Monday, July 29, 2013

Why I am Standing Fast for Justice

In early July, the human rights NGO Reprieve, which represents some of the Guantánamo prisoners, launched a new Stand Fast for Justice (#standfast) campaign, inviting the public to show solidarity with the Guantánamo hunger strikers by pledging to go on hunger strike for a period of time themselves. Well-known figures have taken part, with the process kicked off by human rights lawyer and Reprieve director, Clive Stafford-Smith. He was then followed by comedian Frankie Boyle and actor Julie Christie. The relay has now been picked up by 81-year old human rights activist and director of Widows for Peace Margaret Owen. Below Ms Owen gives her reasons for undertaking the hunger strike, followed by a report of her first day (Sunday 28 July).
Many other individuals have also pledged to hunger strike. Another human rights activist who has done so is actor Romany Blythe. Below are her reasons for pledging to go on hunger strike as well.

Well done to everyone who has taken part in this action and taking a stand for Shaker Aamer and the other prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

Margaret Owen:

Saturday 27 July: Tomorrow I start 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 false 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.

Sunday 28 July: 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. Am 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

Romany Blythe:
It used to be that a British citizen and even those on British soil had the protection of the British justice system.
A justice system that was the envy of the world. Then cam 9/11 and everybody panicked and politicians saw an opportunity.
An opportunity to assert more control over the people by the state. We gave our protection for our citizens and agreed a new extradition treaty with the US on the grounds that they would reciprocate, although having promised to do so they never have. In our new situation. We give up our citizens without even a request for evidence as to their crimes. We question not, the right of the US to hold juries diction over British citizens yet we demand no such rights of extradition in return. There is however mounting pressure in parliament to over turn this agreement that denies Britain sovereignty over it's own citizen. As a citizen of the United Kingdom you can no longer rely on the protection of the UK no mater what the colour of your skin. One you could expect that the validity of the evidence against you would be tried in this country, under our justice system. Now you are to be handed over on a whim with no submission of evidence.

The United States Department of Defence held a total of nine British detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. All the British citizens have been repatriated. Shaker Aamer is the last British resident held in Guantánamo Bay. He has not been charged and he has not been trialled. Aamer has never been charged with any wrongdoing, has never received a trial, and his lawyer says he is "totally innocent". He was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007, and the Obama administration in 2009 but remains in Guantánamo. He has been described as a charismatic leader who spoke up and fought for the rights of fellow prisoner and some have speculated that this might be a reason for his continued detention. Aamer says that he has been subject to torture while in detention.
Image from a play about Guantánamo by Romany Blythe
Aamer's mental and physical health has been declining over the years, as he has participated in hunger strike to protest detention condition and been held in solitary confinement for much of the time. He has lost 40 per cent of his body weight in captivity.
It is said that he is dying. He has now been on hunger strike for more than 150 days. He has a 10 year old son, he has never seen. His children have grown up without him.
Aamer's family now live in Battersea, South London. His wife Zin Aamer has suffered from depression and mental episodes since his arrest. Saeed Siddique, Aamer's father-in-law, said in 2011, "When he was captured, Shaker offered to let my daughter divorce him, but she said, 'No, I will wait for you.' She is still waiting.

It is illegal in this country for our government or its officers to engage in or collude in turture. Force feeding and solitary confinement are considered to be acts of torture by the European court of human rights. Further Shaker has endured much of the shocking forms of torture that we have come to associate with Guantanamo and he says this was performed on him in front of MI5/MI6 operatives.
Are we now become a country that denies it's citizens their human rights? Where governments in a cavalier fashion now systematically break this countries own laws? it is not the wicked and terrible plighjt of one man that is the issure here but the right of the British people to a fair justice system for all!
At a time when I young British man with Asperger’s Syndrome Talha Hussain sits in solitary confinement in a US prison, never having committed any crime in or against that country. Never previously having left British soil. Should we not now fear for all our freedoms! it is is not a case of do not do wrong and you will be all right. With the loss of our right to legal aid none of us are safe now. This is a campaign for the release of one man, but it is a fight for all our basic rights to justice!

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