The Full Text of the Parliamentary Debate for Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo (1/2)

19.3.15

John McDonnell MP, a tireless campaigner for Shaker Aamer and the chair of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, at the launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside Parliament on November 24, 2014, with, to his right, Joanne MacInnes and Jeremy Hardy, and, to his left, Peter Tatchell (Photo: Stefano Massimo).On March 17, as regular readers will know, a long-awaited — and long fought for — Parliamentary debate took place in the main chamber of the House of Commons, with MPs debating the motion, “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

I wrote a detailed article about the debate here, noting that Tobias Ellwood, a Tory MP and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, who was speaking for the British government, supported the motion, and stated, “I hope I have made it clear that the UK Government are absolutely committed to securing the release of Mr Aamer. Today I would like to underline that commitment and join the House in calling for the US Government to approve the release of Shaker Aamer to the UK.”

Below I’m cross-posting the transcript of the debate from Hansard. I’ve divided it into two parts, as it’s quite long, so the first part is below and the second will follow tomorrow.

As I noted in my article yesterday, the transcript contains some stirring speeches about the importance of the law and the perpetually shocking injustice of Shaker’s continued imprisonment from a variety of speakers, including John McDonnell, David Davis, Andrew Mitchell, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Andy Slaughter, Tim Farron, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and Gareth Thomas (the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs), with other comments by Kate Hoey, Jim Cunningham, Neil Carmichael, Stephen Timms, Alistair Burt, Ian Murray, David Ward and Dennis Skinner. Others were present, but did not make comments, including Jane Ellison, Shaker’s constituency MP, who is a minister and therefore unable to comment.

I also believe that the words of these MPs will send a clear message to President Obama and to David Cameron that Shaker’s ongoing imprisonment is no longer acceptable, that he can no longer be the victim of a transatlantic game of political football, as the US and the UK both try to evade responsibility of this release, and that he must be freed as swiftly as possible; in other words, 30 days after Congress, according to current US law, is notified of the Obama administration’s intention to release him.

The Parliamentary debate for Shaker Aamer, March 17, 2015 (Part One of Two)

Backbench Business

Shaker Aamer

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I beg to move, “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this critical debate at an important time in the campaign to secure the release of Shaker Aamer. By way of introduction, I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned so hard over many years to bring Shaker Aamer’s case to our attention. I pay tribute to the “Save Shaker Aamer Campaign“, and all those campaigners who have stood in Parliament Square month after month protesting in their orange boiler suits with their placards until someone began to listen to them. I pay tribute to the “We Stand with Shaker” campaign, to Shaker’s family who have joined us today and to the organisations Reprieve and Amnesty International. I pay tribute, too, to the full range of newspapers that have supported this campaign. They range right across the political spectrum of journalism from the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph to the Guardian and the Morning Star. In addition, I pay tribute to all the celebrities, actors, artists and sportspeople who have got behind this campaign. Finally, I thank the many hon. Members from all sides of the House who joined the all-party parliamentary group, which now has more than 40 members drawn from all political parties.

Why have so many people campaigned so long and so steadfastly on this case? I think that it is because the Shaker Aamer case is one of the worst examples of a miscarriage of justice during the past three decades at least. Shaker’s treatment offends against all the principles of a civilised society — justice, freedom, human rights and the rights of a family to be together. We have had several debates here and numerous questions about his case have been raised. The last occasion on which I raised the issue was at the Christmas recess debate.

Let me put on record the history of Shaker’s case, so that people are fully aware of the background to what happened to him and the various issues that we need to address now. Shaker was born in Saudi Arabia in 1968. He left home and lived in America for a while, eventually making his home in the United Kingdom. He married a British citizen and was granted leave to remain in this country in 1996. He worked as a translator for a firm of solicitors.

In 2001, he went with his family to Afghanistan, working as a charity volunteer building a girls’ school and digging water wells. After 9/11 when Afghanistan was bombed by the US, he sent his family to safety in Pakistan. Before he could join them, however, the Afghan villagers gave him up to the Northern Alliance. At that time, the US was offering a ransom to individuals, and unfortunately the Northern Alliance and others rounded people up without any evidence of their involvement in terrorist activity. What then happened was that Shaker was taken and held in the notorious Bagram jail.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I am not necessarily sympathetic if there is any question of guilt on the part of the people picked up. However, what strikes me about this case is that the US was offering $5,000 ransoms or rewards, and it is too easy to forget that in Afghanistan at that time, $5,000 would have been equivalent to hundreds of thousands of pounds in this country. When it was a poor village that handed him over, I will not say that I do not blame them — I do — but it could be seen as understandable. What that does, however, is to call into extreme question any suggestion of Shaker Aamer’s guilt.

