PiK patron completes solidarity hunger strike

Margaret Owen, human rights barrister, women’s rights advocate and patron of Peace in Kurdistan campaign has completed her one-week hunger strike in solidarity with Shaker Aamer, who is among the inmates currently refusing food at Guantanamo Bay. She has been writing blogs throughout the week, has given interviews and had a letter published in the Guardian in an effort to raise awareness of Shaker’s plight – a British citizen who has been held in Guantanamo Bay for the past 11 years without charge.

Margaret undertook the action in association with Reprieve and the Stand Fast for Justice Campaign, which is supporting hunger strikers the prison camp and demands justice for the detainees.

Last week she wrote to the Guardian explaining why she is undertaking this action:

“I am an 82-year-old widow and human rights lawyer, last Sunday started my hunger strike in protest at the continuing detention of the totally innocent Shaker Aamer, the last British resident to be left in the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison (Letters, 26 July).

I follow the lead of 72-year-old actor Julie Christie and the comedian Frankie Boyle. We ask William Hague to act immediately to insist that President Barack Obama releases this man to his wife and children living in London, and blocks any moves to send him to Saudi Arabia, which he left as a boy of 15 and where it is most likely he will end up in prison, to suffer further torture.

Hague must act quickly, for already Aamer’s physical and mental health is fast deteriorating, threatening his life. This case is of such gravity, that I am glad and willing to risk my own health for the life of this man.”

Margaret has been writing daily on here experiences throughout the week. We posted her first blog last Tuesday, but were unable to post the rest of the week until now. We post here her blogs from the last days of her strike.

Day 2 of Hunger Strike for the release of Shaker Aamer

I managed (as a long ago war-time child I cannot throw any food away)
to use up almost all my remaining food for my Last Supper on Saturday
night. I froze left over milk and vegetables and gave the final
residue to a neighbour. My fridge is empty!

It is my second day, but I do not yet feel hungry or weak. All I can
think about are the 166 men still in Guantanamo, and of the horrible
and painful, life-threatening force-feeding practiced on 45 of them
who have been on hunger strike for many many weeks.  Also I have been
reading other blogs from those who have visited Shaker in which they
describe how changed he is, in his physical and mental condition. I
also read about last Wednesday’s enquiry, in the US , into the closure
of Guantanamo.

I am frightened, appalled, and ashamed of my own government here. Why are
Cameron and Hague so feeble, so lily-livered in their relations with the US?
And where are Clegg, and Miliband in all this?  I fear that the
Security people are terrified of Shaker returning to the UK and
telling the world what they have really been up to in that “special
relationship” that has such blood on its hands.  That is why, perhaps,
Cameron is not trying as hard as he should to prevent Shaker being
sent to Saudi Arabia, a country he left as a boy of 17.

One thing I did learn from another’s blog is that I am permitted to
drink tea with a slice of lemon, and even a cup of coffee at breakfast
time. So I have just made myself a cup of Lapsang and there was,
luckily, a lemon, the only inhabitant, in my fridge!

Tomorrow my local Hammersmith and Fulham paper are coming to photo me
and interview me. I wrote a letter to the Guardian and sent the blogs,
but the phone has not rung. We do need all the publicity we can get,
for time is running out. We must save Shaker and have him back here
where he belongs,

I would like to go visit Shaker’s wife and children. This 11 year old
separation must be terrible for everyone of them. I just pray and hope
our hunger strikes are not in vain. Please anyone who reads lobby your
MP and visit the Reprieve website

Margaret Owen

Day 3 of Hunger Strike for Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer

I fear on my 3rd day blog I am in danger of being really boring, and
trivial, in spite of the extreme gravity and urgency of the cause.
Sustained by advice of various well-wishes (and I thank all of you
who are sending me messages of encouragement) that I can, without
shame, in addition to water, treat myself to tea with lemon, and even
coffee this morning the cup I made for myself, after two days without
such a drink, seemed to have the very best taste I had ever known.

