[Pnews] Shaker Aamer Befriended Ants, Stray Cats To Survive Guantanamo Torture
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 18 11:07:46 EST 2015
Shaker Aamer Befriended Ants, Stray Cats To Survive Guantanamo Torture
15 Dec 2015 Kevin Gosztola <https://shadowproof.com/author/kgosztola/>
Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Shaker Aamer was subject to routine acts
of abuse and torture by United States military personnel, who were
intent to break his spirit. In recent interviews for British news
networks, it is abundantly clear that the military did not succeed.
Aamer, a British resident born in Saudi Arabia, was detained for nearly
fourteen years at the military prison. He engaged in hunger strikes and
stood up for the rights
fellow prisoners. He was cleared for release twice, once by President
George W. Bush’s administration and once in 2009 by President Barack
Obama’s administration. Yet, it was not until October of this year that
he was released to Britain.
During a Dec. 14 interview with BBC News
<http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35049397>, Aamer described the
brutality and pain he endured while in the custody of the Northern
Alliance, while held at Bagram air base, while at a facility in
Kandahar, and while detained at Guantanamo. There are moments where
Aamer’s incredible resilience is apparent.
Aamer detailed the practice of subjecting prisoners to “forced cell
extractions” (FCEs) and recounted part of an incident where guards
accused him of having an apple stem. He knew the guards wanted him to
“submit to them.” They wanted him to “be broken.” He kept the stem in
his mouth because he refused to give them what they wanted.
In 2012, he estimates he was subject to about 380 FCEs. Sometimes, FCEs
happened to him seven or eight times in one day.
What happens is a guard becomes agitated over something, such as a
stolen salt packet. They try to get a prisoner to give up the salt
packet. Often the prisoner never took anything. And, when the salt
packet is not produced, up to fifteen officers march down to a
The officers rush into the cell. They expect the prisoner lie on the
ground with their head in or nearby the toilet, and a prisoner is not
allowed to sit on the bed. The officers spray the prisoner with pepper
spray while sitting in the cell. The officers smash the prisoner’s face,
throw the prisoner on the floor, push his face into the toilet, and they
tie the prisoner’s hands and legs behind their back. The prisoner is
tossed out of the cell, and the officers search the cell. As all of this
happens, a camera pointed at guards rolls while officers shout, “Stop
resisting! Stop resisting!” to justify the brute force that is used.
Military personnel sexually assault prisoners. Aamer said during the BBC
interview that personnel rubbed their hands on his private parts. They
conducted strip searches when they thought prisoners were resisting
officers. The searches are recorded by cameras.
Aamer made friends with ants, birds, and cats
Given the torture experienced at U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan
and at Guantanamo, it is remarkable how Aamer fought back against the
inhumanity of his confinement by making friends with animals.
In 2005, after three prisoners committed “suicide,” Aamer was isolated
in a cell at Camp Echo for two years and ten months. He was only allowed
to go outside for twenty days. He very rarely was able to leave his
cell. He made friends with ants.
“I start watching them. I start learning the different ants, the
different colors, the different way of doing things,” Aamer recalled.
“And it was beautiful because I learned so much, and they became so
friendly with me that I do believe that animals, insects, all kinds of
things that they do realize us. They do know us. They know the
difference between us. But we don’t the know difference between them
because they are ants, but they know me. They knew me as me because I
used to feed them three times a day, put them the food certain times.
And they don’t bother me.”
Aamer’s face lit up with excitement as he talked about how ants opened a
hole next to his head, where he slept on the ground each night. The ants
started to crawl over his face and wake him up. He put saliva in the
hole to cover it. After three times, he believes the ants got the
message he was trying to send because they brought a tiny piece of
rusted metal and sealed the hole.
Guantanamo has cats, and Aamer named a cat Ameera because she was like a
princess. Aamer laughs and adds, “She’s very tacky. She doesn’t just eat
anything. She doesn’t even go straight to the food. She go and smell it
and go around, and she’ll look at you like it’s not a big deal. You’re
not really doing something much for me.”
However, one of the numerous ways the personnel would be cruel to
prisoners involved hunting the cats. These animals would be trapped and
killed because it was clear how much joy they brought to prisoners. And
Aamer mentioned how prisoners would hide food, like tuna, to feed the
cats because if they were caught saving food for animals they would be
Aamer made friends with birds. “It’s a whole effort. I have to sit,
collect the bread, and then I have to break it to small pieces,” he shared.
“Then I have to mix it with some jam, cause they love sweet stuff. I
know from my younghood. I used to have birds. So they love the sweet
stuff so I used to mix it with honey, jam, things like that. Then I have
to sneak it out sometimes.”
While in isolation, this was all a part of finding a purpose for being
alive. He shared that he had to “find something, someone to talk to, to
play with. And I used to do that with the animals, with birds and all
that.” Eventually, there came times when he could forget about the
possibility of being at Guantanamo forever because the animals would sit
with him. Birds, like a raven, would come and eat from his hand and help
him forgot about indefinite detention.
