In a news release on Friday, Amnesty International announced that its UK Director Kate Allen had written to Prime Minister David Cameron “calling on him to raise the case of the Guantánamo detainee Shaker Aamer when he meets US President Barack Obama” during the US leader’s visit to the UK on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
The last British resident in Guantánamo, with a British wife and four British children who live in Battersea, Shaker Aamer has been held without charge or trial in America’s notorious “War on Terror” prison for over nine years, despite being told that he had been approved for transfer in 2007.
In WikiLeaks’ recent release of classified military documents relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo throughout its long history (171 of whom remain), the reasons for Shaker Aamer’s continued detention were revealed as the paranoid sham that they have always been.
Because of his principled stand regarding the prisoners’ rights, and because of his fluency in English, his charisma and his influence, Shaker Aamer has persistently been regarded as a threat by the US authorities, even though most of the supposed evidence against him in his file consists of statements made by some of the most notoriously unreliable witnesses in Guantánamo and the CIA’s network of secret prisons — namely, the “high-value detainee” and torture victim Abu Zubaydah, who “identified [him] as a member of al-Qaeda,” the Saudi Abd al-Hakim Bukhari, who had been imprisoned by al-Qaeda as a spy, before his transfer to Guantánamo, who claimed that he was “a special interpreter for UBL [Osama bin Laden] and the only person close to UBL who was fluent in English and Arabic,” and who also claimed that he “belonged to an al-Qaeda cell in London,” and the notorious Yemeni informant Yasim Basardah, who made false allegations against dozens of prisoners.
Basardah claimed that Shaker “was an important officer and was a close associate of UBL in Tora Bora,” the showdown that took place between al-Qaeda and the US military’s Afghan allies in December 2001. Basardah was also the source for the long-standing and ridiculous claim that Shaker Aamer’s family “received a monthly stipend” from Osama bin Laden.
As Amnesty International noted in its news release, foreign secretary William Hague and the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg “have both raised Aamer’s plight with members of the US administration in the last six months, and the British government maintains that it is doing all it can to secure his return.” On 31 March, William Hague raised Shaker’s case again, stating that he was pressing the US to return him “to put right some of the damage caused to Britain’s moral authority by allegations of complicity in torture and in rendition leading to torture,” and on April 27, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt told the BBC that it was “frustrating” dealing with the US government about Shaker Aamer’s case.
“The best and the right thing we can do is to make sure we have contact at the highest level — that’s why the foreign secretary has raised it with Secretary Clinton,” Burt said, adding, “That’s why he will do so again, very shortly and will do so when Mrs. Clinton is in the United Kingdom for a more extended period of time in May.”
He also explained, “It’s why the Deputy Prime Minister is taking it up. We believe we are doing the very best that we can by trying to meet any objections the United States might have and putting the case for Shaker Aamer to return to the United Kingdom.”
As also noted in its news release, Amnesty International has been campaigning for Shaker Aamer to “receive a fair trial or be released back to his wife and children in the UK,” a process which I am pleased to have been part of, having begun an ongoing UK tour in February, mostly of student Amnesty groups, showing the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash, and which features Shaker prominently), and encouraging viewers to send postcards to the US State Department, seeking Shaker’s release, as well as writing to William Hague.
I have also pointed out that Britain’s heel-dragging on this issue is both inexplicable and unacceptable, as the British government negotiated a compensation deal for Shaker, as well as 15 former prisoners, last year, which was announced in November, and which cannot, of course, be concluded in Shaker’s case while he remains in Guantánamo.
As I have also pointed out repeatedly, the inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad, which David Cameron announced last July, cannot proceed without Shaker’s presence, bot only because he is a prime witness to some of the claims that the inquiry will have to address, but also because a Metropolitan Police inquiry into his claims that he was tortured in US custody in Afghanistan, prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, while British agents were present in the room, cannot, realistically, conclude without him, and, as the PM has acknowledged, the inquiry cannot begin while the Met’s investigations are ongoing.
Despite all this, however, as Amnesty notes, Shaker Aamer’s case “remains unresolved, with no timetable for either a trial or release.”
In her letter to David Cameron Kate Allen referred to the “unreasonably prolonged delay in either bringing Shaker Aamer to trial or in releasing him,” and also stated:
This visit is an ideal opportunity for David Cameron to say that enough is enough in the case of Shaker Aamer. The Prime Minister ought to make it absolutely clear that this country will not accept the indefinite detention without trial of one of its residents.
President Obama has recently lauded those in the Middle East who’ve taken to the streets ‘to demand their basic human rights’, yet he’s denying basic human rights to people like Shaker Aamer at Guantánamo.
Guantánamo has been a travesty of justice and the shoddy treatment of Shaker Aamer has been one of the worst cases at the camp. It’s time for Mr. Cameron to remind the President of his promise to close the camp but also ensure that the President gets the message that Shaker Aamer’s case must be resolved.
In other news, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign has announced that it will be protesting Shaker Aamer’s ongoing detention and demanding his release outside Buckingham Palace tomorrow (Tuesday May 24), from 5 pm to 7 pm. Those planning to attend are requested to assemble at Green Park tube station at 4.30pm for a short walk to Buckingham Palace.