John McDonnell: It looks as though the ransom or reward turned the rounding up of individuals, particularly by the Northern Alliance and others, almost into a trade during that period, and it is easy to see how injustices have resulted.

According to Reprieve, which has been analysing what has been happening in Bagram and elsewhere, while detained in Bagram, Shaker was “forced to stay awake for nine days straight and denied food. Doused in freezing water, he was made to stand in the Afghan winter on concrete for 16 hours. His feet were beaten and he was bound in torturous positions.”

After Bagram, in 2002, Shaker was among the first to be sent to Guantánamo Bay, where we know that he has endured harsh, brutal and inhuman treatment. That has been exposed by the United States authorities themselves. The CIA’s own torture memos of what happened in Guantánamo — which was authorised, unfortunately — describe “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques endorsed by Dick Cheney for use in Guantanamo, including, yelling, slapping, stress positions, extremes of heat and cold, constant bright lights, permanent noise and constantly repeated music, food, sleep and sensory deprivation, long periods of total solitary confinement, removal of facial hair, removal of blanket, clothes, toothbrush…forced nudity, and forced feeding, sexual assault, water-boarding and suffocation in a narrow box, prolonged shackling of hands and feet, threats to family, exposure to dogs, insects etc., denial of exercise or daylight.”

We know from the prisoners who have been released so far that that is exactly what Shaker has experienced while being held in Guantánamo Bay. We also know from evidence provided by the United States guards themselves about the performance of those tortures.

Shaker has never been charged with any crime. He has been cleared for release twice but continues to be detained in Guantánamo, while many others have been released, including all the Britons and British residents. Over the past 12 months, 33 prisoners have been released in difficult circumstances. They have been released to host countries from Uruguay to Kazakhstan, which has obviously involved fairly complicated arrangements. It is hard to understand why the United States finds a transfer to the United Kingdom almost impossible; it is extraordinary that David Hicks, who had admitted to terrorist activity, was released to Australia in February, but the United States refuses to release Shaker, who has never been charged and has been cleared for release twice. [Note: David Hicks was actually released in 2007 after agreeing to a plea deal in a trial by military commissions; that conviction was overturned in February].

Why is Shaker still being detained? That is the question that we are all asking. Why can he not be allowed to come home to his family? We can only speculate. Is it because he knows too much about what happened in Guantánamo Bay and will ensure that the truth comes out if he is released? Is it because he was a spokesperson for the prisoners in Guantánamo when he was setting up the prisoners’ council? Is this part of some vindictive victimisation? Or is it because he can bear witness to the involvement of not just United States but, possibly, British intelligence in the illegal, criminal torture that went on in Bagram, Kandahar and Guantánamo?

The United Kingdom Government have made representations — I thank successive Foreign Secretaries, the Prime Minister and other Ministers for that — but unfortunately, those representations have been to no avail. Shaker’s Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who has worked assiduously on his behalf, cannot participate in such debates because of her ministerial position, but she can testify to the representations that the United Kingdom Government have made to the United States Government over the years.

In January, the Prime Minister visited Washington and raised Shaker’s case again with President Obama. The President gave an assurance that the case would be prioritised, but we now know from a recent statement by the United States Defence Secretary that no proposal for release — certainly, no proposal for Shaker’s release — has landed on his desk. We also know that there have been discussions within the United States Administration, and possibly with United Kingdom officials previously, about deporting Shaker to Saudi Arabia, where his safety and human rights would certainly be at risk.

There are questions to which I would welcome the Minister’s response. Will he update the House on what further representations have been made by the UK Government to the US Government since January 2015 when the Prime Minister had the meeting with President Obama? What is the Government’s understanding of what continues to block Shaker’s release? It is very difficult to fathom why Shaker has still not been released when the closest ally of the US has made representations and a formal request and when the President of the US has said that the case will be prioritised. It is beyond credibility. Have any grounds or reasons been given for his continued detention? What assurances have the Government been given that Shaker will not be transferred to Saudi Arabia? If possible, will the Minister tell us the next steps that the UK Government plan to take to secure Shaker’s release? Will the UK Government press the US Administration, particularly the President, for a clear timetable for Shaker’s release?

