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Campaigning Hagley doc finishes fast for Guantanamo inmate
5:04pm Monday 16th September 2013 in News
A CAMPAIGNING Hagley doctor has completed a hunger strike to highlight the plight of the last Brit locked up in Guantanamo Bay.
Dr David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at Birmingham’s City Hospital, finished his fast shortly after 7am this morning (Monday).
The 48-year-old seasoned human rights campaigner, who has tried numerous ways to keep the case of Shaker Aamer in the public eye, said self-imposed starvation was the only protest left available to him.
He said he hopes the stunt will encourage people to write to their MPs to put pressure on the British government to release 44-year-old Mr Aamer - the last British resident remaining in the US-run Cuban camp - who has been imprisoned for 11 years without charge.
Dr Nicholl, who for the last five days has consumed only water, black Earl Gray tea and fizzy multi-vitamin drinks, said he was feeling “fine” after completing the fast which he broke with a piece of toast munched live on air on BBC Hereford & Worcester.
He said: “I’ve felt worse on occasions when I’ve gone to work when I’ve had a bit of a cold. I think it’s psychological. I feel embarrased to say I feel remarkably well.”
The doc, a father-of-three and a member of the Royal College of Physicians, was inspired to show solidarity for Mr Aamer, who has been on hunger strike since March, after former MI6 spy Harry Ferguson did the same.
Dr Nicholl, who ran the London Marathon in 2005 to highlight the plight of British Guantanamo detainees, said: “I feel I’ve done everything I possibly can. It’s really going to take pressure on politicians to do anything about this.
“It’s the right thing to do but there are no votes in this - it’s not an election issue so it’s crucial that people put pressure on their MPs.
“In the five days I’ve been on hunger strike a medical team could have gone to Guantanamo and got him back.”
Dr Nicholl began his stunt at 1.46pm on September 11 to highlight where he was on 9/11 - watching his daughter Isobel take her first steps on a beach in Wales; a pleasure Shaker never had with his youngest son Faris who was born after his captivity began.
He also chose the anniversary of the 2001 US terrorist attacks, at the time the first plane hit New York’s Twin Towers, because he wanted people to reflect on “errors made” since the tragedy “of which Guantanamo is one of the most obvious examples".
Saudi-born Mr Aamer, whose wife and four children are British and live in London, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and transferred in 2002 to Guantanamo where he has remained despite being cleared for release by the US.
Campaigners say he has been kept in solitary confinement and tortured and they believe the only reason he is still being held is to prevent embarrassment to the US and UK governments - as he may have witnessed unexplained deaths and there are claims that British security services were complicit in his torture.
Former Guantanamo guard Brandon Neely said Mr Aamer “should have been released a long time ago” and he said of Dr Nicholl’s attempt to highlight the case: “I think it’s remarkable but it’s kind of sad somebody had to do that to draw attention to this.
“You don’t see Guantanamo in the media a whole lot in America – it’s something they like to forget about.
“More people need to be vocal and keep being vocal and continue to put pressure on politicians to do something about it.”
The Foreign Office says the “US Government understands the seriousness of the UK’s request for Mr Aamer’s release”.
A spokesman said the British government would continue to monitor Mr Aamer’s welfare but he stressed, “any decision regarding Mr Aamer’s release ultimately remains in the hands of the United States Government”.
The US Defense Department says diplomatic discussions between Britain and America are ongoing but spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Todd Breasseale added: “No detainee at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, other than the three Uighur men, are "cleared for release”. Many though, are designated for conditional transfer.
“And, we are in lock-step agreement with President Obama: the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should be closed. It is wildly expensive and it does not serve our national security interests.”
Dr Nicholl stressed his efforts to raise the profile of Mr Aamer’s plight had no effect on his patients or his work and he said he was "extremely grateful" for the assistance of his employer.
The doc, who grew up in Northern Ireland, said the stunt was entirely a personal protest and measures were in place to ensure patient safety.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, said: "I strongly applaud David Nicholl's hunger strike. I did a week myself, so I know what he has gone through.
"It is only when good people remain silent that evil flourishes, and evil is, sadly, flourishing in Guantanamo Bay.”
Hagley’s MP Sajid Javid is backing Dr Nicholl’s calls for Mr Aamer’s release and he said he would write to Foreign Secretary William Hague about the matter which he described as a “high priority for the Government”.
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