In the Wandsworth Guardian, tenacious reporter Paul Cahalan has, for many years, covered the story of the former Battersea resident Shaker Aamer, who is still held in Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007.
As has been revealed in the last few days, Shaker is included in the compensation payments made by the British government to all the British ctizens and residents held in Guantánamo (which, unconvincingly, are described by the government as a financial settlement, even though they constitute a clear admission of guilt), and, in an effort to find out more about the basis of the payments, and about the fate of Shaker Aamer, Cahalan spoke to Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and director of Cageprisoners.
As Cahalan put it — and as I also explained in a recent article — Begg explained to him that the former Guantánamo prisoners “offered to forego any compensation” in return for the release of Shaker Aamer.
“Ken Clarke, [the justice secretary], met with the prisoners and talked to us,” Begg explained. “We told him very, very clearly Shaker was our main concern in all of this above any financial compensation. We were even ready to forego that if that was the choice on offer — Shaker’s freedom or a settlement. But that was not on offer. All of us in the discussions made it very clear we all want Shaker back and that is more important to us than any monetary compensation. That was the view of us unanimously.”
Begg proceeded to explain that, although Shaker Aamer is included in the settlement deal, he believes that he can only accept the deal on his release from Guantánamo.
“The government has shown it wants to settle these cases, but one of the outstanding things is there is no settlement until Shaker has settled,” Begg said. He added, “We have come to agreement” (referring to the 15 released prisoners), but “it is a different matter with Shaker. He is still in Guantánamo. We have to hear what he has to say and then he would be in a position to decide if he wanted to settle himself. No one can do that on his behalf. We maintain he should have returned years ago, the case isn’t settled and cannot be settled until he is returned.”
Begg added, “The government got Binyam Mohamed [another British resident, subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, with British knowledge] back to the UK [in February 2009], and he was accused of being involved in a dirty bomb [plot]. Shaker has never even been designated for charges. Binyam has no family in the UK, Shaker has a British wife and children.”
Cahalan proceeded to describe how, despite being cleared for release, Shaker Aamer’s ongoing detention has involved both the British and American government blaming each other, as I have also explained previously.
“We have had extensive discussions with the government at which [Shaker’s] family was present and the government told us the ball is in the US court,” Begg explained, adding, “But if the British push hard enough they will get him back, I have no doubt in my mind. Ministers would not give us a timetable for release but they are a new government and should be given the benefit of doubt — but the clock is ticking.”
As Paul Cahalan also explained, Shaker Aamer’s case against the British government is “potentially more damaging than other detainees” because he “alleges MI5 interrogators were present when he was mistreated in Afghanistan.” This allegation is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, after it was revealed in a court case in the UK last December, and as a result, although the government’s financial settlement has brought to an end a civil claim for damages filed by seven former prisoners, including Moazzam Begg, which had already resulted in the release of damaging revelations about the activities of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and former foreign secretary Jack Straw, the next step envisaged by the government — a carefully controlled judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad — cannot begin until the Metropolitan Police inquiry has concluded, for which Shaker Aamer’s presence is undoubtedly required, as he is the victim of the alleged wrongdoing.
In concluding comments to Paul Cahalan, Moazzam Begg said that he was “relieved” that the government had “finally arrived at a settlement offer,” but added that if ministers wanted to “turn over the page on Guantánamo,” they urgently need to secure Shaker Aamer’s release.
“I’m glad it’s over, it could have dragged on for years on end,” he said, adding, “I probably would have pulled out.” As he also explained, however, “We [the former prisoners] don’t want to talk about the claims and settlements. We are all here and free. We want to talk about the person who is still in prison — Shaker Aamer. We want to make sure that issue is very much kept alive.”
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.
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Here are some comments from Facebook:
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Strong article Andy…freedom is above all monetary offer…let’s hope there are positive moves in the near future…
Have attached your article link to the discussion on a previous article of mine as it did include Shaker Aamer …cheers
Dave Bones wrote:
cheers for flagging this up this man.
Luke Brandt wrote:
shared & Dugged … What credence, if any, can be given to the proposed Gibson Enquiry. Labour & now the Conservatives have tried everything to keep the pertinent documentation under wraps, so will Sir Peter Gibson insist on publication? All those thinking of participating in the Gibson Enquiry must ask themselves, and Sir Peter, that question.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Luke, I’m absolutely convinced that the government hopes to keep as much of Gibson’s inquiry as possible hidden from public view. For example, with the settlement, he now has access to the 500,000 documents from the former prisoners’ civil claim for damages, meaning that we won’t be seeing or hearing any more of the many damaging revelations contained in those documents. However, as so much of the story is public, I can’t see that the government will be able to keep a lid on everything.
[…] continues […]
It appears that governments and courts in an increasing number of countries are paying substantial amounts of compensation to individuals who have been victims of miscarriages of justice as a result of the ‘Global War on Terror’ – for instance Mr Arar in Canada, Sweden compensation Mr Agiza and Mr Al Azeri and now the UK cases. Is there any website where details of these settlements are being collected and made available?
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