In a separate announcement, the London Guantanamo Campaign also called for Shaker Aamer’s release — as well as that of Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian national who fears returning to his home country, and who should be offered a new home by the UK, where he lived and worked before he took an ill-advised holiday to Pakistan in 2001.
After stating that LGC members and supporters would be joining the demonstration and would be wearing orange jumpsuits, LGC spokesperson Daniel Viesnik said:
Obama’s visit to the UK offers the Prime Minister a unique opportunity to demand and facilitate the rapid closure of Guantánamo Bay, and the release and return to the UK of two remaining prisoners with links to this country, namely British resident Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, who has previously resided in the UK.
We understand that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague will once again discuss Shaker Aamer’s case with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the President’s visit. Whilst we warmly welcome this, we also call upon the Prime Minister to raise our concerns with President Obama himself.
In addition, we should follow the example of other European countries that have, on humanitarian grounds, accepted individuals who are not nationals or former residents, but are in a similar plight to Ahmed Belbacha: cleared for release but unable to return to their country of origin out of fears for their safety.
The release of men like Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha and the closure of legal black holes like Guantánamo Bay are long overdue.
Note: Readers who wish to do more can find a letter here to William Hague (which I wrote in November), and campaigners can order postcards to William Hague and to Shaker in Guantánamo here. In addition, readers can also follow the links here to encourage their MPs to sign up to an Early Day Motion regarding the closure of Guantánamo and the return of Shaker Aamer that was introduced by our only Green MP, the excellent Caroline Lucas: Urge Your MP to Sign Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion Calling for the Return of Shaker Aamer and the Closure of Guantánamo.
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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.
On Facebook, Abu Rumaisa wrote:
Andy – please keep up the excellent work that you do. I admire you greatly.
Thank you, Abu Rumaisa. That’s lovely encouragement!
Harsha Prabhu wrote:
Barack Obama is a war criminal! Someone should attempt a citizen’s arrest of the fugitive! Go Code Pink UK!
I knew something was missing here, Harsha, but your message just alerted me to it. We don’t seem to have Code Pink in the UK!
This is a link to a group that existed in 2004/05, but there’s no recent news at all: http://www.codepinkalert.org/section.php?id=66
Mike Mizzi wrote:
Simple really. Just get all the suited and uniformed gangsters and swap them for the Guantanamo inmates and justice will have been served.
Harsha Prabhu wrote:
Have sent an email to them Andy:-)
Good idea, Harsha. And Mike, it’s an interesting prospect: the extent to which you could make the world a much better place by swapping 171 specifically chosen “gangsters” for the men in Guantanamo …
Your work continually adds levels and the human element. Here’s another which includes yours and Shannon Watch dot org’s work and more – all timely what with Obama’s visit…
Thanks, Connie. Good to hear from you.
Linda Le Bon wrote:
Andy you’re up late !
Not really, Linda. It’s 1.25 here. I’m not usually in bed before 2 am.
Linda Le Bon wrote:
I am ‘here’ too in oxfordshire ! I guess I was thinking youmight be in bed by 9 and up by 6 or sth
and recently i have noticed in writing on fb – my words are taking on a bit on an american twang which is most irritating – dominant discourse is begining to overwhelm me !! lol
The superpower will get you one way or another!
As for bedtimes, I don’t think I’ve gone to bed at 9 since I was a child. And I’ve rarely got up at 6, even though it is a lovely time of day, in summer at least. Night owls. We’re a bit … different …
Linda Le Bon wrote:
lol – aaah but the night owl thing can be problematic if you cant get up in the morning !! I used to feel drowsey at school even !! lol – I am actually trying to get to bed earlier – and i managed that today – but the vampire/owl in me woke up at !am !! your case is different – you are doing so much and speaking up for people who have no one to speak for them – must be stressful Andy – and if being ‘different’ means caring then its definitely a good thing!!
Thanks, Linda — and goodnight! It’s time for me to call it a day …
Peter B. Collins wrote:
I REALLY like this!
Well, thanks, Peter. That’s very encouraging!
Noa Kleinman wrote:
She [Kate Allen] is also raising domestic human rights issues in the USA which has a serious record of grave human rights abuses which influenced abuses under the war in terror and continue to do so.
Sylvia P. Coley wrote:
I am not really secure about his [Obama] being in the UK, the terrorists are all over and getting worse, please don’t let anything happen to him! He loved Ireland, it was good to see him so happy.
Thanks, Noa. Good points.
And Sylvia, I really don’t think there’s any need to worry. The terrorist threat is much exaggerated, and Obama will be extremely well protected. To my way of thinking, however, he needs to be challenged about his policies!
Naim AbdurRafi wrote:
We ask Allah for freedom for this brother. Ameen.
Anomaly OneHundred wrote:
Arrest Obama? I prefer to concentrate on Dick Cheney before another one like him gains office.
Completely agree. Every time he pops up attempting to justify his bloodlust I get the chills …
Since I read John Nichols’ book about Cheney, I’ve wondered what drives him:
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