In due course, we will need a full and thorough independent inquiry into Shaker’s evidence about British intelligence collusion. I would welcome the Minister’s views on that proposal. However, the most important thing for us now is to bring Shaker home. As I have said, many words have been spoken by Ministers, Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and now even the President about the release of Shaker, but there has been no action. Now is the time for action, not words. That is why we have secured the debate.

Shaker’s release has now become urgent. As a result of more than a decade of detention and barbaric treatment, including extensive torture, his health has deteriorated significantly. A recent medical assessment by Dr Emily Keram states that Shaker suffers from serious ailments, including migraines, asthma, urinary retention, ear and skin problems and extreme post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his imprisonment in Guantánamo.

I hope that today’s motion will be supported by everyone. It is very straightforward and states: “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

The cross-party group of MPs and Lords supporting Shaker’s campaign for release numbers more than 40 and includes many senior Members of this House and ex-Ministers. It is a sizeable and active group, and we will send a delegation shortly to Washington to meet officials from the Administration over there to press for the release of Shaker. The UK Government can give us help and give this campaign significant support and momentum. I appeal to Members to pass the motion today; let us send a clear and unanimous message to the US President that we want Shaker released and returned to his family.

Shaker’s family members, in particular his sons, have joined us in Parliament today. I want us all to say to them now that we pledge that we will not rest until their father is free and back in the arms of his family.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Our legal system and the American legal system are based on a very important principle, the principle of the presumption of innocence. That has not been extended to Shaker Aamer. What is more, in his case, although we are not in a position to make the judgment ourselves, a great deal of evidence, from how he was picked up on the basis of a ransom through to the statements of the US authorities that there is no case against him, shows a probability of innocence, yet this man has faced 13 years in the most unbelievable circumstances.

I make the point about innocence because it is one thing for a terrorist or soldier to be subjected to this sort of behaviour, involving the sort of treatment that the British Government gave up in the early 1970s after using it in Northern Ireland because it was deemed to be torture. In fact, what is going on is much worse than what we gave up and deemed to be torture. However, that is the basis on which Shaker Aamer is being held. The same sort of torture led the American Government to conclude that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as they tortured someone else 83 times until they eventually said, “Yes, yes, I give in.” [Note: It was Abu Zubaydah who was waterboarded 83 times, whereas the man who made the false claim about a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was sent to Egypt by the CIA to be tortured — including waterboarding]. That means that, even if there were confessional evidence against Shaker, it would be completely untrustworthy; indeed, it would be thrown out, as Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve has said. From the point of view of basic humanity, for somebody who is innocent to be put through that is probably 10 times as bad as it is for somebody who is guilty, and it would be bad for them, too.

Our understanding is that Shaker has been a representative in the disputes in Guantánamo, which may make him more of a target. In addition to his own torture, he is said to have witnessed the torture of others, which may be why his release is being withheld. He is the last British resident being held there.

I join the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) in asking the Minister to give an account of the Americans’ explanation of why they have not released Shaker. If they have not done so because he would embarrass them, that represents a doubling up of the guilt on their part. Frankly, this will come out into the open at some point.

The colonel who headed the unit of American military lawyers who both prosecute and defend people in Guantánamo told them at the beginning of their military commission that they should be wary of any techniques and tactics that they allowed to be used, because, in his words, in America there is no such thing as a secret, just deferred disclosure. That is eminently true in the case under discussion. The more rapid that disclosure, the better for every country.

I can understand to some extent why, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we dropped the moral standards by which we ought to abide — that was wrong, but understandable. I do not understand, however, the continued attempt to cover things up a dozen and more years later. For that reason, too, Shaker ought to be released.

I do not want to take up too much time, so I will finish by simply saying that the west has had a moral slough of despond after 9/11. We have abandoned our own standards and fallen short of the ethical standards that we should uphold. It is now doubly incumbent on us to act to ensure that those who have suffered as a result are released to their families as rapidly as possible, before their health is completely destroyed, which is what Shaker Aamer faces. It is also important to our own nations and citizens that we confess.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): What does the right hon. Gentleman think this tells us about the so-called special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States? When our Prime Minister meets President Obama, it is unbelievable that we cannot get a straight answer about a citizen of our country being held by the US.

