Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo: Photos and Report from Saturday’s Day of Action in Tooting

25.3.13

Please sign the e-petition calling for the British government to secure the return to the UK from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been cleared for release since 2007 but is still held. 100,000 signatures are needed by April 20. This is for UK citizens and residents only, but there is no lower age limit, so children can sign as well as adults. A global petition, for anyone anywhere in the world, is available here.

On Saturday, despite the snow and the bitterly cold weather, campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a Day of Action in Tooting for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held, despite having been cleared for release from the prison under George W. Bush (in 2007) and again under President Obama (in 2009). Shaker has a British wife and four British children, and lived just down the road in Battersea before his capture and his long imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo.

The Day of Action included a meeting at the Tooting Islamic Centre, at which the speakers were myself, Jean Lambert MEP (London representative of the Green Party) and Jane Ellison MP (the Conservative MP for Battersea), as well as Sheikh Suliman Gani, the Imam of the Tooting Islamic Centre, and Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, who chaired the meeting.

The Day of Action also included campaigners encouraging the people of Tooting to sign the e-petition to the British government calling for renewed action on the part of ministers to secure Shaker’s immediate return from Guantánamo.

The e-petition was launched by Shaker’s family last April, and has just one more month to go to secure the 100,000 signatures needed to make Shaker’s case eligible for a parliamentary debate. At the time of writing, it has over 51,000 signatures, and it was announced on Saturday that there are 30,000 more signatures on paper petitions, which need to be submitted to the e-petition website before the petition ends on April 20.

So please, if you haven’t yet signed the petition, and encouraged everyone you know to sign it, do so now, and if you can help to input the signatures — preferably if you’re in London, and within reach of Tooting, although the petitions have been scanned and can be sent electronically anywhere in the world for inputting — please email the organisers or text or phone 07949 178942 to offer your help, and to arrange for how you can do so.

Saturday’s meeting was a powerful event, attended by his wife and children, and his brother-in-law. Although I had met Johina, his daughter, at an event in 2008, I had never met his wife or his three other children (Mikhail, Saif and Faris — all boys), and it was very moving for me to meet Zennira, his wife, after so many years writing about and campaigning for her husband.

I have never met Shaker, but I feel that I know him. His charisma and eloquence and compassion for his fellow prisoners is well-known, both to his supporters, and to the US authorities, and last year he did me the honour of requesting that declassified notes from meetings with one of his lawyers be made available to me to write about and publish (also see here and here). However, on Saturday, I felt that, in some ways, I learned more about him than I had in my seven years of writing about Guantánamo, publicising the prisoners’ stories, and campaigning for the prison’s closure, through meeting his wife, and through hearing first-hand, from his brother-in-law Souban, who spoke about his great kindness and concern for others, as did others who knew him.

At the meeting, Jane Ellison read out a letter she had just received from Alistair Burt MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, responsible for counter-terrorism. In the letter, dated March 18, Alistair Burt stated that the government had a “continuing commitment to seeking the release” of Shaker, and pointed out that Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Defence, had spoken to Leon Panetta, the US defense secretary, in January, even though foreign secretary William Hague had not had time to discuss Shaker’s case with John Kerry, the new Secretary of State, when they met recently.

In his letter, Alistair Burt also wrote in detail about the current legislative problems in the US relating to Guantánamo, describing how, since Congress included provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act severely restricting the release of prisoners in late 2011, no prisoners have been released except two men who negotiated release as part of plea deals in their trials by military commission in 2010, and, although he didn’t mention it, two others who won their habeas corpus petitions in 2008.

There is, as Burt noted, a waiver provision in the NDAA, whereby the administration can release a prisoner without having to go through Congress. Lawmakers told the administration that no prisoner can be released to a country they regard as dangerous unless the defense secretary states that they will not engage in anti-American activities. This, of course, is an impossible promise, but the waiver allows the administration to bypass Congress if the President regards it as being important to America’s national security.

As Burt also noted, that waiver has not been used, and the implication, perhaps, is that the British government acknowledges that it could be used in the case of Shaker Aamer, whose return to the UK could not conceivably trigger allegations that he is being returned to a country that could be regarded as dangerous.

In her talk to the audience in the mosque, Jean Lambert spoke about the need for the 27 countries in the European Parliament to deal with Guantánamo, which she described, accurately, as still being an important issue for Europe as a whole. She also spoke about how the countries need to pursue accountability for their involvement in rendition and torture during the Bush administration, and how, in Europe and globally, there is still a need for countries prepared to provide resettlement for cleared prisoners in Guantánamo who cannot be safely repatriated.

She also spoke about how Guantánamo is “an enormous stain on America’s reputation” regarding human rights, and noted how violent regimes around the world always use Guantánamo, and America’s actions there, as justification for their own brutality and lawlessness, and she concluded by stressing the importance of public protest not just to the victims of injustice, but also to governments seeking to address those injustices, because those involved in protests provide governments with evidence of those who care about the issues involved.

