What will it take to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay? Cleared for release in 2007 under President Bush, and again in 2010 under President Obama, he languishes still in Guantánamo, separated from his British wife and his four British children, because President Obama cannot be bothered to muster the political will to send him home to his family, and the British government may also be to blame, despite claims to the contrary, and despite a request for his return that was made to Barack Obama by David Cameron at a meeting in June.
On Wednesday, Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, issued a press release announcing that, in the latest attempt to put pressure on the British government, he has “filed a complaint against the UK security services over their continuing involvement in his detention without charge or trial.”
Shaker has submitted his complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which “investigates complaints about the conduct of the UK’s intelligence agencies,” although it is “also highly secretive and provides a one-sided process in which the citizen hears at best very little — and usually nothing at all — about the case put against them.” In his complaint, Shaker states, “The actions of the [UK] security services have prevented [my] release due to defamatory statements that have no basis in honest fact.”
His complaint also deals with his interrogation by UK security services in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, after his capture by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, but prior to his transfer to Guantánamo — claims that were accepted by the British High Court in 2009, and that led to a Metropolitan Police investigation, and a visit to Guantánamo to interview Shaker earlier this year. He complains that the British agents interrogated him “despite the fact that they knew that [he] was being abused,” and that the security services “actively sanctioned or encouraged [his] illegal transfer from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay.”
As Reprieve also noted, “This has strengthened concerns set out by Mr. Aamer and his lawyers at Reprieve that false information provided by British intelligence is leading to his ongoing detention at Guantánamo,” contradicting what the UK government has been stating publicly.
Kat Craig, Reprieve’s Legal Director, said, “The US has cleared Shaker, and the British government wants him home — so why is he still there? All the evidence points to briefing against him by the UK intelligence services, who are terrified that his release will allow him to speak freely about the part they played in his torture and rendition. In effect, our spies are undermining the aims of our democratically elected government. The IPT will be worthless if it cannot put an end to this scandal.”
In the last year, his supporters in the UK secured 100,000 signatures on an e-petition that was supposed to lead to a full Parliamentary debate about his case, although all that has happened to date is a backbench debate in Westminster Hall, on April 24, where fine words were spoken, but no demonstrative action ensued (see here and here for transcripts).
During the debate, as Reprieve reported, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt responded to MP’s questions about why Shaker Aamer continues to be held at Guantánamo by saying, “I have a supposition [of why the US is continuing to hold Shaker Aamer] but it’s not a detail I can go in to.”
In response, Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, said. “It is deeply suspicious that the UK won’t say why their friends in the US refuse to transfer Shaker home to London. The US and UK intelligence services appear to be working together to ensure Shaker stays where he is or gets shipped off to Saudi Arabia. Shaker knows too much. Given that he could appear as a witness against the perpetrators of some the UK’s dirtiest secrets over their role in the ‘war on terror’, it is far better for the intelligence services if he is sent away to another prison in Saudi Arabia.”
He added, “We don’t doubt William Hague’s sincerity when he says that he wants Shaker released. Mr Hague needs to get assurances from his own security service that they haven’t provided information to be used to keep Shaker in arbitrary detention, and that any falsehood they have told to the CIA have been corrected. National embarrassment isn’t a reason to keep a man who has been cleared for release locked away in prison. Shaker must be returned to his family in London at once.”
There have long been fears that the US government only wants to release Shaker Aamer to Saudi Arabia, and not to the UK, and, as I explained in July, these fears have only been heightened recently:
[I]n the recently released “Final Dispositions” of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (dated January 22, 2010, but only made publicly available on June 17, 2013), it appears that campaigners’ and lawyers’ long-held fears that the US is intent on sending Shaker back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, and not the UK, are true.
The entry for Shaker recommends, “Transfer to [redacted], subject to appropriate security measures, including [redacted],” and it appears that the space for the destination county is the right size for “Saudi Arabia” but not “United Kingdom.” This also corresponds to distressing rumors we have been hearing about for many years.
None of this lets the British government off the hook, as it remains imperative that ministers secure his release here, to be reunited with his British wife and British children, rather than in Saudi Arabia, where he may well be imprisoned and prohibited from being reunited with his family.
The obligation is on the British government, not just because Shaker was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, and not just because of ministers’ failure to secure his release for the last eleven and half years, but also because the Metropolitan Police have been investigating Shaker’s claim, accepted by a British court in December 2009, that British agents were present while he was abused by US operatives in a prison in Afghanistan shortly after his capture.
While we wait for further information, it is worth remembering that, in despair at ever being released, along with the majority of his fellow prisoners, Shaker was part of the prison-wide hunger strike that began in February, and, in the summer, involved 106 of the 166 prisoners still held at the time. The number of hunger strikers is now down to 19, although 18 of those men are still being force-fed, a process that medical professionals condemn as abusive. A reminder of what long-term hunger striking does was recently provided by Cori Crider, one of Shaker’s lawyers at Reprieve, who, after meeting him in Guantánamo over the summer, said, “Shaker Aamer cannot be recognized from the rotund photo of him with his children.”
