On April 24, 2013, campaigners calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a demonstration outside Parliament following a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall from 9.30 to 11 am. Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009 but still held, and, in recent weeks, his story has finally become prominent in the mainstream British media, as he is part of the prison-wide hunger strike that began on February 6, and there are fears for his life (see my recent reports here and here).
The Parliamentary debate followed a successful e-petition, calling on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” which secured over 100,000 signatures, through the tireless work of numerous campaigners, making it eligible for a discussion in Parliament. Please note that an international petition for Shaker is still ongoing.
The debate was introduced by Jane Ellison, the Conservative MP for Battersea, Shaker’s home constituency, where his wife and family live, and it was supported by other MPs including Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), the Labour MPs John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Kerry McCarthy, Jim Cunningham, Stephen Timms, John Woodcock, Russell Brown, Yasmin Qureshi, Gavin Shukur, Andy Slaughter and Anas Sarwar, the Conservative MP Mike Freer, Mark Durkan of the SDLP and the Independent MP Eric Joyce.
Jane Ellison, Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Yasmin Qureshi and Kerry McCarthy gave powerful speeches, and I will, tomorrow, be posting the full transcript of the debate, which makes an unassailable case for Shaker’s immediate release.
On the day, however, the government — via Alistair Burt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs — was unable to provide assurances that ministers would be able to secure Shaker’s release. Mr. Burt wheeled out the usual claim that “It is the long-standing policy of the Government that we should seek the release and return of those UK nationals and former legal residents who have been held at Guantánamo Bay and, in so doing, assist the US Administration in their efforts to close the detention facility.” However, he also noted that “any decision regarding Mr Aamer’s release ultimately remains in the hands of the United States Government.”
Campaigners — myself included — believe that if the pressure from the UK was high-level enough, President Obama would not only respond, but would also be able to use the release of Shaker to break the deadlock at the prison. Since President Obama banned the release of any cleared Yemenis (who make up two-thirds of the cleared prisoners) in January 2010, following a failed bomb plot hatched in Yemen, and lawmakers imposed restrictions on the release of prisoners in the National Defense Authorization Acts at the end of 2011 and 2012, no cleared prisoners have been released, and the handful of men who have left the prison either had their release ordered many years ago by a US court, or cut plea deals in the trials by military commissions — or left in coffins.
While campaigners for Shaker Aamer await news of a follow-up to yesterday’s debate — a motion in the House of Commons — we will, of course, continue to work to exert pressure on the British and American governments to secure Shaker Aamer’s release, with the particular aim of demonstrating to President Obama that the release of Shaker Aamer, to a safe and friendly government and America’s staunchest ally, is the best way forward — because he knows he needs to make significant progress towards closing Guantánamo before he leaves office, or will otherwise be remembered as the President who failed to keep his promise to deal with the abomination he inherited from George W. Bush.
Otherwise, the road to his Presidential retirement will be strewn with the coffins of men held in indefinite detention, without charge or trial, who died in the tomb that Guantánamo has now become, and as men die and the world averts its eyes, the British government’s protestations will seem increasingly hollow.
Shaker Aamer should be on a plane home tomorrow — and he can be, if the political will can be found, on both sides of the Atlantic, to make it happen.
As I explained in an article a few days ago:
Please support Shaker Aamer if you can. This injustice must be brought to an end — before Shaker dies, and before any of the other prisoners die. President Obama has 86 men that he needs to release immediately, and Shaker is only one of them, but for those in the UK who are opposed to the existence of Guantánamo, putting pressure on the British government is a process that can achieve the desired result if we continue to attract support for Shaker. As well as signing the international petition, please write urgent emails calling for the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo to foreign secretary William Hague and to Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
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, 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 “Close Guantánamo campaign”, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Thank you, Andy – Keeping the fire burning will allow it to grow. In solidarity with my like minded brothers and sisters standing up for the innocent men of Gitmo
Thank you, Cosmic Surfer. Lovely to hear from you, and to hear your mention of the word “solidarity” — something that John McDonnell MP told us outside Parliament on Wednesday. We the people need to rediscover the word and its meaning — otherwise we are atomized, and slaves of corporate interests.
On Facebook, Dejanka Bryant wrote:
The case about Shaker Aamer was on BBC news channel yesterday, which is a one step forward. Big thanks to you, Yvonne Ridley, and many others for repeating constantly that petition to get more signatures for his release. It is an important legal issue.
I’m glad to hear that the BBC was reporting on the story, Dejanka. There was nothing on their website, however, and there’s been nothing about yesterday’s debate in the print media either, although it was mentioned by the Guardian beforehand. The only newspaper covering it today was the Wandsworth Guardian.
When I posted the photo, “Mr. Cameron, ask Obama to close Guantanamo now,” I wrote:
Here’s a photo from yesterday’s protest outside Parliament, after MPs had debated Shaker’s case, calling for renewed action to secure the release from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer. This is a teacher from west London, who improvised a new placard after hearing that John McDonnell MP had called on David Cameron to pick up the phone and call Barack Obama.
Hanann Baghdadi wrote:
You’re great people! God bless you!
Ashiya Mendheria wrote:
i wish we couldve gone
Nahida Hannan wrote:
Damn, we didn’t even know about it
Thank you, Hanann. Good to hear from you. And Ashiya and Nahida, I think we need to mobilise for a massive demonstration to coincide with the planned debate in the House of Commons, which Jane Ellison, Shaker’s MP, is working to achieve, hopefully towards the end of May. We should get Amnesty International groups and other student groups involved, as well as reaching out to the public in general. We could create something substantial, I think.
Nusrat Raouf wrote:
That sounds great Andy. Maybe involving all groups that stand up for oppression all under one umbrella. The more people the better.
Sonila Butt (in the photo) wrote:
Andy, a complete pleasure to have met with you! As soon as we finished at the debate at 11, my initial reaction was THIS IS IT, ITS TIME FOR US TO BE HEARD, 12 years too late already!!! (I wrote these few words down to myself, and although i had produced 4 other banners the night before, i knew this action/next step needed to be promoted!! Luckily (being a well prepared teacher!!) i had paper and a marker with me, and made some new banners!! Its about ACTION, freedom of speech and justice!!!) I request everybody to show their support in May, let’s really go for it,and in particular, media coverage is essential!! There’s no point just saying we want to save Shaker Aamer…. People DO SOMETHING, speak out, and when we are instructed to, its our duty to write to our PM and DEMAND he makes a phonecall or corresponds with OBAMA NOW, not another 12 years!! He’s already 12 years too late.. ask Shaker!! Where’s the justice people??? One last thing before I go, God forbid, and I dread this thought and would never wish it upon anyone…. but imagine if it had been YOUR father or brother or son or cousin or friend in Shakers position… Would you then be so quiet and less vocal???
Love for your brother what you love for yourself!! Peace to all !
Thanks for the support for the idea, Nusrat. I need to get networking!
Great you found me here. It was lovely to meet you, and I like your comments above. I hope we will meet again.
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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