I had been busy yesterday trying to get publicity, since the whole
point of my hunger strike is to galvanise as many people as possible,
and Cameron and Clegg, to insist that Obama releases Shaker to his
family here. My local Hammersmith paper sent their photographer at
9.30 a.m to photograph me – a lovely young man who also mended my
television aerial, and replaced for me a ceiling lamp I could not
reach. Then the Mail on Sunday rang to interview me. Whilst talking to
him, my mobile rang. To my surprise it was BBC World at One which I
had not contacted. I presumed it was about my hunger strike, but no (they
said they had “done” that story) but wanted me to talk about the
email hacking I had suffered in 2010.  So half an hour later I was
sitting in the BBC radio car talking to Martha Karney, probably
incoherently as my mind is fixed on Guantanamo, forced-feeding, the
depressing outcomes of the Enquiry on Closing of Guantanamo held in
Washington last week.

Later in the afternoon, the Wandsworth Guardian called, the local
paper for Battersea, where Shaker’s wife and four children live. I am
pleased that that paper that has covered this case constantly and
persistently for the last years, supported by Battersea MP, Jean
Ellison, was happy to put my strike on their website – just too late for
tomorrow’s paper edition

And my old friend – we were at University together in the 50s –
Baroness Janet Whitaker emailed me that she will now, with other Peers
and Peeresses write again to Hague asking him to intensify his pleas
to Obama to release out compatriot.

I am hopeless – require tuition – on tweeting and FB but I have tried
all these channels and also Huffington Post. Also am so glad I am a
member of our great big exciting new women’s -replacement to the old
Women’s National Commission called the UKNGOALLIANCE, which is the
umbrella for over 80 women’s organisations across the UK. Many of
these are sending me messages of good cheer, practical advice about my
health care, and more important, declarations that they will sign up
to the petition on the Reprieve website, twitter and FB, and lobby
their MPs to keep up the pressure on Cameron and Hague.

Please tell me if I should stop these blogs. I am bound to be even
more dreary and incoherent as the week goes on. I am now looking for
someone to drive with me on Friday down to Dorset since I am warned I
shall feel dizzy and should not take the wheel.

I just hope that Shaker will know that millions of people in this
country are battling for him, and he is in our thoughts and our
prayers all the time, as are his wife and children, two of whom spoke
so eloquently to the Americans just recently

Margaret Owen

Day 4 of Hunger Strike for Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer

This time I promise to be far shorter. My blogs have been much too long, partly because I am without the interruptions of cooking, eating, washing up I have the time. And because, just like I talk too much, I am almost incapable of writing precisely and economically.

Yesterday I was busy with trying to get publicity, sending messages off to BBC and TV and press, but today I have had a better day as my two interns came to deal with all our international work on widowhood issues. Also we had to try and sort out complicated mess left by a sadly unsatisfactory trustee, who has now thankfully departed, but has caused us to lose those valuable tax refunds on donations, so valuable when funding for NGOs is now so difficult to obtain. This dilemma took my mind off Guantanamo for exactly ten minutes, as actually, I think about those force fed detainees all the time.  Am horrified that two women judges could find themselves able, for different reasons, to condemn as unlawful torture, the degrading and painful force feeding. The fact that those medics administering these brutalities pretend to respect Islam and Ramadan, by only operating at dawn and dusk, makes me sick by this cynicism.

Back to me. I am actually managing very well without food.  Had to send the interns out to have their lunch in nearby cafe as literally not a crumb or even a bottle of milk in the house!

To my astonishment, my blogs are now on an Islamic website, Five Pillars. Also, many thanks to the efforts of Estella and her assistant Melanie of Peace in Kurdistan, and the Reprieve websites, perhaps we are managing to get some more publicity. I am on my local Hammersmith and Fulham paper’s website.  The Guardian has just telephoned to say they are considering publishing tomorrow the letter I wrote to the editor last Sunday, and had presumed it had been rejected.  I had a good sympathetic chat with someone at the Indy, but no one has called back. Nor has Woman’s Hour alas.  I looked last night, too late, at Shaker Aamer’s own advice to future hunger strikers: eat fruit for last two days before you start; take a laxative the night before. In Guantanamo somehow he was able to get some Milk of Magnesia, a medicine I remember being regularly forced to take, along with all the other little girls, evacuated to the country during World War II. It was quite disgusting.  There was also an equally horrible bottle laboured Syrup of Figs. Shows how old I am!

