As the UK Government Announces Compensation for Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners, Is the Return of Shaker Aamer Part of the Deal?

16.11.10

Today, the British government will announce that it will pay millions of pounds in compensation to a number of former Guantánamo prisoners, including Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga, who, since last year, have been involved in a civil claim for damages against the intelligence agencies and goverment ministers in the high court, claiming that they were complicit in their unlawful detention, and in some cases, their “extraordinary rendition,” and in the torture and abuse they received while in custody.

The amounts to be paid will not be disclosed, but it has already been suggested that one payout will be more than a million pounds — related, no doubt, to the most horrific of all the cases: that of Binyam Mohamed, seized in Pakistan in April 2002, who was subjected to torture for two years in Pakistan, in Morocco and in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul. In February this year, the Court of Appeal ordered the government to release documents — whose disclosure had been resisted for 18 months by foreign secretary David Miliband — demonstrating that British agents knew that their US counterparts were subjecting Mohamed to torture in Pakistan,  and, with the Metropolitan Police also investigating MI5’s role in Mohamed’s torture, and the existence of other information that has never been disclosed in court, it is understandable, frankly, that the government would seek to prevent any more dangerous disclosures in Mohamed’s case.

The announcement of the payments will no doubt cause a tsunami of outrage from the right-wing press, who will not be placated by the government’s argument that the continuation of the court case already initiated by these men, which has involved the government hiring at least 80 lawyers to examine half a million documents, would cost many times this amount (possibly as much as 50 million pounds). These critics will also, presumably, not even be swayed by the government’s national securtity argument: that. as the Guardian explained, “it is in the national interest that the cases are not brought to court so as to protect the security services methods from scrutiny.”

It is certainly true that even the limited disclosure of documents in summer, as a result of the court case, was troubling for the establishment. There was, for example, an FCO document from January 10, 2002, the day before Guantánamo opened, entitled, “Afghanistan UK Detainees,” which described the government’s “preferred options” in dealing with British prisoners. “Transfer of United Kingdom nationals held to a United States base in Guantánamo is the best way to meet our counter-terrorism objectives, to ensure they are securely held,” the document explained, adding that the “only alternative” was to either hold these men in British custody in Afghanistan, or to return them to the UK.

However, the most shocking revelations in the documents had more to do with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had personally intervened to prevent Martin Mubanga, a British citizen seized in Zambia, from having consular access, and foreign secretary Jack Straw, who, in mid-January 2002, sent a telegram to several British diplomatic missions around the world in which he “signaled his agreement” with the Guantánamo policy, “but made clear that he did not wish to see the British nationals moved from Afghanistan before they could be interrogated.” In the telegram, he wrote:

A specialist team is currently in Afghanistan seeking to interview any detainees with a UK connection to obtain information on their terrorist activities and connections. We therefore hope that all those detainees they wish to interview will remain in Afghanistan and will not be among the first groups to be transferred to Guantánamo. A week’s delay should suffice. UK nationals should be transferred as soon as possible thereafter.

Nevertheless, the fear that the security services’ activities would be opened up to unparalleled scrutiny — when added to the fear of futher disclosures about government ministers and civil servants — ought to silence the critics, as these revelations are not merely embarrassing, but also suggest involvement with war crimes, for which those found to be complicit could face prosecution. For those wishing to avoid such an outcome, the most sensible approach is the one favoured by David Cameron — proceeding with the judicial inquiry into British complicity in the torture of prisoners abroad, which he announced in July, and whose intention, clearly, is to slap a few wrists, hide any damning evidence, and declare that a line can now be drawn under the whole affair.

As I know many of the released prisoners, and have witnessed the pain — and sometimes the horrors — that still haunt them, and that may never leave them, I cannot argue with their right to be compensated, having never received a penny either from the US government or from the British government, despite the involvement of both countries in their detention without charge or trial, their rendition, and their torture and abuse.

However, what particularly concerns me, in the run-up to the government’s official announcement, is what has been decided about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was being ignored until some of the former prisoners — or perhaps all of them — suggested that they were not prepared to enter negotiations until his return from Guantánamo was guaranteed.

