Today, February 14, 2013, is the 11th anniversary of the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has a British wife and four British children, arrived at the Bush administration’s experimental “war on terror” prison from Afghanistan, where he had travelled with his family to engage in humanitarian aid. After the 9/11 attacks, however, having managed to get his family to safety, he was captured and sold to US forces by bounty hunters. Ironically, Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo on February 14, 2002 was also the day that his youngest son was born.
To mark this dreadful anniversary, six years — six whole years! — since Shaker was first told that he would be going home to his family, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign organised a protest outside Parliament yesterday, attended by activists and campaigners — myself included — and also by MPs: Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), Sadiq Khan (Labour, Tooting), John O’Donnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison (Conservative, Battersea).
We were all there to ask why it is that Shaker is still held, when he was not only cleared for release in 2007, under the Bush administration, but was also cleared for release again in 2009, under the Obama administration, a fact that was only made public in September, when the Justice Department publicly released a list containing the names of 55 cleared prisoners, of which he was one.
I missed Caroline’s visit yesterday, but I spoke to all the other MPs, and was pleased that afterwards there was some activity in Parliament. Sadiq Khan noted on his website that he received “assurances from the government that they will continue to use their best efforts to secure the release” of Shaker Aamer. In a letter to Mr. Khan, Alistair Burt MP, the Foreign Office Minister for counter terrorism, explained that William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, “has made multiple representations to his US counterparts and also raised the case numerous times with the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton as well as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.” Mr. Burt also assured Mr. Khan that the British government “believes that indefinite detention without trial is wrong and that they will continue to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.”
Furthermore, it has just been announced today that Caroline Lucas has “tabled amendments to the government’s proposed Justice and Security Bill aiming to increase the accountability of the security services,” with specific reference to Shaker. In December, his lawyers at Reprieve, with the help of the comedian Frankie Boyle, sued the British government for defamation, with the Guardian explaining that Shaker “blames the security and intelligence agencies for his continuing detention,” and “has accused MI5 and MI6 of making false and highly damaging claims about his alleged involvement with al-Qaeda.” Caroline Lucas’ amendment follows up on this. As Reprieve stated today, “The UK government has repeatedly claimed that they want Shaker returned to the UK. Yet Shaker has told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that UK agencies are still telling lies about him — lies which prevent him from being released. The defamation consists of untrue allegations and includes a picture of Shaker wearing normal Arabic clothes in London as proof of him being an extremist.”
Caroline Lucas’ amendment to the government’s proposed Justice and Security Bill “says that where a claim has been made to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) about actions of the secret services, which are false and which harm the individual being defamed, then the ISC will immediately investigate the claim and will also ensure that the misinformation is corrected,” as Repreive described it.
The exact wording is: “Where a plausible claim has been made by or on behalf of an individual to the ISC that the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Headquarters has disseminated any information to any recipient concerning any person that appears to be – a) materially false; and b) harmful to the person defamed, the ISC shall fully and expeditiously investigate the claim, and where the claim appears to be well founded, shall ensure that the misinformation is expeditiously corrected.”
After tabling the amendment, Caroline Lucas said, “The defamation of Shaker Aamer is evidence of the immense power of the security services to say whatever they want about an accused man, to devastating effect. Shaker has been cleared for release by the US government — twice — and yet remains in Guantanamo Bay where he has been for eleven years, completely unable to defend himself. The failure of the British government to challenge this illegal incarceration is shameful and damaging — instead of pandering to the will of the US, it should be holding the security services properly to account and redoubling efforts to bring Shaker home.”
Reprieve’s Director, Clive Stafford Smith, said, “I saw Shaker in Guantánamo just last week, and while what he said remains classified, he remains a testament to human resilience, as his spirits remain high while his body crumbles around him. Surely after he has spent 11 years in that terrible prison without charges or trial, cleared for release for six years, he should be allowed home to London to meet his youngest child Faris for the first time.”
It is to be hoped that these interventions put pressure on the British government to fulfil its duty to Shaker, as it is to be hoped that yesterday’s event will prompt further activity within Parliament to secure Shaker’s release.
