On Tuesday, in an open letter to President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter that I drafted, 13 rights groups, including Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, as well as Amnesty international USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and others, called for the release of 57 men from Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still in the prison), who are still held despite being approved for release, the majority for over five years.
One of the 57 is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and one of the reasons I initiated the letter was to coincide with a visit to Washington, D.C. by a delegation of British MPs, from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which was established last November, and, in March, secured the support of the government for the following 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.”
The MPs who flew to the US for meetings to try to secure Shaker’s release are the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (a longtime colleague of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group’s chair, John McDonnell) and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, and the Conservative MPs David Davis (a former Shadow Home Secretary) and Andrew Mitchell (a former Chief Whip and former International Development Secretary).
On Tuesday the MPs met with three Senators — Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who, with their colleague, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), recently wrote a letter to President Obama calling for the release of the 57 men approved for release, and Joe Manchin (D-WV). The MPs also met Paul Lewis, the Special Envoy for the closure of Guantánamo in the Pentagon, and Charles Trumbull, the Acting Special Envoy for the closure of Guantánamo in the State Department.
Yesterday the MPs had two more high-level meetings with Senators — with John McCain (R-AZ), the former Presidential candidate who is currently the chair of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, the vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who, as chair, oversaw the creation of the Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, whose executive summary was published in December.
As Reprieve explained in a press release yesterday, Shaker, who is now 48 years old, “has never been charged, never faced a trial and has been cleared for release under both the Bush and Obama administrations – a process requiring unanimous agreement by six US Federal agencies including the Departments of State and Defence and the FBI.”
Alka Pradhan, one of Shaker’s lawyers in the US, who accompanied the MPs in their Washington meetings, said, “It is enormously encouraging that the MPs are meeting with such high-level US congress people as Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein. Hopefully this will convey to those in the US the strength of British support for Shaker’s return home to London. For thirteen long years Shaker’s British wife and their four children have endured life without him, despite his having been cleared for release twice. US officials must give the MPs a clear timeline for Shaker’s return home.”
After the visit, Alka Pradhan told me that the MPs “presented a completely united front” and “did a truly spectacular job in speaking for Shaker, his family, and the UK.”
Prior to the MPs’ departure for the US, David Davis spoke to ITV News, and said, “Guantánamo itself is not a good symbol for the West. We are in a battle with Islamic extremists, but it’s a battle not just of bullets and bombs, it’s a battle of ideas, a battle of ideals. We’re the good guys in this argument. We’re the people who believe in democracy, believe in freedom, believe in liberty, believe in the rule of law. None of these are really advanced by the symbol of Guantanamo. And so we want it over, we want it behind us, really, and we share that view with a large number of American Senators and Congressmen.”
Andrew Mitchell also spoke to the Birmingham Mail before his departure, saying, “We are heading to Washington to seek to promote and extract the release of Shaker Aamer, who is held in Guantánamo. He’s not been charged with anything, he’s been cleared for release by all the top US agencies.”
Mitchell added, “The Americans have said there is no evidence available to try him. The reality is you’re innocent until proven guilty and it’s just wrong that he’s been treated in this way.”
In Washington, D.C., Jeremy Corbyn and Andrew Mitchell spoke to RT. Jeremy Corbyn said, “He’s been twice cleared for release, by President Bush and later by President Obama, and this has still not happened.” He added, “We’re concerned for his future, we’re concerned for his health, and we’re concerned for justice, because there’s no charge against him, there’s no legal process against him. He is a man that should be freed.”
Corbyn added that “the reasons for Shaker’s long imprisonment are unclear,” as RT put it. “There’s much speculation,” he said. “Either he knows too much, or has seen too much, or Saudi Arabia has put pressure on. I have never been given a definitive reason as to why he’s not been released.”
Andrew Mitchell said, “We’ve come as a very broad representation from the British Parliament. From the left to the right, the four of us probably represent the widest spectrum of British political views. But on this issue the House of Commons in Britain is absolutely clear, that we unanimously want Shaker Aamer returned from Guantánamo.”
He also said that the delegation “met a great deal of sympathy” at meetings in the US capital.
