Why I'm running the London Marathon for Amnesty and Shaker Aamer

Dr David Nicholl outside Downing Street in 2005 Dr David Nicholl outside Downing Street before the 2005 marathon with relatives of Guantanamo detainees © Private

For human rights campaigners anniversaries are crucial in any campaign – they’re a key moment to highlight the suffering of an individual held in often the most grotesque circumstances.

Today is no different. It is my 50th birthday.

And I’m not after gifts or congratulations, or you-don’t-look-a-day-over-40 platitudes. I’m using my birthday and my 50th year to draw attention to the plight of Shaker Aamer.

Ten years ago I ran the London marathon for Amnesty in an orange jump suit to highlight the injustice of Guantanamo. Believe it or not, the hardest part was not running the marathon, but meeting the relatives of those held in Guantanamo Bay outside Downing Street and seeing them turned away.

That personal contact made it difficult for me to just run a marathon and walk away from the issue. Not least as all the families I met that day, have seen relatives released from Guantanamo - apart from the family of Shaker Aamer. Shaker is still in Guantanamo, held without trial, despite being cleared for transfer eight years ago.

So, ten years on, with a milestone in my own life to ‘celebrate’, I’ll be back at the London Marathon to highlight Shaker’s situation in the hope it’ll be the last year he’s held in Guantanamo.

Running the marathon as a campaigning tactic is fitting in many ways. Campaigning on human rights is very similar - it takes stamina and determination. Over the last 10 years, I have highlighted in medical journals (I’m a consultant at a hospital in Birmingham) the ethical abuses at Guantanamo Bay, demonstrated what the forcefeeding process looks like and even gone on hunger strike myself whilst campaigning to close Guantanamo and free men like Shaker.

Maybe, just maybe, this pressure is beginning to work. Earlier this month Amnesty  welcomed President Obama and David Cameron’s commitment to “prioritise” Shaker Aamer’s release from Guantanamo, an incredible 8 years after they cleared him for transfer.

Well, Mr Obama and Mr Cameron - if you are really serious about prioritising Shaker Aamer’s case, you will ensure that he is the next detainee to be transfered from Guantanamo. If not on my birthday, then at least by his son’s birthday on Valentine’s Day. Faris was born on the very day Shaker arrived in Guantanamo in 2002 and has never met his father. It is no wonder that Shaker’s ongoing detention in Guantanamo has such an effect not just on him, but also on the health of his family, all of whom are British citizens.

Eight years since being cleared and 13 years without a trial, Shaker does not need more platitudes, he needs Obama sorting out the very next flight back to London to be with his family.

That is why I am running the London marathon for Amnesty. And if Shaker is not in London, I will be running in the same orange jump suit I wore 10 years ago - it will be my priority.

Two things to do to help Shaker and my campaign

Dr David Nicholl is a consultant neurologist based in Birmingham and has been campaigning to close Guantanamo, and bring Shaker Aamer home, since 2005. Follow David on Twitter

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