Tomorrow, as I am not dizzy yet, must pick up my daughter and grandchildren from Heathrow at dawn and get them to Paddington to return to their Totnes home. They have been on holiday in Cape Cod.  She tells me that she has been unable to find anything about Guantanamo and hunger strikes in the American papers, all about the royal baby and today of course on poor Bradley Manning.  Talk about torture. This young man has already endured three years of incarceration, not exactly as bad as Guantanamo, but torture, in solitary confinement.  Now given such a long prison sentence. Let us hope his lawyers win his case on appeal.  And again, I must revert (as it is my fourth day of fasting I am losing usual reserves) to the hypocritical and totally untrue statement the US made to the Russians in asking for the extradition of Edward Snowden, that they do not “do” torture.

Tomorrow Al Jazeera is coming to film me and may Press TV will be in touch too.  But I really want the UK papers, Guardian, Indy, Telegraph, Times to shout in their leaders for action by our elected leaders. I am beginning to lose my original admiration for Obama.

I pray that all those men in Guantanamo know we are doing all we can to get their release.

Oh dear, I was warned, what to do? It is 5.45 p m and I am getting the first indigestion pains that Shaker Aamer warned us might happen on the 4th day. So am signing off now.

Margaret Owen

Day 5 of Hunger Strike for Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer

I promise all of you reading my blogs, that on this baking hot day (but I think never has hot as the summers in Guantanamo), it is going to be much shorter than previous ones. I was glad to see that the Guardian did print my letter today, a trifle shortened of course, and last night I was pleased to see that many of my blogs are moving around on other websites thanks to the efforts of Clemency at Reprieve and Estella and Melanie at Peace in Kurdistan.  I am still feeling neither hungry nor ill, simply rather warm!

Today at my non-lunch time a young Palestinian from the West Bank came to interview me and take pictures of me for Al Jazeera. I knew the West Bank well years ago but I will not set foot in Israel until they right the wrongs caused by their violations of the human rights of those living in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel.

I told him that I am Jewish but am a fervent supporter, with many like-minded others in the diaspora of the Independent Jewish Voice and Jews for Palestinians.  And here we are again. Which UN member state most supports Israel, what ever it does, as it builds huge settlements on Arab lands, takes over the Old City, has erected that infamous wall, and has established check points denying the Palestinian Arabs their rights to cultivate their land, seek employment, access health care, get justice and the release of so many of their people in Israeli prisons.  But I digress.

Nevertheless, this is all very relevant to the torment and torture of the men in Guantanamo, for it is the continuous backing and condoning by the US of the gross infringements of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israelis, that recruits so many young Muslim men in the region, many unemployed, deprived of education and a future, to the Jihadists, with the resultant tragic vulnerability of so many innocent young men caught up in these dramas and ending up in Cuba. I had to explain to this very courteous and inquiring photographer that not all Jews were pro-Israel, and that there many young Jewish IDF recruits in Israeli prisons because they had refused to obey the orders of their commanders which they considered were violations of international law.

Today, I had to go to my nearest supermarket to purchase non edibles, soap powder, carpet cleaner, plastic gloves, and found myself telling the people at the till – all of them from immigrant communities – what I was doing and why. They advised me to add to my purchases two bottles of Lucozade (it was two for the price of one). Everyone seems to know about Shaker Aamer. What more can we do to put the pressure on Cameron and co? We must go on, devising more innovative ways of keeping his and the others cases firmly in the public eye.

Just heard on the radio that Russia is giving asylum to Edward Snowdon.  This will clearly not improve the Obama and Putin relationship, yet neither of these super powers can boast of an impeccable human rights record.  I applaud the Guardian’s leader today on the trial of Bradley Manning, patently unfair. American law and its justice system may be full of cracks, as is that operating in Russia.  But what we have here now in the UK is not much better.  This week there is a real opportunity to break the strings that bind us to the Pentagon and the White House, and do what is right, even at the risk of souring that “special relationship”.

I am so grateful and touched by the many messages I am receiving showing concerns about my health. I want all that concern directed to the men suffering the torture of forced feeding during Ramadan, not on me. Please please keep plugging away to get Shaker home to us and we will all have a great welcoming party, and he will choose the food.

