On Tuesday January 11, on the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, when I was speaking at a rally outside The White House in Washington D.C., the London Guantánamo Campaign and Peace Strike delivered an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron (reproduced at the end of this article), calling for the return of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and then held a silent vigil in Trafalgar Square.
In the afternoon, Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen handed in a letter to the US embassy, issuing “a fresh call for action by the US authorities” in Shaker Aamer’s case. In a press release, Amnesty International noted that Aamer, who has a British wife and four British children, “has been detained at Guantánamo since February 2002 but has never been charged or brought to trial.” The press release also mentioned that, in November, “Amnesty stepped up its campaigning for Aamer and almost 6,000 Amnesty supporters wrote to their MPs asking them to press William Hague over the need for immediate action on his case.”
In the letter, addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kate Allen noted that there was “mounting concern in Britain at the failure of the US authorities to resolve the case after almost nine years.” She also called for “reassurance that the case will now be resolved quickly” and urged the US authorities “to agree a timetable for Aamer to be either allowed a fair trial or for him to be released and returned to his family in the UK.” The letter also pointed out that the Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have both recently raised Aamer’s plight directly with Ms. Clinton.
Kate Allen also issued the following statement:
Today we’ve reached the miserable milestone of nine years of Guantánamo Bay’s lawlessness. Ever since the shocking 11 September attacks Amnesty has said that where the authorities suspect someone of terrorism then they should be charged and given a fair hearing — instead we’ve had Guantánamo, a total travesty of justice. Enough is enough. It’s time for this travesty of justice to end. President Obama has got to deliver on his promise to close Guantánamo and all the detainees — including Shaker Aamer — have got to be either given proper trials or safely released.
As Amnesty International also noted, “The letter hand-in comes as Amnesty activists step up their campaign for Aamer, including with online lobbying of Hillary Clinton. In the US, Amnesty supporters are pressing President Obama, US Attorney General Eric Holder and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the case, and activists are staging a rally in Washington today to mark the anniversary” — at which Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy and policy director of terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, spoke alongside myself, Pardiss Kebriaei, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney representing men detained at Guantánamo, Valerie Lucznikowska of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Frida Berrigan of Witness Against Torture, and peace activist Kathy Kelly, who read out a statement by former prisoner Omar Deghayes.
Elsewhere, campaigners, including myself, kept up the pressure by other means, and the following is a letter submited to the Guardian, entitled, “Guantanamo Closure,” which is a version of the open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, signed by dozens of journalists, activists and politicians:
Guantánamo Bay has now been open for torture and arbitrary detention for nine years. During that time, the former government secured the return to the UK of all British nationals held there, and all but two of the former British residents, but was complicit in their ordeal. Almost a year after the expiry of President Obama’s deadline to close Guantánamo, with 174 prisoners remaining there, there is still a long way to go.
We welcome recent efforts by William Hague and Nick Clegg to raise the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, with Hillary Clinton; but this must translate into his immediate return to his family in the UK. We urge the government to assist in the closure of Guantánamo by following the example of other European countries that have accepted cleared prisoners who could not return to their country of origin due to fears for their safety.
