New call for Government to act over Shaker Aamer as Guantanamo hunger strike accelerates

‘As the hunger strike at Guantánamo accelerates, the UK government should answer the question - is it doing enough to get Aamer out of there?’ - Kate Allen

Ahead of a parliamentary debate on the plight of the Guantánamo detainee Shaker Aamer tomorrow, and with hunger strikes at the US detention centre spreading, Amnesty International has issued a new call for the UK government to act on Mr Aamer’s behalf. 

Aamer, a 44-year-old former UK resident who has been held at Guantánamo for over 11 years, is one of 84 of the camp’s 166 detainees currently on hunger strike, and MPs are set to discuss his case in a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow (9.30-11.00, sponsored by Jane Ellison MP; Aamer’s family live in her Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth constituency).

Detainees began their protest in early February in reaction to what they said were abusive cell searches and deteriorating conditions. The military authorities have rejected the claims, but have acknowledged a sense of despair among detainees because they think the US administration has abandoned its efforts to close the detention facility.  

The military authorities have reportedly said that 16 detainees on hunger strike are being “tube fed” and five have been hospitalised. The issue of force-feeding protesters on hunger strike raises serious issues of medical ethics, informed consent, detainee autonomy, confidentiality and the treatment of detainees. The lawyer of Yemeni national Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, who has been on hunger strike since February, recently told a New York Times reporter that his client had said: “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed in this way.”

Though held at Guantánamo for well over a decade, Aamer has never been charged or tried and he remains detained despite the US authorities officially approving him for transfer out of the camp in 2009. In February Amnesty took a 20,000-strong petition to the US embassy in London demanding justice for Aamer. 

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The situation at Guantánamo is at crisis point. We need to see the UK government renewing its efforts to at long last secure freedom for Shaker Aamer if he is not to be charged.

“As the hunger strike at Guantánamo accelerates, the UK government should answer the question - is it doing enough to get Aamer out of there?

“Like all of the indefinite detentions at Guantánamo, Shaker’s plight is a travesty of justice. It is patently obvious that the US government has no intention of charging him with a recognisably criminal offence. In the absence of a fair trial, he should be released back to his family in Britain without further delay.”

Amnesty International researcher on health and detention James Welsh said:
“Artificial, compulsory feeding would amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of international law if it is intentionally and knowingly conducted in a manner that causes unnecessary pain or suffering.

“The current situation heightens the need for detainees to be guaranteed continued and regular access to independent medical assessment and care, and for all medical personnel to abide by medical ethics.”

On 22 March, Amnesty wrote to US Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel expressing concern about the health and well-being of the detainees, calling for the US administration to work with Congress as a matter of urgency to re-prioritise resolution of the detentions and closure of the facility (see: ). The organisation has not yet received a response.

Background information
*779 detainees have been held at Guantánamo since 2002.
*166 men remain at the US detention centre.
*84 are currently on hunger strike.
*Seven detainees have been convicted by military commissions, five as a result of pre-trial agreements under which they pleaded guilty. Four of them have been repatriated.
*Six detainees are currently facing death sentences after unfair trials staged by military
*Nine detainees have died in custody in Guantánamo.
*About 600 detainees have been transferred from Guantánamo to other countries since 2002.
*48 detainees will be held indefinitely rather than be released or tried, the US administration said in 2010.

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