing at Mr. Aamer and slamming him face down to the floor. Four of the guards grab his arms and legs, a fifth grabs his head, and a sixth oversees the entire operation, often as others watch and even record what is happening with a handheld video-camera. After handcuffing Mr. Aamer from behind with cutting restraints, they subject him to a humiliating body search.
11. Once the IRF team has forced Mr. Aamer back into his cell, they again slam him face down to the floor, pressing his arms and crossed feet together behind his back with their cumulative weight against his arms, feet, and back. The lead IRF member then holds Mr. Aamer’s crossed feet and arms pressed down together against Mr. Aamer’s back in a single point, against which the other five IRF members again bear down with their cumulative weight.
12. I have submitted oral and written complaints to military personnel at Guantánamo regarding their placement of Mr. Aamer in long-term solitary confinement. […]
13. During one of our meetings, I observed that Mr. Aamer’s left knee was swollen and bruised in comparison to the right knee. Mr. Aamer explained that this injury occurred as a result of a beating by the guards and that he lost feeling in this knee. He was not given any medical care for his knee after the incident.
14. I have submitted oral and written complaints to military personnel at Guantánamo about the lack of adequate medical care and treatment afforded Mr. Aamer in the wake of such injuries and to address his other ailments. […]
15. Mr. Aamer generally fears for his life and specifically fears that he will be killed or paralyzed during one of these brutal beatings. Mr. Aamer wrote down the numbers of some of the guards that have beaten him, but this list was confiscated by the guards and was not returned to him.
16. While in solitary, Mr. Aamer reported that prison authorities often did not allow him access to a shower as punishment for his refusals to leave the recreation cage in protest. The authorities told him that if he returned to his cell voluntarily, he would be allowed to use the showers.
17. In part as a result of such harsh conditions, Mr. Aamer contracted “ringworm” infections on his neck and legs. I observed these bacterial infections on Mr. Aamer and he told me he has been suffering with this condition for years.
18. Mr. Aamer also informed me that military personnel use loud noises to keep him awake at night.
19. Moreover, military personnel would flash light into his face to keep him awake at night. He told me that they also use cleaning detergents and noxious odors that fill his cell, causing him breathing difficulties.
20. Mr. Aamer complained about other instances where he was beaten by guards, including one where his finger was almost broken, his knee was injured, and other parts of his body were bruised and swollen. He was denied medical treatment for those injuries.
21. In one incident, the guards squeezed Mr. Aamer’s neck so tightly that he couldn’t breathe. They also applied unbearable pressure on his back, stomach and chest with their knees.
22. The guards then put plastic cuffs on him so tight that the circulation to his hands stopped.
23. In a letter, Mr. Aamer wrote: “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.”
24. Mr. Aamer also wrote: “One thing I know for sure, if something bad happens to me, it will happen at the hands of the Americans here. I will never harm myself. I have a wife and kids I want to go back to.”
25. Mr. Aamer told me that these are among the main reasons why it has been very difficult for him to concentrate on his legal affairs and assist counsel with his case.
26. In order to protest these conditions and his indefinite detention for the past eleven years, Mr. Aamer began a peaceful hunger strike in February 2013. When I met with him on June 28, 2013, he was literally skin on bone: I could see his ribs protrude sharply beneath his skin. He is six feet tall but he has visibly lost weight and told me that his weight has dropped from 208 pounds to approximately 148 pounds.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on this 30th day of September, 2013.
Main Street Legal Services, Inc.
City University of New York School of Law
Note: See here for Clive Stafford Smith's declaration in support of the motion.