Mr Davis: It may say two things. The first — it saddens me to say this — is that President Obama may not be in complete control of his own country. After all, he promised to close down Guantánamo early on but then did not do so, at great political cost to himself and, indeed, to his moral standing. Secondly, when it comes down to it, America puts its own interests far ahead of those of any other country. That is the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which in one sense is understandable because it is based on freedom, but in another sense it leads to the almost colonial treatment of its allies. If that is the case, it is deplorable. As America’s longest-standing and strongest ally, we should expect special treatment, but we have clearly not been given it in this case.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Looking at the morality of this case, and bearing in mind the fact that America — and Britain, for that matter — have lectured the world on democracy and justice, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not a very good example of American justice to have a person spend 13 years in prison without ever being charged with anything and being tortured? What does that say about the west, given the way in which we look at the rest of the world, and particularly the Middle East?

Mr Davis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which goes to the heart of what I was about to say in conclusion.

One of the great dimensions of our soft power in the world, which I used to come across all the time as a British Foreign Minister, was the expectation that we would behave differently from others and that we would not fall to the standards of the Soviet Union or of other totalitarian states. We were paid more attention as a result of that. It was less true of America, but it was true nonetheless. This whole exercise — involving Shaker Aamer, Binyam Mohamed and a whole series of others — shows that we have dropped from those high standards. We have fallen from the grace in which public opinion held us. Indeed, by behaving like the guy in the black hat rather than the guy in the white hat, we have essentially done what al-Qaeda would have liked us to do.

That is why I say that we have a duty to our own citizens in this matter just as much as we have a duty to Shaker Aamer. We are letting our citizens down as well as letting him down. We are betraying the standards that millions died to protect in two world wars over the past century, and we are increasing the risk of terrorism because this situation legitimises the kind of barbarous behaviour that we have seen too much of in the past few years. I shall finish by joining the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington in asking the Minister to give an undertaking that we will redouble our efforts and not give up until Shaker Aamer is returned to his family.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for instituting this debate. He has described in some detail what has been done to Shaker Aamer. If such treatment were to be carried out by a foreign Government, President Obama would be the first to denounce it. The human implications of this illegal imprisonment of a man who has never been charged with any offence are horrifying, and the House expresses its sympathy with his family for what they know this man has endured.

The treatment of this man is appalling. It is appalling that, although he was signed off for release by the Bush Administration eight years ago and by the present United States Administration, he has still not been released. It is appalling that he is still being treated in a way that would be regarded as inhuman and unacceptable in any country in the world. Those are all facts about this persecuted, imprisoned, tortured individual.

While not departing in any way from our deep concern and huge anger about the treatment of Shaker Aamer, we have to look at the United States, which has imprisoned him for all these years. I am a great admirer of the United States, but I find it incomprehensible that two successive Presidents of that country — one of whom gives himself an enormous amount of credit as a liberal humanitarian — should have first opened and then maintained the kind of torture camp that is illegal in any country in the world. What would we say if Islamic State had a camp interning illegally, for years without charge, people innocent or guilty? Shaker Aamer is innocent, but this applies also to people who might be guilty. If any country in the world had an illegal camp in which torture, solitary confinement and inhuman treatment were all daily occurrences, we would regard that country as a savage outlaw.

Guantánamo Bay is illegal and its maintenance is a war crime — it is as great a war crime as any other being committed anywhere in the world. Obama, in his original election campaign, promised he would close it. He has been there more than six years and it is still open. We can have a discussion about the extent to which he has been prevented from closing it by a rogue Congress, but he has not made an issue of it; he maintains an illegal war crimes camp and has done so under his Administration for more than six years and, like a lot of the other things he does, he gets away with it.

Let us look at this man who maintains this illegal torture camp, where waterboarding, solitary confinement and inhuman treatment are daily occurrences. This is the man, the President of the United States, who sends out drones over Pakistan which have killed 3,000 Pakistanis. This is the man who sends out assassination teams to kill people of whom he disapproves all over the world. He claims to be in charge of a liberal democracy, yet, as I repeat, if this were taking place in any other country, he would be up on his feet, with beautiful eloquence, for which he is noted, saying how inhuman it was and how unacceptable it was. If this were happening under Islamic State or in Libya — I do not know whether he is going to denounce the abominable death sentences for those in the Muslim Brotherhood which have just been announced in Egypt — or in any other country in the world, he would be up on his feet saying, “This is a war crime.”