When I spoke, I encouraged people to sign the petition and I also ran through the recent history of Guantánamo — mainly about how 86 of the 166 men still held, including Shaker, were cleared for release between three and four years ago by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, but, disgracefully, are still held, because of Congressional obstruction described above, but also because of failures on the part of President Obama — especially in the unjustifiable ban on releasing any cleared Yemenis from the prison (who make up two-thirds of those cleared from release) which he imposed in the wake of a filed bomb plot involving Yemen over three years ago.

I also spoke about the hunger strike which is currently raging at Guantánamo, and how this hunger strike — a cry of despair by the prisoners, and of protest against a harsh new regime at the prison which reminds the men of the old days of brutality under George W. Bush — ought to be mentioned by campaigners writing to William Hague, to show how lives are at risk at Guantánamo, and why the need to secure Shaker’s release is more pressing than ever.

My thanks to the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign for organising the event, and to Sheikh Suliman Gani and the Tooting Islamic Centre for hosting it. In conclusion, let’s reach that 100,000 target for signatures by April 20. And please, if you can help with inputting signatures, do get in touch with the organisers. It would be a great shame if these signatures didn’t count because enough people weren’t able to help out.

19 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Ridwan Sheikh wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Just signed the petition and will share.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ridwan. Good to hear from you.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    Glad to hear you finally met the whole Family Andy, hopefully the next time you all meet, they’ll all be there, including Shaker! :-)

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Waris,
    I share your hopes for future meetings regarding Shaker’s presence. Hearing about him from those who know him only makes his ongoing imprisonment all the more unjust.

  5. Su says...

    Hi Andy
    God bless you and your family for all your efforts. God willing it will not be long till you all meet and all the detainees are out free and held in honour for all the injustices they have endured. May God give strength to all. Does that mean we still need 10,000 more signatures?

    Not in London or the UK but desperately want to help – is there anyWAY i CAN help with the petitions.?
    s. DUbai

  6. Thomas says...

    If they do ever let him go, they’ll probably ship him off to Saudi Arabia as he was born there. :(

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Su,
    Thanks for the supportive words. You can get anyone anywhere in the world to sign the international petition to the British and American governments: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/shaker-aamerguantanamo-bay/

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Thomas. Yes, it is undoubtedly the solution sought by some in the US, and perhaps in the UK as well, but it can’t happen, as there would be a huge outcry from the global human rights community. Shaker would be imprisoned if returned to Saudi Arabia, and probably would not be reunited with his wife and family. The UK can’t let it happen, as he was a legal resident at the time of his capture – and his family are all British. Plus we really do have people here in the UK who would make life hard for the government if they allowed it.

  9. Su says...

    Just to let all your lovely readers know Andy, …you know if you want to do more to help…Email :- Data@saveshaker.org if you can help with inputting petition signatures. Have just found out even I can help out even though am not living in the uk with this. So get your typing fingers out folks.
    Happy supportive inputting to all. God bless keep strong.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, that’s excellent, Su. I didn’t realise anyone anywhere can help out with inputting the signatures. Thank you for your help!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Rita Pal wrote:

    Andy – what is the position of the UN on Guantanamo. I know they are relatively ineffective but am just interested in their line. Cannot find any details of their most recent position anywhere

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    They’re opposed, of course, Rita, but I don’t understand why the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention hasn’t officially challenged the US regarding Guantanamo in recent years. To my mind it’s long overdue. The UN issued a condemnation (and a report) back in 2006: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=17523&Cr=Guant%E1namo&Cr1=Bay
    However, I think it’s time for a follow-up.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Rita Pal wrote:

    Are you going to ask their press office? Thanks for that interesting link. Shouldn’t they be a bit more pro-active. The only person I see being proactive is you and your associates. The rest of the world appears quiet or asleep.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, Rita, yes, I do wonder about the general silence. I might try to find some contacts. I met Juan Mendez a few years ago, the Rapporteur on Torture. He’s a lovely man, and an Argentinian torture survivor, but his attempts to deal with the authorities have been repeatedly turned down, as he wants to visit Guantanamo and talk to the men, and they won’t let him.
    You may not know, but I worked with the UN in 2009/10, when I was the lead author of the section dealing with US secret detention since 9/11 in a report on secret detention: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-42.pdf
    I put my section online here. This is the first of three parts: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/06/15/un-secret-detention-report-part-one-the-cias-high-value-detainee-program-and-secret-prisons/

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    Hey Andy, we have an EDM for Shaker Aamer and a template for people to send. We will be sharing it further through the Save Shaker page, but was also hoping you could post on it please? http://www.saveshaker.org/write-to-your-mp/234

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    I’ll see what I can do, Waris, although at present I’m running out of hands. I also think it’s important to keep the focus on the e-petition until April 20: http://www.freeshaker.com

  17. freedetainees.org | Andy Worthington and Jean Lambert with Shaker Aamer’s children says...

  18. freedetainees.org | From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike says...

    [...] legal action charity Reprieve, based on a phone conversation that Clive had on March 29 with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose story has been a focus of my work for many years. [...]

  19. From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike | MasterAdrian2nd says...

    [...] legal action charity Reprieve, based on a phone conversation that Clive had on March 29 with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose story has been a focus of my work for many years. [...]

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