Although he was was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, is still held, with both the British and the American governments blaming the other for his continued detention. The Americans claim to have “security issues,” which, if grounded in any reality at all (and this is itself doubtful), could easily be addressed by the British government, and the Americans occasionally point out, off the record, that the British could have him back easily if they were prepared to make enough of a fuss.

The shameful abandonment of Shaker Aamer is presumably because, as an intelligent, articulate and charismatic man who has been the foremost advocate of the rights of the prisoners in Guantánamo, he knows more than is comfortable about the dark workings of the prison (including the deaths of three prisoners in June 2006). However, holding onto Shaker has never been more than unjustly delaying the inevitable, and, in addition, his claims that he was abused in US custody in Afghanistan while British agents were present (which was the subject of a UK court case last year, leading to the launch of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police) means that it is unthinkable that any kind of inquiry can take place without him.

Most of all, however, the former prisoners look out for one another, and are bonded by their experience in a way that no one who has not been in Guantánamo can quite understand. Everyone who leaves the prison tells those left behind that he will do what he can for them, and while the fate of most of the remaining 174 prisoners is outside anyone’s control — even President Obama’s, either for sinister reasons, or because his critics, and supporters of Guantánamo in the US, are disturbingly infuential — the fate of Shaker Aamer is not, and I hope that today’s announcement will swiftly be followed by the arrival of a plane from Guantánamo bringing Shaker Aamer home.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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 July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on Common Dreams and The Public Record.

14 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention As the UK Government Announces Compensation for Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners, Is the Return of Shaker Aamer Part of the Deal? | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

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  2. Norwegian Shooter says...

    Good post as usual. It’s always good to write about the amazing equanimity that many released detainees have. Begg’s interview with the other detainee posted previously was … there aren’t words. The fact that someone could be grateful for multi-year detention and regard it as positive is almost inconceivable to me.

    Anyway, I want to remind you that there are 2 or 3 parts [still to come] in your comprehensive review of the remaining detainees. (or you can correct me and point me to them) Thanks.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re on the ball! There are two parts remaining. Part Eight will be up tomorrow, Part Nine next week, hopefully. Thanks for caring.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Here are some comments from Facebook:

    Jennifer Elaine Elliott wrote:

    That is more than the USA will do for their program called ” The US Torture Program” which did kill even Americans and innocent lives!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Abdul Qahar Balkhi wrote:

    Hey why dont the afghans get any compensations for being bombed, killed raped guantanamo bagram. Wait a minute i think they did get compensated in Marjah operation. It was like $2000 for every man killed, 500 for wounded, 1000 for damage to property.
    Yeah our lives are very cheap i guess……

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui J. Steph wrote:

    No comment. *poker face*
    If we were all lawyers, I’d say now would be the time to start huddling in groups.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Sharon Askew wrote:

    Can appreciate how you must feel Abdul but this is quite a step in the right direction, which may set a precedent, which may lead to others not from UK getting compensation. Hopefully too, will put more pressure on getting that place shut down.
    Most of all though, hope it does not buy silence!

  8. Jeffrey Kaye says...

    Sounds like Shaker Aamer is included in the deal. This is from today’s UK Guardian, Ian Cobain reporting:

    “One of the men, who is still in the US prison camp in Cuba, is expected to be allowed to return to the UK soon. He and the others will receive substantial payments – more than £1m in one case, according to some reports.”

    Who could this be but Aamer?

    Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/16/guantanamo-bay-prisoner-payouts

    Also, re your other column, Andy, about Obama hitting rock bottom… I thought I’d never say it, but the whole U.S. society, IMO, has hit “rock bottom,” for its insensitive and inert response to war and torture under Obama. Maybe 1% of the country will protest, will stay up to date, but the rest of the country is lost in their tech toys, or too fearful of losing their jobs, or too depressed, or too uncaring to pay any attention. It doesn’t help that to the U.S. progressive “blogosphere”, events in the UK are foreign, so not worth making much of a stir about.

