Close Guantánamo: A Reminder of Why We Demand the Prison’s Closure, and a Call for Support for Shaker Aamer

7.8.12

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Ten years and seven months after the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it is less clear than it was under George W. Bush that the prison is a moral, legal and ethical abomination, a place where men bought for bounty payments are held, and men picked up on the basis of deeply flawed intelligence, and others labeled as terrorists when they were nothing more than soldiers fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in an inter-Muslim civil war that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or any other acts of international terrorism.

It is worth remembering that, of the 168 men still held, only around three dozen were allegedly involved in terrorism — and even those claims require scrutiny, as they include Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner obliged to admit that he committed war crimes by engaging in military conflict with US forces, which, to right-minded people, is a permanent mark of shame against Barack Obama. They also include the kind of low-level prisoners already freed after trials — the Australian David Hicks; Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden; and Ibrahim al-Qosi, a cook in an al-Qaeda compound, and also an occasional driver for bin Laden. Only a handful of the men still held are actually regarded as dangerous international terrorists.

Under President Bush, when international criticism began to sting — primarily during his second term in office — 532 prisoners were released. It was clear that the process was political, and the subtext, though never admitted publicly, was also clear — that Guantánamo was a huge, embarrassing mistake.

However, since President Obama came to power, a political fiasco has turned into a deeply cynical game of political football. The President promised to close Guantánamo within a year of taking office, and convened an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force to examine the cases of the 242 men held at the time his Presidency began, to provide recommendations about who should be tried and who should be released — and, it turned out, who his advisers believed should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial. However, he failed to follow up with swift and decisive action, and Republicans, and members of his own party, soon turned against him, with the most cynical law-makers — and their cheerleaders in the media — reviving the myth that Guantánamo is full of terrorists, and passing legislation intended to prevent the President from ever closing the prison.

Distressingly, 87 of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, consisting of sober career officials and lawyers and other experts from the main government departments and from the intelligence agencies. However, primarily as a result of Congressional obstructions, just five prisoners have been released in the last two years — a shocking statistic that ought to alarm anyone who believes that Guantánamo must be closed, as it remains a stain on America’s belief in justice, and provides a thoroughly damaging demonstration of how the Bush administration managed to create a third category of prisoner — neither criminal suspects nor prisoners of war, but “enemy combatants,” who can be held without any rights whatsoever, at the whim of the government, possibly for the rest of their lives.

This is wrong, however you look at it, but the President has yet to take advantage of a waiver included in much-criticized legislation passed at the end of last year — the National Defense Authorization Act, with its alarming proposal for the mandatory military custody of terror suspects seized in the future, which was clearly inspired by the example set at Guantánamo — which allows him to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he believes that doing so is in the interests of national security.

According to the cynical supporters of Guantánamo, who relentlessly try to strike fear into the hearts of their fellow citizens, the interests national security demand that none of the 168 men still in Guantánamo should be released, even though over half of them have been cleared for release. The demands are insulting to those 87 men, and counter-productive in general, as Guantánamo remains a damaging global beacon of injustice, and only its closure will make America safer.

Of the 87 men cleared for release but still held, one who should be released immediately is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, whose story we told here. Cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, his case would be a useful opportunity for President Obama to use his waiver, as no lawmaker could realistically argue that their restrictions on releasing prisoners to countries regarded as dangerous could apply to the UK, America’s closest ally in the “war on terror.”

Shaker Aamer’s supporters in the UK have recently put together a new website, which we urge you to visit, and we remain committed to the two petitions in support of his release from Guantánamo — a petition to the British government, which needs 100,000 signatures by next April to be eligible for debate in Parliament, and an international petition, to be delivered to the US and UK government when it reaches 10,000 signatures.

Shaker Aamer has a long-standing complaint against the British government, alleging that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US soldiers in Afghanistan, prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002. A judge ruled in his favor in December 2009, ordering the British government to release whatever information they possessed to his US lawyers, to help them put pressure on the Obama administration to clear Shaker for release. This unprecedented move led to his case being submitted to the Metropolitan Police, to investigate possible wrongdoing by the security services. Last week, ITV News announced that a a joint Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan Police panel had assessed twelve cases, and had referred three to the Metropolitan Police for further investigation, including Shaker’s, based on specific allegations that “British officials visited him, or asked questions, while aware that he was being tortured.”