In general, however, the bleak truth about Guantánamo, and about Shaker’s case, is that his status as a clear prisoner who is still held (along with 85 others) should have triggered a deluge of shame and outrage — in the US, in the UK and any other countries where people claim to respect the rule of law — but Guantánamo is now an almost forgotten footnote in the crimes and misdemeanours of the previous administration, whose sordid history is, in any case, being busily rewritten by Hollywood filmmakers. The fact that Obama promised to close Guantánamo but then failed to do so, the fact that he has lacked courage and principles on crucial occasions, when needed, the fact that Congress is full of opportunists who have made it their cynical mission to pass legislation preventing any more prisoners from being released from Guantánamo — none of this apparently counts.
To future historians, this indifference, it seems to me, will not be regarded favourably. Guantánamo remains an abomination, a place where indefinite detention without charge or trial — an anathema to civilized peoples — has come to pass, and the regime has not been thoroughly dismantled because it is politically inconvenient do so.
Without outrage — from the people, from the media, from celebrities — indefinite detention at Guantánamo has been normalized. If no one cares that the US is holding people — probably for the rest of their lives — despite having said that it doesn’t want to continue holding them, then why should President Obama care? There are, at Guantánamo, Yemenis cleared for release who are not being released because all Yemenis are, it transpires, regarded as a security threat, rather making a mockery of the whole process of approving them for release. There are others who can’t be safely repatriated, who wait — in vain, it seems — for other countries to take them, or for America to take responsibility for its own mistakes.
And then there is Shaker, whose return has been requested by the British government, to match the Americans’ stated desire not to hold him anymore, but Shaker — well, Shaker too is still held. The British, despite the revelations publicised by Reprieve, continue to say that the US won’t release him, though they keep asking. Obama says very little. Shaker’s fate falls into the cracks between these two powers’ negotiations, or lack of negotiations. Those who know his case well fear that both sides are fudging, happy for him to be held because, as the most articulate and passionate defender of the prisoners’ rights, he knows too much and, if released, will talk, embarrassing both governments, or exposing their crimes, and because, these days, no prisoners need to be released because few people in the outside world care enough.
Shaker Aamer must be released — and must be released today. There is no excuse for it not to happen. I will keep saying this, and writing this, until perhaps someone somewhere with an eye on their legacy and not just on their poll ratings, remembers that indefinite detention without charge or trial is disgraceful and unacceptable, and that it needs to be brought to an end.
Until that time, what is being done to Shaker Aamer, and to the other cleared prisoners, is being done in our name.
To take action for Shaker Aamer, please sign the e-petition to the British government calling for his return, which needs 100,000 signatures by April to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate, and currently has over 25,000 signatures. This is for UK citizens and residents only, although anyone anywhere in the world, including UK citizens and residents, can sign the international petition to both the US and UK government on the Care 2 Petition Site. Also, please check out this show on Radio Free Brighton, in which the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes and I discuss Shaker’s case, and the ongoing scandal of Guantánamo in general.
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.
Thanks for this and the e-petition link. You say of Shaker’s case that it should have should have “triggered a deluge of shame and outrage” – couldn’t agree more. It took quite a while to get Omar Khadr out of Gitmo and back here to Canada – no thanks of course to the Harper government that would have left Khadr to languish if it had been able to get away with it. We’re talking about a teen who was basically framed to suit the American narrative… shame doesn’t begin to describe it.
On Facebook, Victor McAuley wrote:
Absolute disgrace. Totally unconstitutional powers being wieded by tyrannical Presidents.
Victor McAuley wrote:
Andy needs to be congratulated for his brave stand against such Government Lawlessness.
Thank you, Victor. Spot-on, and much appreciated.
Thanks, J_33. Very good to hear from you. The analogy with Omar Khadr and the Canadian government is probably more accurate than many people here in the UK realize, the official position being that if the government can get away with letting him rot, then they should do so.
As you say, shame doesn’t even begin to describe how wrong and how cynical this is.
I wonder why they have not quietly sent Shaker to Saudi Arabia where he was born? The Saudis would keep him quiet and it would suit both the US and the UK fine.
I believe they tried that avenue during the Bush years, Thomas, but figured out that British lawyers and activists – and even parts of the media – would cause a stink about it if Shaker disappeared into a Saudi prison.
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