    The truth about Guantanamo is deep and horrifying, far worse than what has been reported thus far. I understand the former detainees need to heal and have a life restored to them. For most, this will take many years, if they are able to do it at all. It is not to them that I look for assistance but to the people themselves, who must demand of their governments full truth, and accountability. Without that, soon enough the people will feel the whip upon their back, and the forced injection in their own arms.

    Keep up the great work, Andy. You are the soul of a nation.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, you’re right about Shaker, Jeff, although there’s rather more to the story than that, and it’s not necessarily time to hang up the campaigning banners just yet — or those campaigning keyboards that we both seem to have!
    So it’s good news on the torture accountability front here in the Uk today, but I really mustn’t let my modest approval of the government’s stance detract from how, on almost everything else, they’re taking a wrecking ball to British society and the welfare state, targeting students, the poor, the unemployed and the disabled for a vile ideological project that also, cynically, scapegoats the above while shrouding the City of London and the corporations it services in a cloak of invisibility. I can’t begin to tell you how angry sentient people in the UK are right now …
    And of course, when it comes to my other country of interest, the US, your appraisal is, sadly, spot-on, as it your encouragement to the people to wake up. Thank you for your kind words, but I’m just one of many working to remind people that they needn’t be either hollow or cruel, and to try and point out why aspiring to something higher is so necessary — as are you, my friend!

  10. Norwegian Shooter says...

    Let’s not get carried away, Andy and Jeffrey. It sounds like holier than thou to me.

    Jeffrey, while it is fine to criticize the other 99% for not protesting, I hope you realize that not protesting clear evidence of torture is not only rational, but the default position for people. It takes effort to make someone else’s well-being important to your life. Now, with family, friends and even the people you meet, it’s not that hard to summon the effort. But for “terrorists,” an extreme example of the “other,” the effort needed is very large. And you can’t expect very many people to be able to summon that effort in addition to tackling their own concerns. “Without that, …” is unhelpful hyperbole. The likelihood of military detention ever directly affecting most people is minuscule, and their perceptions of that likelihood is nano-scale. I say this not to criticize, but because only a realistic evaluation of the landscape will allow you to move people across it.

    Andy, you shouldn’t imply non-angry people are non-sentient. It’s the reverse of our tea baggers here. They have very legitimate reasons for being mad. Unfortunately, their remedies and solutions are completely off – backwards in many cases. But at least they’re mad! Being mad is half the battle, as G.I. Joe might have said.

    These are mild rebukes. You both do great work and if you need some anger to motivate it, so be it. Just be careful.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Actually, my anger has recently been awoken by what’s happening politically here in the UK, and is in contrast to the way in which I approach Guantanamo and related issues, which may be more forensic. At the moment, I’m finding that “Anger is an energy” (thanks, John Lydon) when it comes to the coalition government’s wretched plans. I grew up in the 80s, and those of us who did — and didn’t buy into Thatcherism — are finding that some old wounds have been opened up.

  12. UK GOVERNMENT GIVES PAYOUTS TO FORMER GUANTANAMO DETAINEES | AsiaDespatch.com says...

  13. arcticredriver says...

    Here in Canada there is speculation that Omar Khadr will receive a substantial settlement. Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian of Syrian descent, who was apprehended at JFK while returning to Canada, and sent by arrogant US security officials to be tortured in Syria eventually received a $10 million settlement from the Canadian government.

    It remains the position of the US government that they did nothing wrong, and they would do it again.

    Some commentators anticipate that Sergeant Layne Morris and Tabitha Speer will try to claim every cent of any settlement Omar may get, every cent of every book deal, or movie deal, he may get.

    Its disgraceful. They filed two lawsuits. In the first against the estate of Omar’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, they argued that since Omar was a minor, his father was entirely responsible for all Omar’s actions. In the second, against Omar himself, they argued the complete opposite, that Omar was completely responsible. If I was the second Utah judge I would have charged them with contempt of court for deceitfully reversing themselves.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I have watched the efforts of the families of the US soldiers, and I am sorry that they have been co-opted by the lawless movement in the US, led from the very top of the government, which claims that those who engage in combat with US soldiers in a war zone can – with the precedent established in Omar Khadr’s case at least – be regarded as war criminals.

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