On Monday January 11, as part of activities in London to highlight the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and to demand justice for the 198 men still held, Johina Aamer, daughter of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at the prison, delivered a letter to Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street, asking the Prime Minister to do all in his power to secure the release of her father. Johina was accompanied by the journalist Victoria Brittain (a close friend of the family), Baroness Helena Kennedy, Kate Allen (the Director of Amnesty International UK), actress Vanessa Redgrave, Kate Hudson (the Chair of CND), and solicitor Gareth Peirce, and her letter is reproduced at the end of this article. She also spoke to an al-Jazeera reporter for a news report that is available below (via YouTube).
Shaker Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo by a military review board in 2007. Difficulties securing his release appear to hinge on questions about whether he should be sent back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, or to the UK, where his British wife and four children live, but is also apparent that the US authorities have continued to regard him with suspicion, despite clearing him for release.
This, essentially, is because he has been the most vocal opponent of the human rights abuses inflicted on prisoners in the “War on Terror,” and as I mentioned during a speech outside the US embassy yesterday (report and photos here), I believe that it’s possible that his release in the UK — where he would be able to speak freely, unlike in Saudi Arabia — would be embarrassing for the US government because of his extensive knowledge of the abusive regime at Guantánamo, and embarrassing for the British government, because of his claims (which are making their way through the UK courts) that British agents were complicit in his abuse when he was held in US custody in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo.
Speaking to al-Jazeera, his US lawyer, Brent Mickum, who had flown in to attend a Parliamentary meeting establishing an Early Day Motion calling for Shaker’s release, raised similar concerns, stating that, because Shaker “speaks English fluently, is a very charismatic individual [and] has been treated appallingly, he will tell that story in no uncertain terms [because] he is not an individual who will play by the Americans’ rules.”
Johina Aamer’s letter to Gordon Brown
Dear Gordon Brown,
I hope you are in good health. I am writing to ask you for my father’s release. As you might know, my father has been away for 8 years, he was taken away since I was four years old. It has been most of my life.
My brother Faris has never seen his father and misses him a lot. Sometimes he thinks other people are his father. Once a man came to do our garden, Faris (has) a lot of fun and laughs with him. When he left, Faris asked my Mum, “Is that my Dad?” He has never felt what it’s like to be with a father or to go out with him. Faris has had no experience at all of what it’s like to have a father just like every child does.
My mother is very patient but sometimes when she misses him too much she gets depressed. My mother is also a psychiatric patient. Whenever she gets depressed we have to go to my grandparents’ house where my grandparents look after her. When she is ill she is in bed day and night and can’t do much. I really hate it when she gets depressed.
At school, when it is time to go home, most of the children have their fathers pick them up which makes me miss him even more. I never really go[t] to do things with my father.
Also there is no reason for my father to be in prison. There have never been any charges made against him and he is innocent. My father has suffered for eight years in prison for no reason. I hope there can be a change now. He has got so many illnesses such as asthma and many physical problems. He is also the only British resident there.
I take that you understand this as a father and a husband. Nobody would like to be separated from their fathers or mothers. It is not nowhere near fun to be without a father we’ve missed so much.
I hope this letter can make a difference and that my father is released as soon as possible.
Daughter of Shaker Aamer
In a statement, Kate Allen said, “We need to see the UK government stepping up its efforts to get Shaker Aamer out of Guantánamo. Every extra day he’s kept in Guantánamo is an extra day of cruel injustice for Shaker and his long-suffering family. Guantánamo isn’t over yet.” She added that “besides the need to secure Shaker’s release the government should seek assurances that another Guantánamo prisoner — Ahmed Belbacha, a man formerly living in Britain — is not left behind in Guantánamo or forced back to his native Algeria where he’d be at risk of torture and imprisonment without trial.”
This was a point that I also made in my talk outside the US embassy, when I explained that the British government should not only accept Ahmed Belbacha, but other cleared prisoners as well, instead of standing back and expecting other European countries to do it for them. Dozens of cleared prisoners — from Algeria, China, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan — remain in Guantánamo, unable to return to their home countries because of fears that they will face torture or other ill-treatment on their return, but, to date, only nine men have been rehoused in Europe.
To act on Shaker Aamer’s behalf, please visit this Amnesty International action page, which provides details of how you can download Johina’s letter and send it to PM Gordon Brown, and also how you can write to David Miliband to ask him to demand Shaker’s release. For further information about Shaker Aamer, please feel free to check out the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington), which focuses on the stories of Shaker, Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes. The directors are currently planning a tour of the film around the UK.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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I would like to suggest that all UK resident readers should write to their MP to ask him or her to sign the Early Day Motion (link given above).
Yes, that’s a great suggestion. Jeremy. Good to hear from you.
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