Amnesty Students Say “Bring Shaker Aamer Home from Guantánamo”

18.11.10

On Saturday, I was privileged to be a speaker at the Amnesty International Student Conference 2010, at the Human Rights Action Centre in London, where I spoke about Guantánamo — and, specifically, about the plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held, despite being cleared for release in 2007 — as part of a discussion entitled, “Unlawful detention — Guantánamo and beyond.”

Joining me for this 9 am start in Shoreditch (thank you, East London Line, for getting me there in 18 minutes!) was Gareth Peirce, the indefatigable human rights lawyer, who, in a career of immense significance, has fought for justice on behalf of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, many of the Guantánamo prisoners, and numerous “terror suspects” in the UK, who have been — and in many cases continue to be — imprisoned, or held on control orders or deportation bail (which amount to a form of house arrest) on the basis of secret evidence, and without being charged, tried, or, it should be noted, ever questioned by the police or the security services.

Also speaking was Covadonga de la Campa, a campaigner in Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, who spoke about British citizen Ramze Shihab Ahmed, imprisoned in Iraq without charge or trial since December 2009, and who also brought our attention to a new report, “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq.” The moderator of the session was Steve Ballinger,  Security and Human Rights Campaigner for AIUK, but what impressed me the most about the whole session, I have to say, was the enthusiasm of the students. As one campaigner explained to me afterwards, “The student conference is the best day of the year here at Amnesty — they have so much energy and enthusiasm that they really raise the roof.”

At the time, I had no idea that, on Tuesday, the government would announce that it had reached a financial settlement with 15 former Guantánamo prisoners, bringing to an end a civil claim for damages submitted by seven of these men, or, indeed, that a 16th man included in the settlement was Shaker Aamer, even though, of course, he was not able to attend the negotiations, as he is still held in solitary confinement in Guantánamo, a political prisoner of the Obama administration.

Had I known any of this information, it would not have made much difference to my presentation, as the pressing concern remains putting pressure on the British and American governments to secure his return to his wife and family in the UK. After the audience was shown clips of former prisoner Moazzam Begg and attorney Clive Stafford Smith speaking about Shaker — from the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash — I ran through Shaker’s history, his emergence as a human rights leader in Guantánamo, his neglect by the British government, his deep knowledge of the dark workings of Guantánamo (including the deaths of three prisoners in June 2006), which may be why he is still held, and the need for sustained pressure on both the British and the American governments to secure his immediate return to the UK.

I also contrasted the situation in the UK — where action on Shaker’s behalf can be successful — with that in the US, where President Obama has, both by accident and design, become paralyzed with regard to Guantánamo, and has now almost entirely given up on either trying or releasing any of the 173 other men held with Shaker, despite his promise to close the prison within a year, when he took office in January 2009.

Gareth, who is Shaker’s solicitor, followed up with another powerful call to action, including information that I either didn’t know, or didn’t have time to cover: how, in the negotiations regarding the financial settlements, ministers were unaware of the extent to which the former prisoners would insist that Shaker’s return from Guantánamo was central to any negotiations, and, in addition, how the negotiations also revealed that the previous government had done very little to secure Shaker’s return, despite making occasional noises to the contrary.

Both Gareth and I were delighted to be able to encourage the student representatives in the packed auditorium to get involved in Amnesty’s campaign for Shaker Aamer, which will be launched officially on November 22, and focuses on two particular targets: Daniel Fried, Obama’s Special Envoy on Guantánamo, who will hopefully receive many thousands of postcards demanding Shaker’s return, and MPs in the UK, who can be contacted easily and directly via the campaign page here.

With the news that, on Wednesday, foreign secretary William Hague raised the topic of Shaker Aamer’s return with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton — telling a Georgetown University audience, “I have been discussing that with Secretary Clinton today and reiterated our position that we would like to see this gentleman returned to the United Kingdom and that is under consideration by the United States” — it is obviously of the utmost importance to put as much pressure as possible on the British government right now.

I was also pleased to be able to encourage the students to show “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” in their universities, to explain how former prisoner Omar Deghayes and I had undertaken a major university tour earlier this year, and to suggest that, if they wanted to show the film, I would endeavour to organize another tour, featuring myself and former prisoners. In closing, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind those students who expressed an interest in showing the film — from, if I recall correctly, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds, Manchester, Plymouth, Stirling, Swansea, York and the London College of Communication —  that the offer still stands, and that they (and any other groups interested in showing the film) can get in touch with me here.

Note: See this page for information about future screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” — on November 22 in Oxford, on December 10 in Roehampton, on December 11 in Battersea, and on December 15 in Sheffield — and if you’re in London, or able to pay a visit, please also note that the screening on Saturday December 11, at the Battersea Arts Centre, is part of an event entitled, “A Day for Shaker Aamer,” organized by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign in his home borough of Wandsworth. The day begins at 12 noon, with a demonstration at Ponton Road, Nine Elms, London SW8, the site of the new US embassy. At 12.30 those gathered will march to Battersea Arts Centre for a public meeting, beginning at 2 pm, with speakers including Ken Livingstone, Moazzam Begg, Victoria Brittain, Jeremy Corbyn, Lindsey German, Kate Hudson, Gareth Peirce and Yvonne Ridley, and the film will be shown at 4.30 pm, followed by a Q&A with myself and Omar Deghayes.

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.

7 Responses

  1. Miranda says...

    Well done on speaking out on the terrible issue of Guantanamo Bay, which I’ve always been against. We must never give up the fight (whether by protesting, campaigning or simply by telling the truth about what’s really going on!) for what is right & it’s obvious that Guantanamo Bay is totally wrong!!

    Btw, have you heard about the anti war protest on the 20th November, General Peace Strike November 20th…
    http://london.indymedia.org.uk/events/5831

  2. Tweets that mention Amnesty Students Say “Bring Shaker Aamer Home from Guantánamo” | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington and Moonbootica, earwicga. earwicga said: Amnesty Students Say “Bring Shaker Aamer Home from Guantánamo” http://bit.ly/9afFu1 […]

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Saleh Mamon wrote:

    Gareth mentioned Shaker’s case at the Haldane Society meeting tonight. It was a full house. Hope that it raises awareness and many more people join the campaign. I did not see any leaflets distributed at the meeting — I should have undertaken the task myself. Will take this opportunity next time. Keep up the campaign! Well done.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Thanks again Andy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Dave Brown wrote:

    If only the Amnesty International Student Conference would alert AI about cases of unjustly convicted victims of islamaphobia.
    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/10/6/entrapment_or_foiling_terror_fbis_reliance

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Asif Kashmiri wrote:

    Incredible piece!! Thanks Andy

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Excellent 🙂 well done on your article…

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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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