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Shaker Aamer’s First Interview: ‘Everything That Happened To Us Is a War Crime’

Shaker Aamer, who was released from Guantanamo Bay prison in October, gave his first television interview to the British news outlet, ITV News.

Aamer, a British resident born in Saudi Arabia, was detained for nearly fourteen years. He endured routine abuse and torture, especially because he engaged in hunger strikes and was willing to stand up for the rights of fellow prisoners.

He wrote a number of letters from Guantanamo which offered a window into the brutal tactics used by the U.S. military. The letters also showed the pain caused by not being able to be with his wife and children

ITV, unfortunately, posted Aamer’s interview today in many thirty to forty-five second chunks rather than in one segment or two longer parts for the world to watch. Those chunks of the interview do not necessarily represent the more significant parts of the interview.

“Everything that happened to us is a war crime in Guantanamo. Everything that is happening right now is a war crime in Guantanamo,” Aamer declared. “When you inflict a pain on people and you make them go crazy until they kill themselves, who is [to] blame?”

Aamer suggested if President Barack Obama really wants to close Guantanamo he should “practice his right as a president, his right as the head of the army, and just close it.” He can think of all the innocent prisoners as human beings, who will help him close the facility.

He shared in the ITV interview how he was subject to “regular beatings” and doused with “freezing water” at bases in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. He says his head was “bashed against a wall.” He was “starved and deprived of water and made to stand for up to 18 hours at a time.” Much of this treatment occurred at Bagram airbase.

Military personnel hog-tied him at one point, a process which he said involves guards tying a prisoner’s hands and legs together. “You cannot relax because your hands are behind your back and you are curved. If you relax, you will be putting all your weight on your wrist and your legs.”

Aamer was subjected to psychological torture too. For example, at Guantanamo, the guards blasted rock music into cells when it was time for prayer. He remembers Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”

The psychological torture was the worst for Aamer. He mentioned the pain from physical torture would go away eventually. However, being psychologically manipulated, “You feel like every time they find something new to do.”

“Their goal is to scare you, to make you submit, make you understand that if you refuse to comply with the orders it means you are going to get this punishment all the time,” Aamer additionally claimed.

“They want you to submit to them. They want you to understand that they are overpowering you and you have no right to say yes or no, just do what they tell you, even if its a silly thing, a little thing like an apple stem.”

Given this testimony, it makes sense that Aamer believes Guantanamo is run by doctors and psychologists.

“Guantanamo’s been built on how to destroy a human being totally, how to damage him mentally, physically, spiritually,” Aamer declared in the ITV interview. “It’s a program that’s been designed by psychologists. I assure you that I can prove to the world who runs Guantanamo is not a military administration. It’s doctors [and] psychologists.”

There’s some dark truth to what Aamer said. A report from Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research called attention to how Guantanamo was conceived as a “battle laboratory.” Prisoners were treated like “test subjects” as personnel, including medical officers, engaged in experiments to develop new interrogation techniques. Numerous detainees were drugged upon arrival to help interrogators break them. One prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was treated like a “lab rat” and monitored closely by medical personnel to determine if his body could continue to withstand torture.

According to Behavioral Science Consultation Team members Major Paul Burney and Major John Leso, “[W]hat’s more effective than fear based strategies are camp-wide, environmental strategies designed to disrupt cohesion and communication among detainees. … [The] [e]nvironment should foster dependence and compliance. … We need to create an environment of ‘controlled chaos.’”

Aamer has previously alleged British intelligence was complicit in the torture he endured. The Guardian reported in 2013, that he claimed a “British operative was present as a U.S. interrogator repeatedly smashed his head against a wall shortly before he was sent to Guantanamo.”

During the ITV interview, Aamer repeated allegations of British complicity in U.S. torture and demanded a public inquiry.

“I believe intelligence services are a government into a government. This is my own conclusion when I see what happened with these intelligence services all over the world. They are not really obliged to follow what the government wants,” Aamer suggested.

Aamer also called for former Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush to be given a certain level of immunity so they would have some incentive to share the truth about war crimes with the world.

The former Guantanamo prisoner confessed that he was afraid of what someone from or associated to the security services might do to him now that he was a free man.

“I’m not going to deny that I’m scared because before I came out there was so much restriction they wanted to apply on me,” Aamer shared. “Suddenly, I find myself coming back to Britain as a free man with no restrictions, which is a very good thing but at the same time it’s scary for me. They just might do anything if I start talking like I’m talking right now, telling the world what happened.”

“They might do anything to shut me up, which is, you know—I really don’t want to upset anybody, and I don’t want to start anything in the country that [will] jeopardize their security,” Aamer added. “But in the same time, all that I’m doing is telling the truth. That’s all.”

In heartbreaking detail, he described seeing his wife, Zineera, and children, Johina, Mikhail, and Said, and meeting his son, Faris, who was born after he was captured in Afghanistan by the U.S. military.

“For them, I’m a stranger. I’m a total stranger. So they were acting with me like strangers,” Aamer told ITV News. “Yes, I’m their dad and all that but they still don’t know nothing about me.”

It was hard, Aamer added. He had to hold back tears, and then he started crying.

When Aamer saw his sons, Faris and Mikhail, he confused the two. He thought the tallest one would be older, but the tallest one turned out to be Faris. He was embarrassed.

The moment he saw his wife was much sweeter for Aamer.

He said, “That instant washed away the pain of 14 years. It washed away the tiredness, the agony, the stress. It was like it no longer existed. I hugged her, she hugged me, and we just wept.”

“I think we still have to take it little by little to let them know how much I love them and how much they lost in those 14 years,” Aamer stated.

Aamer acknowledged how he has support from others who will help him figure out how to resume life after fourteen years of torture and detention in a military prison.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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