Why I started a hunger strike for Shaker Aamer

Shaker Aamer

Margaret Owen is an 81-year-old grandmother, and she explains why she started a hunger strike for Guantanamo prisoner, Shaker Aamer.

On Sunday 28 July I started my hunger strike for Shaker, this is why.

Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British citizen wife living in London, has been incarcerated in Guantanamo, subjected to extreme torture, often kept in solitary confinement, for the last eleven years. Yet he is, according not only to his lawyers, but even finally acknowledged by the US, totally innocent of any acts of terrorism.

He has never been charged or brought before a US court. Bounty hunters picked him up, when he was running an Islamic charity in Afghanistan, and sold him to the Americans, who, in 2001, were offering huge sums for the capture off suspected Al Qaida operatives. It is now well accepted that all the documentation proffered in his case to the Americans was false.

The UK government, under Labour and the Coalition, have requested both Bush and Obama to release Shaker, who is the last British resident still in Guantanamo. They have refused. Shaker, educated, intelligent, a loving husband and father, has never even seen his youngest daughter, now 11 years old. Everyone now released, who knew him in this infamous prison, speak of the terrible tortures inflicted on him, of his bravery in speaking up for other detainees, and of his rational reasonable demands that his captors at least abide by the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian and human rights international law. He was the spokesman for the detainees, trying to protect them, even when his protests on their behalf endangered his own life.

We must all do everything possible to get Shaker released, and this hunger strike is something I can and want to do.

We all, in the human rights community, now know that MI5 have been energetic participants in these tortures, which included beatings, pretended assassination, cruel deliberately painful force feeding when Shaker was on hunger strike, and worse.

It seems clear that the main reason the US will not release Shaker is that he will thereafter speak out not only about the torture – such torture that in one day a few years ago three brothers died when with Shaker they were taken to the notorious “No Camp” outside the main facility where unspeakable horrors were perpetrated – but he will also be able to provide evidence of MI5 collaboration with the US torture machine and destroy the myth that the US does not “do torture”.

(Ironically, a claim just made today to the Russians in the US request for the extradition of Edward Snowdon!)

I am, yes, in my 82nd year, but should my health deteriorate, it is a small thing to risk compared to the present life of 45 year old Shaker, younger than my youngest son.

I am a human rights lawyer, with my main focus on the rights of widows and wives of the disappeared in conflict and post conflict scenarios.

But Shaker’s wife has been a “half-widow” for eleven long years, and she is in my thoughts and my prayers every day. Mother of four children, her own physical and mental health is seriously impaired.

Whilst in that horrendous infernal Guantanamo, the shame of the US, Shaker, who has lost nearly half his original body-weight, is, according to his lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, now dying.

My friends and relations tell me I am wasting my time. My hunger strike will have no effect. I will ruin my health. Well. If Julie Christie, aged 72, has not eaten for a week, then I can do the same.

She is a celebrity, I am not in that class but I hope that others will join me and our actions will force William Hague to redouble his efforts to secure Shaker’s release.

Day 1 of Hunger Strike for the release of Shaker Aamer

It is odd. I had not realised before how mealtimes, their spacing, preparation of food, is basic to the organisation of the day. Meals, even if snacks at lunch time, somehow provide the framework in which we work and relax, meet deadlines, socialise and relax. For the next seven days this pattern won’t be there. But then immediately I think of Shaker, years and years of nothingness except beatings, torture, and solitary confinement. I am not in solitary, am not living in fear and in pain. I’m not separated from my family.

Ever since I announced this action, I am receiving many messages, which are of two kinds: those that berate me for risking my health (I will not for I will drink lots of water daily) and tell me my strike will have no effect and that I should confine my campaigning work to what they think I know most about – women’s rights. And the others, many, the most, from all sorts of people, wishing me well, wanting also to join, promising to lobby their MPs, Congressmen, etc.

I am thinking of Shaker Aamer and I hope fervently that somehow he will hear that we in the UK are battling for his release; that our efforts will give him courage to survive so that one day, a soon as can be, he is united with his mourning family. Insh’Allah


Margaret Owen OBE is a long time friend of Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) and patron of Peace in Kurdistan campaign. She is a barrister and international human rights lawyer with a focus on women’s rights and access to the justice system. She is the founder and Director of the international NGO Widows for Peace through Democracy, and for more than a decade has been engaged in work to bring about a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issues in Turkey and elsewhere in the region.

PiK and CAMPACC wish her well and stand in solidarity with Shaker Aamer and all the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

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