‘Your wife and your daughter is with us’
The hardest thing Aamer had to deal with happened at the facility in
Kandahar, where he was held in a tent for ten days. He was starving and
had no water. There was an officer who threatened to rape Aamer’s daughter.
“Your wife and your daughter is with us,” Aamer said an officer told
him. “If you don’t start talking, we will rape your daughter and you
will hear her crying, ‘Daddy, daddy.’ That was, that was completely
inhumane. It was worse than the beating. It was worse than everything.
Just thinking of my daughter, I just sat there silent.” And, three or
four days later, the same officer returned and tried to be “Mr. Nice.”
When Aamer was brought from Bagram to Kandahar, the officers had
“something called welcoming party, where they really beat you up,” while
prisoners are still on the concrete at the airport. This is
before prisoners are moved for intake processing. Young “kids”—U.S.
soldiers, who Aamer believed were “brainwashed big time”—did whatever
they wanted and would beat prisoners brutally when they arrived.
It was particularly bad for Aamer because there was a prisoner near him
who the officers raped with an M-16. They were shoving it into his back
side, and the guy screamed, “I’m not a woman. I’m not a woman. Why are
you doing this to me?” Aamer recalls how he was upset and felt he had to
do something. He spoke up, and they heard him speaking English. The
officers called him a “traitor” and beat the hell out of him. He was so
brutally beaten that his kidney was bleeding.
“Truly, that’s one of the times when I thought I’m not going to live
that night,” Aamer recalled.
Aamer faced more threats from officers to rape his daughter and wife. An
officer came and informed him they had his wife and daughter. According
to Aamer, the officer said, “we have your wife and your daughter and if
you don’t start talking you know what can happen.” And Aamer said he
shut down completely because he genuinely believed the officer. He
thought it was entirely possible she was sold to Americans like he had
been sold to U.S. military personnel.
Crying at a photo of a man jumping out of the World Trade Center
Aamer came to understand very soon that interrogators were not listening
to the answers he gave to their questions. Officers do not want to see
prisoners as human beings. There is a particular set of answers they
want to hear, whether it is true or not, and prisoners who do not
“confess” can expect more and more brutal interrogations.
For example, Aamer powerfully recounted the first time he became aware
of what really happened with the 9/11 attacks.
Aamer did not know much about the 9/11 attacks before he arrived at
Guantanamo. He just knew two buildings had collapsed.
“One day, I was in interrogation and the interrogator brought a book,”
Aamer remembered. “It had all scenery from 9/11. And then he kept
opening one page after another page, and then suddenly he stopped on a
page where somebody jumped from all the way up—God knows, hundred
floors—and he’s jumping, running away from the fire.”
“I looked at it. In my mind, the guy is going to get killed by fire, but
he knows when he jumps he’s going to get killed anyway. So I start
crying, and he looked at me and couldn’t believe it. He’s crying. So he
grabbed the huge book and he picked it up and smacked it on the table.
He looked at me and said, you crying? You did this.”
Aamer told the interrogator he did nothing. He did not do this. But, as
Aamer said, the fury was a reaction to his emotion.
“[The interrogators] don’t want to even believe you’re a human being.
They don’t want you to feel that, yeah, I’m just a man with feelings,
just like you,” Aamer suggested. “They hate it because they know what
they are doing to you.”
Singing Whitesnake because it gave him hope
Unlike Bagram or Kandahar, Aamer contended personnel at Guantanamo were
more careful about how they tortured prisoners. It was more discrete.
Personnel would come in at nights to practice humiliation because they
wanted revenge against prisoners.
A form of this torture was to blast loud music at prisoners,
particularly rock music. Yet, in the case of Aamer, he grew up listening
to music just like any American teenager. Blasting music did not usually
work how the officers wanted.
“They used to hate it. When I listened to it, I used to sing with it,”
Aamer recounted. He brightened up and laughs, as he shared how the
lyrics of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” gave him hope. “The words make
me feel like, yeah, it’s me again.”
Aamer recited the lyrics, “Here I go again on my own/Going down the only
road I’ve ever known/Like a drifter I was born to walk alone/Cause I
know what it means to walk lone that lonely street of dreams.”
He added, “It’s true. It’s just dreams—dreams that I would be home one
day. Dreams that I would be free. Dreams that Guantanamo would be closed.”
In that moment, this extravagant ’80s power ballad meant to seduce a
woman was transformed into something Whitesnake lead singer David
Coverdale never could have ever imagined. It became an anthem that
empowered a soul to stay strong and never lose hope.
Aamer remains committed to all the prisoners still confined at
Guantanamo. It is why he agreed to talk to BBC News. He wanted the world
to know abuse that occurred twelve years ago is still ongoing in the
facility. He insisted the prison will one day be shut down.
“There is no humane thing in the system. There is no feelings in the
system. It’s just a system, and whatever [personnel] are doing, they are
doing it because it’s a system. And nothing changes until we stop that
system [from] doing what they are doing,” Aamer concluded.
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