Clive Stafford Smith

What the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay couldn’t tell me

on 03 May 2012

Shaker Aamer at Guantanamo

Last week, I travelled 3,500 miles to meet with the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer. Under the Orwellian rules that govern legal visits with a prisoner there, everything he said to me is classified.

I have to submit my notes – in this case, almost 200 pages – to the US censors and they decide what I can, and cannot, tell his family, his British lawyers, and the world.

So I can tell you nothing that Shaker said. I can, though, tell you what I said to him.

I asked him whether he was still being held in solitary confinement in Camp V, Echo Block, where he was transferred last year? Can you imagine the claustrophobic impact on him of months in a small cell that does not even have a toilet – just a hole in the ground.

What was Shaker’s reply to me? I cannot tell you. It’s still a ‘state secret’.

I asked him whether the US military is still beating him up pretty much every day? They call it an FCE (a Forcible Cell Extraction), where soldiers in black Darth Vader outfits burst into the cell and drag him bodily out. His answer? I cannot say.

I asked him whether he was getting any medical care for his multiplicity of illnesses. His answer? I cannot say.

Why, you might ask, is all of this considered secret, a threat to US national security?

Obviously the fact that Shaker may be subject to cruel and degrading treatment is not a threat to national security – it does, however, threaten to embarrass politicians.

Obviously, Shaker’s medical complaints should not be classified — but perhaps the fact that he may be slowly dying reflects badly on the supposedly enlightened regime of Guantánamo Bay.

All this is as absurd as it is wrong. Yet it is part of a broader, very worrying trend that is being reinforced by Britain. The centrepiece of the British government’s ‘Green Paper’ on security issues is a plan for more secrecy in our courts, in large part to satisfy what is said to be the United States’ insistence that anything they say is classified should remain secret.

Indeed, the ‘Green Paper’ was supposedly designed to avoid a repetition of the Binyam Mohamed case, where the British courts had the audacity to release a brief synopsis of Binyam’s torture in US custody.

So should the British government be underwriting a US policy that is designed to keep the torture of prisoners secret? Or should the ‘Green Paper’ rather seek to fulfil our obligation under the UN Convention Against Torture to expose and investigate any allegation that torture has taken place?


This originally appeared in Liberal Conspiracy, 02/05/2012.

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