As ITV News noted, the decision “could lead British detectives to ask for US government permission to interview Shaker Aamer at Guantánamo Bay.” That is one option, but another — far more practical — would be for detectives to interview Shaker at home, in London, with his British wife and his four British children.

We encourage President Obama to do the right thing, and to release Shaker Aamer now.

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, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

14 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Dawn Meredith wrote:

    share widely

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dawn. That’s much appreciated.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    Signing and sharing. Thank you Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Pauline. Just trying to make sure that people remember Shaker and the others still held. Time does not make the injustice go away.

  5. Thomas says...

    They’ll probably end up deporting him to Saudi Arabia.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    They’ve tried that before, Thomas, but without success. There are enough people here in the UK prepared to stand up for him – not least his lawyers, who have a prominent public profile, and will defend his right to be with his British wife and family, who have no connection with Saudi Arabia apart from it being their husband/father’s birthplace. But you’re at least partly right – the inability to get him back to Saudi leaves Guantanamo as the best place for the US and the UK to keep him quiet. What a rotten state of affairs …

  7. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, you will read about this soon, if you haven’t already — the DoD is reporting a ninth death at Guantanamo.

    According to an Associated Press article in the Washington Post, the death occurred September 8th. The dead man was recently a hunger striker, and was being held in camp five. I had already remembered how you reported Shaker saying he feared he would be killed in Guantanamo, before I read this individual was a hunger striker in Camp Five.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/us-says-a-prisoner-has-died-at-guantanamo-and-investigation-pending-into-cause/2012/09/10/cfe928c0-fb65-11e1-98c6-ec0a0a93f8eb_allComments.html

    Google isn’t showing any reports with the individuals name.

    Another disturbing element is that while the jihadists like to mark symbolic anniversaries — so do US intelligence analysts. They marked the first anniversary of 9-11 with a series of raids on 2002-09-11. This death could have had a symbolic meaning for someone.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, I had seen it. Sad news. Clive Stafford Smith has already explained that it’s not Shaker, however. Hopefully the death of this poor man – whoever it is – will remind people of the existence of Guantanamo, as it coincides with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

  9. arcticredriver says...

    I am glad it is not him. Most newspapers have stuck with the DoD not identifying him. But the NZ Herald, quoting officials who insisted on anonymity, reports he is a Yemeni.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    So, a Yemeni in Camp 5 – maximum security, isolation – who had been on a hunger strike, but had never been put forward for a trial. I’m no closer to identifying the poor man.

  11. arcticredriver says...

    The other clues are that he is now at 95 percent of his ideal weight, and that he now weighs 14 pounds more than when he arrived.

    The DoD published the arrival weigh-in info for 95 percent of the captives.

    On one of my old computers, now stored away, I manually transcribed the height and weight records. I wrote some programs for generating charts of their weight fluctuations that computed the normal weight range. If they don’t publish his name, I’ll get that old computer out of storage, and adapt my programs to narrow down his identity. We’d have to guess at what they mean by “ideal weight”. The normal range for Body-Mass-Index is quite broad 18-25. Camp policy is to force-feed when the BMI drops below 16.5.

    Maybe, by ideal weight, they mean a BMI of 21.5?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Hopefully there will be an announcement soon. I imagine the family has already been told, so I’m wondering what the delay is. Either it’s difficult to track down his family – possible, given how disdainfully the prisoners are treated – or it’s someone whose death may be more than normally troubling – a very long-term hunger striker, for example.

  13. arcticredriver says...

    The announcement was made at noon here today Adnan Latif, ISN 156. A man who had been experiencing seizures, and who had been denied an extra blanket, even though it could have reduced the frequency and intensity of those seizures.

    He may have died because guards ignored or didn’t notice his seizures.

    Sadly, even though the USA felt authorized to discipline him for breaking the camp rules, it seems clear he was one of the innocent bystanders in Guantanamo.

    Ben Fox of the Associated Press quoted Wells Dixon, one of the habeas attorneys yesterday — before we knew it was Latif. He commented about the feeling of despair that had fallen over the camp following the Supreme Court’s decision to not consider the DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision to overturn release orders issued by lower courts. Dixon didn’t mention Latif by name — but Latif was one of cases the SCOTUS declined to consider.

    Sadly, I am afraid his death will not trigger the SCOTUS to reconsider their decision.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Agreed, arcticredriver, but it may enable those of us who care – individuals and organizations – to put pressure on Obama.

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Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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