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PJ Harvey’s Harrowing & Brilliant Protest Song in Support of Guantanamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer

Shaker Aamer is a British prisoner, who remains in detention at Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that he has been cleared for release twice. He has been held for eleven years without charge or trial and, during his confinement, he has suffered torture.

Aamer has led and participated in hunger strikes and been willing to assert from inside the prison that detainees should have rights. He participated in the most recent hunger strike in Guantanamo that has effectively pushed the administration of President Barack Obama to make it appear they are taking more decisive action to close the prison Obama pledged to close when he was a presidential candidate in 2008.

Now, British singer PJ Harvey has released a song called “Shaker Aamer” in support of Aamer, the last remaining British prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

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The song, which was posted to SoundCloud by the United Kingdom-based legal charity and human rights organization, Reprieve, is written as a letter from Aamer harrowingly capturing the horror and pain he is feeling while still confined at Guantanamo.

“Am I dead, or am I alive?” Harvey sings.

She highlights how he has been deprived access to water, how he cannot sleep or stay awake and how he must be force fed with metal tubes while strapped to a restraining chair.

He is losing his mind, and it’s harder to write. He’s been cleared for six years and should be released. But, does anyone care? No, the guards and doctors just do as they’re told.

Those who have listened to her album, Let England Shake, will recognize that it sounds similar to the music on that album.

I have written about Aamer and the treatment he has experienced during the hunger strike over the past months. Harvey’s song appropriately captures the anguish and spirit of Aamer that has come through in statements to his Reprieve lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.

Aamer’s treatment and continued detention is but one of many examples of the injustice ongoing at Guantanamo. Putting his experience to song should hopefully communicate to those unaware the kind of agony that Aamer and other prisoners have been forced by the United States government to endure.

Here are the lyrics to the song posted to SoundCloud:

No water for three days.
I cannot sleep, or stay awake.

Four months hunger strike.
Am I dead, or am I alive?

With metal tubes we are force fed.
I honestly wish I was dead.

Strapped in the restraining chair.
Shaker Aamer, your friend.”

In Camp 5, eleven years.
Never charged. Six years cleared.

“They took away my one note pad,
and then refused to give it back.

I can’t think straight, I write, then stop.
Your friend Shaker Aamer. Lost.

The guards just do what they’re told,
the doctors just do what they’re told.

Like an old car I’m rusting away.
Your friend, Shaker. Guantanamo Bay.”

Don’t forget.

PJ Harvey
© 2013 Hothead Music Ltd.


Note: During the last part of 2012, I was featuring protest songs nearly every weekday. It was part of an attempt to recognize the power of protest music, acknowledge its role in creating a culture of dissent and highlight how musicians translate social issues and systemic problems into song,

When the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning wraps and I return to a less intense schedule, I hope to resume featuring protest songs. I’ll also be encouraging independent artists to email me protest songs they’ve written to be shared here as well.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."