Margaret Owen

Day 6 of Hunger Strike for Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer

 

I promise all of you reading my blogs, that on this baking hot day (but I think never has hot as the summers in Guatanamo), it is going to be much shorter than previous ones. I was glad to see that the Guardian did print my letter today, a trifle shortened of course, and last night I was pleased to see that many of my blogs are moving around on other websites thanks to the efforts of Clemency at Reprieve and Estella and Melanie at Peace in Kurdistan.  I am still feeling neither hungry nor ill, simply rather warm! 

Today at my non-lunch time a  young Palestinian from the West Bank came to interview me and take pictures of me for Al Jazeera. I knew the West Bank well years ago but I will not set foot in Israel until they right the wrongs caused by their violations of the human rights of those living in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel. 

 I told him that I am Jewish but am a fervent supporter, with many like-minded others in the diaspora of the Independent Jewish Voice and Jews for Palestinians.  And here we are again. Which UN member state most supports Israel, what ever it does,
 as it builds huge settlements on Arab lands, takes over the Old City,has  erected that infamous wall, and has established check points denying the Palestinian Arabs their rights to cultivate their land, seek employment, access health care, get justice and the release of so many of their people in Israeli prisons.  But I digress. 

 Nevertheless, this is all very relevant to the torment and torture of the men in Guantanamo, for it is the continuous backing and condoning by the US of the gross infringements of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israels, that recruits so many young Muslim men in the region, many unemployed, deprived of education and a future, to the Jihadists, with the resultant tragic vulnerability of so many innocent young men caught up in these dramas and ending up in Cuba . I had to explain to this very courteous and inquiring photographer that not all Jews were pro-Israel, and that there many young Jewish IDF recruits in Israeli prisons because they had refused to obey the orders of their commanders which they considered were violations of international law.

Today, I had to go to my nearest supermarket to purchase non edibles, soap powder, carpet cleaner, plastic gloves, and found myself telling the people at the till – all of them from immigrant communities – what I was doing and why. They advised me to add to my purchases two bottles of Lucozade ( it was two for the price of one). Everyone seems to know about Shaker Aarmer. What more can we do to put the pressure on Cameron and co? We must go on, devising more innovative ways of keeping his and the others cases firmly in the public eye.

Just heard on the radio that Russia is giving asylum to Edward Snowdon.  This will clearly not improve the Obama and Putin relationship, yet neither of these super powers can boast of an impeccable human rights record.  I applaud the Guardian’s leader today on the trial of Bradley Manning, patently unfair. American law and its justice system may be full of cracks, as is that operating in Russia.  But what we have here now in the UK is not much better.  This week there is a real opportunity to break the strings that bind us to the Pentagon and the White House, and do what is right, even at the risk of souring that “special relationship”.

I am so grateful and touched by the many messages I am receiving showing concerns about my health. I want all that concern directed to the men suffering the torture of forced feeding during Ramadan, not on me. Please please keep plugging away to get Shaker home to us and we wil all have a great welcoming party, and he will choose the food.

 
Margaret Owen

 

 —

Day 7 of Hunger Strike for Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer

 

Only two more days to go.  But as the weekend starts, I presume no one will read this. By Monday it will be redundant.  I am tired and am writing badly, and probably this is going to be still too long. To be short and concise is harder work than my “longeurs”.. I apologise.

I have been thinking today that I cannot just simply stop this hunger strike on Sunday if there has been  no reaction from our leaders here. But then of course they must be all  away. Wars and other aggressive wrongful political actions- such as the US trying to deport Shaker to Saudia Arabia -most often occur at these times. I think of August 1914. The more I do not eat, the more impatient I am becoming. I want action now!

  Not dizzy, and only faintly hungry, I managed, in spite of dire warnings that  I should not drive, would have an accident, endanger others on the motorway, to get myself in my ancient car to my tumbledown old Dorset cottage. On the way I bought some plants for my dried out garden. There was a 50% off sale at a garden centre, but, in addition to the sale plants, I treated myself to a full price Red Hot Poker, as I reasoned this week I have spent no money on food! Here  I am expected to finally break my fast, with breakfast on August 4th. But  should I instead continue? I feel I could. Readers of this blog, please tell me.  

 Listening to the car radio news, I cheered out loud hearing that Edward Snowden, for me a real hero,  is safe for the moment, given asylum in Russia. However off track human rights compliance is under Putin, his action must be causing fury in Washington, as it  focuses world attention on the US duplicity on human rights, illustrated by Guantanamo and the Bradley Manning affair. 