It is time for the dark farce of Shaker Aamer’s unending detention to be concluded. No more excuses — whether from the US or the UK governments — can be allowed to prevent him, at long last, from being united with his family.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, Denis Reed wrote:
US concentration camp
Thanks, Denis, and thanks to everyone who has liked and shared this. Please also remember all the other men at Guantanamo, and visit, share, like and tweet the GTMO Clock, which i set up in July, and which shows how long it is since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantanamo, in his speech on May 23, and how many men have so far been freed. Clue: 84 cleared prisoners remain at Guantanamo, including Shaker: http://gtmoclock.com/
Waris Ali wrote:
Pastebin for the #GTMOClock Hashtag Andy, feel free to use for twitter event in conjunction with other groups/online accounts > http://pastebin.com/FD0rV4md
Waris, thanks very much for creating the Pastebin. As you will have realised by now, I haven’t got my head around Twitter storms, but if you or anyone is interested in doing a campaign on the 150th day of the GTMO Clock, it’s in 23 days’ time, so on October 23.
Waris Ali wrote:
Lol i know it’s not your specialty Andy but it’s worth joining in/practicing and learning about, can be quite effective in a whole variety of ways from past experience. If you meet Mahfuja StayHuman again, definitely ask her about it. Hmm i may have deactivated my Facebook by then, but if not and i have some time, we’ll see about doing something my friend.
Mahfuja StayHuman wrote:
Was just thinking today havent done a twitter storm in a while. We will do one for the 150th day inshaAllah
Great to hear from you, Mahfuja, and excited to hear that you’re up for a big campaign on the 150th day since Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners, on October 23!
Waris Ali wrote:
We had one to mark 200 days of the hunger strike Mahfuja StayHuman (as in we joined in from the save shaker account, hashtag was #GTMO200) though obviously it was nowhere near as big over that 3 day period when the hunger strike was in full swing, many different people, groups and organisations joined in, in the UK/USA and worldwide, in conjunction with the anonymous accounts, with co ordinated actions, stunts, mass lobbying, demonstrations and so on. It trended worldwide and in the USA for hours on the first day at number one and two, and then to a somewhat lesser extent over the two days after, including importantly in the USA. Then there was that one on the day when Obama made his counter terrorism speech and promised to start transferring detainees again a few months back, the #GitmObama hashtag trended for a while in the USA during his speech which was good, then medea bejamin interrupted his speech, and she and codepink trended for considerably longer worldwide, which was great. She talked about shaker aamer specifically in subsequent interviews too. Back then it was recieving considerable, national mainstream media attention in the USA and UK. The tweets were varied and good, from awareness raising about the detainees, background, actions people could take, relevant articles, videos and so on. Anywayzz keep up the great work andy!
Thanks, Waris. Ah yes, those heady days when Guantanamo was in the news, because of the hunger strike and international outrage. Now that it’s no longer in the news, I do believe that focusing on Obama’s failed promise is a useful course of action. The ball’s in his court, but he’s stopped playing.
London Guantánamo Campaign wrote:
We set up the twitter storm on 25 August and the 17-19 May ones were part of a larger international series of events we organised with lots of (small) organisations and Anonymous involved – see our website for proof of both, i.e. there was wider awareness and actions around both simultaneously. You say that action is needed Andy but what do you propose, and how?
Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:
Save Shaker Aamer vigils starting again from 9th October 1 – 3 pm Parliament Square. Orange jumpsuits and hoods provided. Bring your own banners and placards if you wish.
Thanks, Patricia. That’s very good to hear, and I will endeavour to go along on the first day. London Guantánamo Campaign, we can only carry on doing what we’ve been doing all these years, but as the hunger strike is no longer a prison-wide phenomenon, we need to find new angles, and one is to focus on Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners, hence the GTMO Clock and the dates that can be used as triggers for actions, like 150 days on October 23 – and 200 days on December 12. We’ll also all need to get together to focus on the 12th anniversary of the prison’s opening, in January, of course, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on Congress, but I really do believe that President Obama is the key person to focus on.
Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:
Andy: we are also planning an event in Battersea to mark the anniversary of Shaker’s abduction. (23rd Nov). Ray or someone from SSAC will no doubt contact you about it.
London Guantánamo Campaign wrote:
Having organised the main action in the UK to mark the annual anniversary since 2008, we’re working on our 12th anniversary action already which you and anyone else is welcome to join us in organising or marking. It’s unfortunate it takes a hunger strike to draw awareness back to this issue.
Thanks, Patricia. Yes, I’ll be happy to be involved in the event marking the 12th anniversary of Shaker’s abduction on November 23, As for the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, London Guantánamo Campaign, I expect I’ll be in the US as usual, but I’m hoping that we can attract heavyweight support for calls for prisoners to be released – demands from the UN and the European Parliament would be very useful, as they were during the hunger strike.
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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