Speaking to RT prior to his departure, Mitchell said that Shaker “needs to be brought back to his family in London not only because it is the right judicial decision in the interest of justice, but also because there are credible medical reports that he is not terribly well, and therefore in his family, with their support structure in London, he will be able to make the necessary recovery.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-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 the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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.
Here’s a Wall Street Journal article about the MP’s visit: http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-k-delegation-presses-for-release-of-u-k-resident-held-at-guantanamo-bay-1432236605
Good on Andrew Mitchell. He said, of the US authorities, “You haven’t got an ally like us anywhere in the world, and the way you are treating us is bordering on contempt.”
And here’s Andrew Mitchell speaking to the local media after his return: http://www.suttoncoldfieldobserver.co.uk/Sutton-Coldfield-MP-flies-America-looking-release/story-26548007-detail/story.html
Andrew Mitchell said, “His treatment is damaging the relations between Britain and the US. Britain is the US’s oldest and most staunch ally. We have stood shoulder to shoulder in Iraq and Afghanistan but treating one of our residents in this way when the Prime Minister and The House of Commons unanimously asked for him to be returned is a thorn in the side of this relationship.”
He added, “We had two key points, reflecting the unanimous decision of The House of Commons on [March] 17 that he should be free for transport back to the UK. He has already been cleared for travel back to the UK twice, once under Bush and once under Obama but nothing has happened. He [has been] incarcerated for  years, his family are in London and want him back. He has never seen his 13-year-old boy. He should be charged with an offence or released.”
The newspaper stated that Mitchell “believed the meetings … went well” and admitted he was “‘cautiously optimistic’ for a positive solution.”
He added, “Our position was heard and understood loud and clear by Republican and Democrat senators and it is now down to the US Government to respond. There has been a steady drum beat from constituents in Sutton Coldfield concerned about this, not only Muslims, worried about civil liberties. I spoke in the debate in Parliament and was asked to go for discussions. I am always clear, as Sutton Coldfield MP, that liberty issues and civil rights are important. It was an important and worthwhile thing to do. I am cautiously optimistic that progress will be made.”
Here’s Vice News’ report on the visit: https://news.vice.com/article/the-us-still-hasnt-released-shaker-aamer-from-guantanamo-and-its-insulting-the-uk
Andrew Mitchell described the US’s continuing imprisonment of Shaker as “insulting” and “doing increasing damage to the Anglo-American relationship.”
“We’ve shed blood and treasure in a common cause in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” Mitchell said, “And for our prime minister and for us to be treated in this way by America is insulting to their oldest ally, and I think it’s extremely important that this matter is put to rest as soon as possible.”
Vice News described Mitchell as “dismissive” of assurances that Shaker’s case would be prioritized after a meeting between Barack Obama and David Cameron in January, and claims by US government officials in April that he would be released soon. “They said that six years ago and he’s still inside,” Mitchell said. “And he’s not being released. It needs to happen.”
Mitchell also said, “Whatever you think of Guantanamo — even if you approve of Guantanamo, which I don’t — nevertheless, to be incarcerated for 13 years without charge, and to have been cleared twice… is appalling.”
Mitchell also said that Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain “said they would look into the matter and ‘push it up the line.'” He added, “We were there to lobby for his release and we were there to point out that the prime minister had been promised and nothing had happened. We were there speaking as a broad cross-section of parliament.”
Vice News noted that Shaker’s release “can only be triggered by a note to Congress signed by the defense secretary — which provides Congress with 30 days’ notice of his release.” Mitchell explained, “That note has not been issued,” but added that he “believes the delegation has made progress but says he can’t quantify that or give an estimate of when Aamer will be released.”
He agreed with Vice News’ comment that the situation was “embarrassing” for the UK, “because we’ve asked that he be released or transferred to the UK, where we have the right security and care systems to address any aspects of this that needs to be addressed, and it hasn’t happened.”
Vice News also recalled comments Shaker made in 2013 about not wanting to return to Saudi Arabia. “They will hear me screaming in London if they try to drag me away from here to Saudi Arabia,” he wrote in a letter to his lawyers at Reprieve. “If they come in the middle of the night I will resist them every step of the way. I am going to London only; I wish to be with my wife and my kids. I have many concerns about Saudi and I am not going back to Saudi for many reasons. Most important is my family. They deserve me and I need to go back to them.”
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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