I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and others in this House, am deeply concerned about the inhuman treatment of Shaker Aamer, and we passionately will go on calling for his release. I do not in any way imply that the Government have not done their best, because they have. But what kind of a special relationship is it where one member of a relationship takes all the time and the other is regarded as a junior, negligible partner? That is what we have here: the United Kingdom loyal to the United States — perhaps too loyal, and I say that without being critical of our Government — and the United States not giving a damn. So we denounce the inhuman treatment of Shaker Aamer and demand that he be released, and we shall go on demanding that, but we also say to the United States, “Don’t be sanctimonious about other countries when you commit war crimes.”

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): I do not need to detain the House for long, because the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) gave such an excellent speech and because the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) set out the case with both clarity and conviction.

I wish to make it clear that I yield to no one in my admiration for the work that the British security services and others have done in addressing a very real terrorist threat, the issues of which will take a generation or more to deal with. The point at issue today is a far more fundamental one. I very much hope that the Foreign Office and the diligent Minister who is here today to respond to the debate will note that, although the House may not be particularly packed, it is nevertheless true that here on these Benches are representatives of almost every conceivable opinion that the House of Commons could hold. We are all, I believe, utterly united behind the motion that was moved by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. The hon. Gentleman will know very well that he and I agree on almost nothing in British politics, but on this issue we are shoulder to shoulder; we are as one.

I wish to make a point that was set out by my right hon. Friend, which is that in Britain, we respect the law; we believe in certain universal values. Sometimes, they are said to be British values, but I do not like that term. They are universal values, and the debate on Shaker Aamer gets absolutely to the heart of those values. I had the pleasure, just a fortnight ago, of going to join in Friday prayers at the largest mosque in Europe, the Central Mosque in Birmingham. It is accepted by all of us that there is considerable alarm in the British Muslim community about Islamophobia. Muslims look at this particular case and think that certain rules apply to some people, but not others. The point that this House of Commons should stand up for today is that justice is colour blind and creed blind. It should apply to everyone, but it is not applying to Shaker Aamer, and it is up to us to give voice to this view. The House of Commons must stand up today for justice for all citizens wherever they are from, and never more so than in this particular debate.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, and I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. Is not the essence of this debate the rule of law and the application of fair rule of law? The absence of proper application of the rule of law is at the heart of this issue.

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes the central case that we are discussing.

Let me add a few words to what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said at the start of the debate. Shaker Aamer has been detained for 13 years. He has twice been cleared for release: once in 2007 by the former US President, George Bush, and, more recently, in 2009, by President Obama. Our own Prime Minister has made vigorous representations, if one is to believe the press, in respect of Shaker Aamer, and the United States has made it clear that there is no evidence against him, and yet he is still incarcerated in the conditions that were described by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on another point that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) made in his speech: that Shaker is not being released because of what he has seen in Guantánamo, and the authorities do not want that to be known more widely? If there is a mystery here about why he is still being detained, does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is the answer?

Mr Mitchell: That might or might not be so, and it is an important matter, but it is not central to the case I am making, which is this: here is someone whose release has been cleared by two US Presidents, and against whom the US authorities have made it clear there is no evidence, yet he remains incarcerated, after 13 years.

There have been numerous British requests, the most recent of which was made by the Prime Minister during his highly successful visit to America. Jacqui Smith, when Home Secretary, made the request, as did the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), and other Foreign Office Ministers, including my right hon. Friend to my right — geographically, at least — my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who engaged in the case energetically. The failure to make progress fuels the theories referenced in the most recent intervention. Nevertheless, those British requests cannot be treated with apparent arrogance by the American Administration and just cast aside with glib words while that man remains incarcerated with no case against him.

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words. I am absolutely certain that the advice being given in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today is the same as that given when I was there, and I know my hon. Friend the Minister is following it diligently. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what unites people of different political opinions on this matter is a sense both that justice for one is justice for all — that is being denied in this case — and that for those who look at it from a very practical point of view on how we deal with some of the difficult issues facing the world, from both a United States and a British perspective, none of that work is being assisted in a case in which someone has been detained for so long without trial or charge?

Mr Mitchell: My right hon. Friend makes the case with great eloquence, as he has done in government and from the Back Benches.

