Send a letter to William Hague calling for the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, and a public inquiry into British complicity in torture

18.5.10

Over the last few months of the Labour government, at screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,”  former prisoner Omar Deghayes and myself handed out copies of a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband requesting the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and encouraged members of the audience to send them out in significant numbers, so that the government would pay attention.

With a change of government, the responsibility for securing Shaker’s return now rests with William Hague, and I have therefore drafted a letter to the new foreign secretary, which I encourage readers to cut and paste and send to him, and also to forward to any other interested parties. Given Mr. Hague’s impressive track record of calling for an investigation into allegations of British complicity in torture abroad, I have also included a request for him to launch a public inquiry, a move that was advocated by David Cameron just two months ago.

This letter, and a previous letter to MPs (which also calls for action on the use of secret evidence and control orders in the UK) will be handed out at future screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and to complete the picture, I will soon be drafting a letter to the new home secretary, Theresa May, dealing with secret evidence and control orders. I encourage readers not only to send the letter below to William Hague, but also to send the other letter to their local MP.

As I have noted previously, despite the occasional encouraging noise on these issues (especially on complicity in torture abroad), the Conservatives have a generally poor record when it comes to tackling the Labour government’s draconian anti-terror policies in the UK, but this is something that the Lib Dems must be encouraged to bring to the coalition negotiating table, and, in addition, is something that Labour MPs should be more willing to support now that they are not tied to the paranoid yoke of power.

A letter to William Hague

William Hague MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AH

Dear Foreign Secretary,

I am writing to you in connection with two particular topics: the closure of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and British complicity in torture.

As you know, between 2004 and 2007, the Labour government secured the release of all the British nationals held in Guantánamo, and all but one of the British residents. The government pressed for the return of the remaining resident, Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and four British children, and was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, but was unsuccessful in its endeavours. Given our special relationship with the US, which, as you recently stated, should be “solid not slavish”, I urge you to do all in your power to secure his immediate release.

As well as securing the release of Shaker Aamer, I would also like to ask you to help President Obama close Guantánamo by offering homes in the UK to other prisoners cleared for release by the President’s Task Force, out of the many dozens of men who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment, and who, as a result, are effectively stateless.

One suitable candidate is Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian man who lived in Bournemouth and cannot return to Algeria for fear for his life. Mr. Belbacha was also cleared for release in 2007, and yet he remains in Guantánamo because no other country will take him, and because the Labour government, which could so easily have offered him a new home, turned its back on him.

By offering a home to Mr. Belbacha, the UK would join an illustrious list of other European countries — Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland — who have accepted cleared prisoners on a purely humanitarian basis. There are no reasons for the British government not to accept a small number of prisoners on a humanitarian basis to help close Guantánamo Bay.

On a related topic, I also ask you to maintain the position regarding British complicity in torture abroad, which you held so tenaciously in opposition. I have not forgotten that, in 2006, you told a meeting in the House of Commons organized by Human Rights Watch, “Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops — however isolated — and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it.”

I have also not forgotten that, in February this year, after the Court of Appeal ordered David Miliband to release a summary of documents relating to the torture of Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002, which the foreign secretary had been attempting to suppress for 18 months, you told the House of Commons that the Conservative Party has “consistently argued for full investigation of all credible allegations of UK complicity in torture, and for the Government to find a way in this particular case to balance the needs of national security with the need for justice and accountability in our democratic society.”

As a result, I hope to hear that you will be ordering a public inquiry into the intelligence services’ involvement in torture, as called for by David Cameron on 11 March.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Note: I have not included links in the template letter above, but see here for information about Ahmed Belbacha, and see here for articles dealing with the other European countries who have taken cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, even though they have no previous connection with that country.

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 currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

One Response

  1. Harley says...

    Thank’s for the great work Andy. Freedom for Shaker Aamer !! Let’s end this injustice.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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