Daniel Viesnik, London Guantánamo Campaign
Bisher Al-Rawi, former Guantánamo prisoner
Andy Worthington, journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files
Victoria Brittain, journalist and playwright
Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantánamo
Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
Bruce Kent, Vice-president of Pax Christi
Jean Lambert, Green MEP
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion
Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP
John McDonnell, Labour MP for Harlington and Hayes
Asim Qureshi, Executive director of Cageprisoners
Lindsey German, Convenor of Stop the War Coalition
Ray Silk, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign
Estella Schmid, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
Walter Wolfgang, Labour CND
Noel Hamel, Chair, Kingston Peace Council
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Maria Gallastegui, Peace Strike
Jonathan Bloch, Liberal Democrat Councillor, Haringey council
Desiree Howells, Peace and Justice in East London
Maryam Hassan, Justice for Aafia Coalition
Richard Haley, Chair, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Darren Johnson, Green Party member of London Assembly
Aisha Maniar, London Guantánamo Campaign
Milan Rai, Co-editor of Peace News
Dr. Shahrar Ali, Green Party
Len Aldis, Secretary of Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society
Mark Barrett, Campaign for Real Democracy
Adrienne Burrows, Peace and Justice in East London
Chris Cole, Fig Tree
Hilary Evans, Kingston Peace Council/CND
Les Levidow, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
Millius Palayiwa, Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation, England
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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington. Andy Worthington said: Fresh Calls for the Return of Shaker Aamer from #Guantanamo to the UK on 9th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison http://bit.ly/evQOwU […]
On Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:
The now not-so-new government had the advantage of making a fresh start without the Jack Straw and David Milliband baggage. So, why are they being so tardy?
That’s a very good question, Willy, and one that Scott Horton (law professor, Harper’s columnist) and I were discussing after a screening of “Outside the Law” in New York last week. Given the reports of the new UK government’s interest in getting him returned, we were obliged to conclude that the main stumbling block remains the US government, which does not want him to reveal what he knows about the events of the night of June 9, 2006, when three prisoners died (not, it seems, by committing suicide, as the authorities alleged), and he has stated that he was tortured.
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, yes, strong motivation by US authorities to cover-up the truth. But I wonder whether the British government is trying hard enough. How hard are they trying? Remember how anxious they became when Obama removed Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office. Are they willing to assert that they are entitled to differentiate Britain from the USA when they disagree?
In Australia, we discovered that the Howard government had been actively encouraging the Bush regime to keep David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib in Guantanamo Bay and to go on torturing them. Dennis Richardson, then head of ASIO said that they deserved everything they were getting. He was rewarded for his adherence with Howard’s agenda with the post of Australian Ambassador to Washington (where he was in an even better position to encourage US torturers).
Perhaps some more pressure in Westminster would help to get Shaker home.
Willy also wrote:
Here is a scoop, Andy, backing up what I said in the previous post:
Australia tortures and heads must roll
Published on 15 January 2011
Perhaps, finally, Australians can realise that the former Howard government was more than happy for one of our citizens to be tortured in the name of pleasing the United States:
The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has ordered a fresh inquiry into the case of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib.
Julia Gillard requested the new probe amid dramatic claims of Australian government complicity in his 2001 CIA rendition to Egypt, where he was detained and tortured.
The investigation follows a secret compensation payout made by the federal government to Mr Habib in December, apparently triggered by untested witness statements implicating Australian officials in his detention and brutal maltreatment in a Cairo military prison.
The new evidence, not previously made public, includes a statement from a former Egyptian military intelligence officer that he was present when Mr Habib was transferred to Cairo in November 2001.
In the statement, tendered as part of Mr Habib’s civil case against the commonwealth, the officer says Australian officials were present when Mr Habib arrived in Egypt, handcuffed, with his feet bound, naked and apparently drugged.
The statement says: “During Habib’s presence some of the Australian officials attended many times. The same official who attended the first time used to come with them.”
It continues: “Habib was tortured a lot and all the time, as the foreign intelligence wanted quick and fast information.”
The statement is at odds with repeated assertions by the federal government and security agencies since Mr Habib’s return to Australia in January 2005, that they had no knowledge of or involvement in his rendition or detention in Egypt.
As recently as November, in a letter to Mr Habib, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade insisted it had never been able to confirm Mr Habib’s presence in Egypt.
Thanks for the link to my friend Antony’s site, Willy.
As for Shaker, it’s impossible to know if the UK government is trying as much as possible, if they have leverage as they used to, if the US is just being obstinate, or if the US has let the UK in on its desire not to release Shaker. Whatever the truth, we certainly do have to keep pressurizing the UK government. I think it’s fairly clear that there’s some sort of problem, or Shaker would already be back home.
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