I will end by reiterating the points that the mover of the motion made to the Minister. I ask him to be specific in his response and to be clear about what representations on Shaker Aamer’s case have been made and what ongoing representations are being made. If he cannot give the House answers today, will he seek immediately from the American Administration a very clear explanation of why they continue to block Shaker Aamer’s release? Will he make very clear what next steps the British Government intend to take to secure his immediate release to Britain, not to anywhere else? In his discussions with the American Administration, will he press them to confirm a specific timetable for his release and repatriation to Britain?

This is a matter of great importance. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire said, it is about the universality of justice. It is about the signal we send as the House of Commons to all our citizens about the nature of justice and our determination to see that it is pursued. On that basis, I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and other colleagues on securing this important debate, and I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I am pleased to be able to support the motion this afternoon and contribute to the debate, which is notable for both the quality and the brevity of the speeches — I will try to emulate that. The speeches have been brief not because of any lack of concern on the part of those who have spoken; on the contrary, it is because the facts of this case are simple and the motion clear — and, indeed, the remedy is simple.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) set out the background, which I need not repeat. He talked about the history of Guantánamo Bay and those who remain there, the status and treatment of Shaker Aamer, the lack of due process, the questions of nationality and the statements made by both the British and US authorities. We need not elaborate on those further because they are a matter of record. Indeed, I suspect that the only person we might like to hear from at length today is the Minister, in the hope that we can have an answer to questions that remain outstanding.

I would like to pay tribute to the campaign that has been run both inside this House and, more particularly, outside it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington recently set up the all-party group, which is doing a good job. It has members from all parts of the House, some of whom have spoken in the debate or, I expect, are about to speak. Beyond that, the campaign in the wider country has been insistent, clear and deliberative and has used every possible means. It is invidious in some ways to mention individuals, but I will mention Joanne MacInnes and Andy Worthington, who work daily and tirelessly in every possible way — from complex legal argument to giant inflatables — to raise the matter. They have no personal association with the family, but they care so deeply that they have inspired many other people and the campaign is superb.

As part of the briefing for this debate, we were sent a statement from 278 imams and community leaders around the country. That should carry some weight with the Government, as should the petitions over the years which have accumulated hundreds of thousands of signatures. This is an issue which the Muslim community in this country cares about, as does the wider community, as a simple matter of law and justice. What it boils down to is, why? That is the question people have put and to which they have conjectured answers. As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said, in the absence of an answer from the Government, there will be more speculation. If it is right that, as we have heard, the US under successive Presidents has cleared Shaker for release, and if it is right that for years under different Administrations the British Government have been using their best endeavours to secure his release, why is he still incarcerated? I am putting the Minister on the spot somewhat, but the House deserves an answer to that today.

We know that there are forces out there who are clear that they wish the inmates of Guantánamo Bay to be retained there, and we have seen attempts by the Republican Congress to do that recently. We do not have the President of the United States here, we do not have the American authorities here, but we know the statements that President Obama has previously made. We have Her Majesty’s Government here, and Shaker’s family who are present, the campaigners who are present, MPs on all sides, and the distinguished right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken, including from the Government Back Benches, deserve an answer to the question why a British subject whose family are British citizens has been incarcerated for 13 years and tortured. There is no reason discernible to me, my constituents and all those who have taken an interest in the case why that remains the situation.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I add my congratulations and thanks to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for bringing this matter to the House. The quality of speeches on all sides, the power of the points made and, more importantly, the unity in the Chamber are a source of encouragement and underline the level of frustration and incredulity that something so self-evidently wrong and outrageous should continue in the face of such incontrovertible evidence. Along with right hon. and hon. Members on all sides, I want to state our conviction that Shaker Aamer is an innocent man and is being treated unjustly. We stand resolutely with his family, who continue to endure the separation and division of their family, awareness of Shaker Aamer’s ill health and the realisation of the appalling treatment that he has unjustly and inhumanly received for all these years.

We say sometimes that a person is innocent until proven guilty. We should clarify that and say “unless proven guilty”. In this case, there is no guilt to be proven. As a number of colleagues have said, two US Presidents, Bush and Obama, have both in effect cleared Shaker Aamer for release, yet here we still are. Shaker Aamer’s incarceration, his being subjected to torture, and the length of time involved — 13 or 14 years now — is an outrage. The man has not seen his youngest child. This is an absolutely immoral outrage. It is perhaps even more outrageous that this blot on our collective conscience occupies so little space in the consciousness of people in western society.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about the reasons the United States has given, or continues to give, for the failure to release Shaker Aamer, yet the reality is that no excuse would be good enough. We understand that there is a dispute over whether, as the Americans want, he is released to Saudi Arabia or whether, as we want, he is released to the United Kingdom. That is not an acceptable excuse. This man belongs here; his family are here. There is no just reason whatsoever why he should not be released now, and released to this country. I hope that the United States takes some notice of what is meant to be its strongest and most loyal ally, the United Kingdom, and what is said here in the Parliament of that country. Will it take notice of the fact that, in our eyes and in the eyes of many other people in the civilised world, this is the behaviour of an extremist regime — the kind of behaviour that we would expect the United States to castigate, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) so rightly said?