The other news item also has a direct relevance to the Gitmo detaines: that the US has paid the Britain’s spy agency £100m for the “very special relationship”, which has enabled them to access and influence the UK’s intelligence gathering.  No wonder our UK security people, like MI5, have been desperate to please their american benefactor.  This is how innocent people like Shaker Aamer and the other detainees were picked up, tortured and taken to Cuba and it seems true that in both i Afghanistan and in the camp MI5 have been present.. The last thing the US wants is for the released men to reveal the truth

As I drove on, rumblings in my stomach and occasional bouts of heartburn, I imagined the scene in the prison camp. At least 45 men, their arms and legs strapped down, having inserted into their noses tubes going down into the oesophogus and then the stomach..This procedure everyone knows is excruciatingly painful, degrading and unlawful. I remember this torture perpetrated on our own British suffragettes.

Now that I am in Dorset I have contacted my local paper and Meridian TV as it is important that across the country everyone is aware of the injustices suffered by the Guantanamo detainees.  While I am not at all happy at how appointments to the House of Lord are made and dislike the practice of political appointments, I congratulate Doreen Lawrence and Ed Miliband for her ennoblement, and we in the women’s movement are pleased to have Fiona Hodgson up there on the red seats, speaking up on gender issues domestic and international.  Hopefully she will be able to speak, for all of us, to William Hague and persuade him to stand up to the US and get our man back here. As a feminist activist, these unlawful long detentions have gender connections: the pain, suffering, poverty, mental agony of the mourning separated mothers, wives and daughters.

 I usually share an apartment with Fiona when we are in New York at the UN CSW.
I hope she will continue to share with me even though I am a mere commoner, ignoble and unnobled. I think she will.    

 

Margaret Owen

 —

Day 8 of Hunger Strike for Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer

 

It is 7 am in the morning, Saturday, August 3rd, and today was supposed to be the last day of my week long hunger strike

But I have just read on line the report of the latest responses of the US State Department to Shaker’s lawyers requests for his release to his family in the UK.  Their response is chilling.

They mean to deport Shaker to the black hole of Saudi Arabia and they are deaf to these demands as they are to the shamefully feeble pleas made by our foreign office.  It seems clear that the US and the UK are now doing deals with the oil-rich Saudis to deliver Shaker where he is silenced for ever, so that we will never hear the true facts about the bounty hunting, arrests and tortures in Afghanistan and the terrible crimes committed by those in charge in Guantanamo

I could not sleep last night and this morning all I can think about is Shaker’s condition: the terrible pains in his neck and back; his fear of becoming paralysed; his extreme loss of weight; the horrors of the force-feeding; his yearning to be with his family and most of all his terror of being sent back to Saudi Arabia.

I am shocked by the sinister and ominous appointment of a Saudi lawyer appointed to represent the family when neither his wife in London nor he in Cuba have agreed knew anything about such a figure.  Also it seems that the US is determined to have Shaker deported before the end of August, of course, just when any influential and moral senior UK figure would be away on vacation.

Shaker says if he is taken to Saudi Arabia he will scream all the way there. Well so should we. But we must start screaming very loudly right now.  I do not see how on earth I can possibly start indulging in an hearty breakfast on Sunday morning when Shaker and his co detainees are still kept in the hell of Guantanamo and now threatened with death  = either there or in some hidden prison in another country like Saudi Arabia where they will be silenced forever.  So the world will not hear the truth of what happened in Afghanistan and in the camp, and the involvement of the UK security forces with the US anti terror machines

Thus I think I cannot stop. I must go on., Maybe I need to have some sort of health crisis for anyone in our government to take notice and understand how urgent this case now is.  And honestly, realistically, the health of someone of 81 is not of such matter as the health of Shaker only 46, and his other innocent fellow prisoners several even younger.

This morning I am for the first time a bit dizzy, wobbly on my feet, as if slightly drunk.   But surely to make my fast have some impact I have to go on.  I am sickened by what I have just read.  This is my last blog.  I am alone now in my old Dorset cottage so there is no one to come and feed or even force-feed me.  Please use me in anyway you can.  I cannot stop weeping for the injustices, the crimes committed against innocent people in our name.   

Margaret Owen

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