Speaking as somebody who counts himself as a Liberal Democrat and has a habit of instinctively lionising President Obama, may we somehow communicate to him the fact that this is an appalling stain on his legacy, on his record, and even on his character? Either he is not sufficiently important and powerful to make sure that these things happen, or he is a man who is not of his word. We should be appalled by this and say to him, as strong friends, that this is a stain on his legacy and on his record. It is also a massive strain on UK-US relations; perhaps it should be an even greater strain than it is.

I want to make three brief points. First, the justice and humanitarian arguments are incontrovertible. We would like to hear from the Minister what the United States Government have been saying to our Government. Secondly, as I am sure Members on both sides of the House will testify, when one is a UK citizen, one has, all over the world, a sense of shared responsibility about the actions of other western nations. The moral authority of “the west”, if we can call it that, is undermined by the continued presence of Guantánamo Bay itself, and by the continued incarceration of the innocent man, Shaker Aamer.

Thirdly, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said, there is the issue of American self-interest. This continued action is absolutely not in America’s self-interest. The Americans may well fear that Shaker Aamer has things to say that they would consider to be against the American interest if they came into the public domain. Well, tough — if those things have happened, they must be known and we must hold this United States Administration, and previous ones, to account for them. The continued incarceration of this innocent man is far more of a threat to America’s interests.

America has already — perhaps we are culpable too — acted in ways that have demonstrated a lack of understanding of some of the geopolitical problems that we face, not least the rise of ISIS. America has failed to understand what territory means to ISIS, and that it is not just another guerrilla Islamist extremist outfit but has an immense sense of theological destiny. We must understand its ideology, because if we fail to do so, it will become an even greater threat to world peace and security. We must also understand that while the motivation of al-Baghdadi and many others at the heart of that regime is theological and ideological — even apocalyptic — those who are going to help him and it have very different, much more political motivations. Many of those motivations come from the sense that western countries, and America in particular, specifically in relation to Guantánamo Bay, are acting in ways that deserve a response and a resistance — an insurgency — with ISIS as its torchbearer. It is not in America’s interests to continue to pour petrol on that fire.

The incarceration of Shaker Aamer is unjust, wicked, and fundamentally counter-productive to America’s self-interest and ours. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, 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 six-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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Just to let you know, dear readers, that the second part of the transcript will follow tomorrow. My apologies for posting it so late (UK time). I was out all day, in Wiltshire, at the site of the Battle of the Beanfield, advising a group of students who were recreating events from the day for a film that, in turn, is part of a play they are developing. More on this soon. It was a great day with some wonderful young people.
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/battle-of-the-beanfield/
    http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/06/01/remember-the-battle-of-the-beanfield-its-the-27th-anniversary-today-of-thatchers-brutal-suppression-of-traveller-society/

  2. paul siemering says...

    Thanks Andy. Many times one hears of an innocent person being killed, and we may feel the appropriate grief and anger. But Shaker has been tortured by many deaths, blasted hopes, cleared and not released, no charges- this is a level of cruelty unprecedented in war or peace. Also his agony is compounded by a loving wife and family who are forced to endure the endless days and months and years and now more than a decade of unendurable pain living without their most loved husband and father. This is a kind of torture none of us can imagine, but nevertheless can understand the grotesque injustice of what they have endured. I pray he will be able to continue living when he is finally released, as Binyam and Moazzam managed to do.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Paul. Great to hear from you, and thanks for capturing so eloquently what Shaker and his family have been going through, and how cruel and unprecedented it is.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:

    Thanks, Andy!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Diana. I hope you find the MPs’ contributions to be of interest. I was impressed by the eloquence of many of those who spoke, and there were speakers none of us expected – Labour’s Gerald Kaufman, and Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats.

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Andy Worthington

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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