I’m delighted to receive the news that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is to be released, although I must admit I’m slightly numb too. I’ve been hoping for this day — and working towards making it happen — for so long that it’s difficult to believe that it’s true.
But it is true. This afternoon, a British government spokesperson announced that the US government has notified them of the intention to release Mr. Aamer back to his family in the UK, and stated that the US government “has notified Congress of this decision and once that notice period has been concluded, Mr. Aamer will be returned to the UK.”
Under US law, the defence secretary, Ashton Carter, must sign off on any prisoner releases, certifying that all steps have been taken to ensure that it is safe to do so, and Congress then receives 30 days’ notice. As a result, Shaker may not be home until late October, but the announcement of his impending release is a clear cause for celebration.
Responding to the news, I said in a press release, as the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, established ten months ago to call for Shaker’s release via a campaign to get celebrities and MPs to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker that was very well-received:
We are delighted to hear of Shaker Aamer’s imminent release, and would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard over the years to secure his release — his lawyers, the many MPs who took up his cause, the journalists who refused to look the other way, the many celebrities who have supported the We Stand With Shaker campaign over the last year and the many members of the public who have campaigned tirelessly to make sure he was not forgotten.
I also said:
We are delighted to have played our part in securing Shaker’s release. Thanks to all the MPs and celebrities who have stood with our giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and to all the members of the public, in the UK, the US and around the world, who have shown solidarity with Shaker’s plight.
My colleague Joanne MacInnes, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, said:
This is fantastic news. Year after year Shaker’s family have awaited his return, and been disappointed time and again. After so long, I’m delighted that his torture and long ordeal is nearly over, and he’ll be in the arms of his family very soon.
Note: If you’d like to make a small gesture in support of Shaker, please buy ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, the song I wrote for Shaker and played with my band The Four Fathers, which I made available as a download just days before the announcement of Shaker’s imminent release. It costs just 80p ($1.25), but you can pay more if you want. I’m donating 25% of the money received to Shaker’s family. (You can also buy our album ‘Love and War’ here). And also check out the campaign video if you haven’t seen it.
Please also see below for RT’s coverage, on YouTube, featuring the chorus of ‘Song for Shaker’ and a montage of images of supporters standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker. It’s a rejigged version of my interview with RT on September 21:
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, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). 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.
Nina Gora wrote:
Absolutely fantastic news. Well done to everyone involved.
Thanks, Nina. Good to hear from you.
Raymond McDonald wrote:
Fantastic news, overjoyed for his family
Donia Isted wrote:
ALLAH HU AKBAR
I MADE DUA FOR HIS AND ALL THE OTHERS TO BE FREE SHUKHR TO ALLAH THE EXCEPTER OF DUAS
Lottie Lancing wrote:
Hooray! So many years of hard work by dedicated people. Well done all and bless him and his family who will need much love and support.
Jawed Siddique wrote:
Thanks, Raymond, Donia, Lottie and Jawed. Great to hear from all of you.
Jessy Mumpo wrote:
Elated to hear this news here in Wales, where we’ve had a small but constant campaign for a little while. Thank you for all your years of work Andy!
Thank you, Jessy, for your dedicated campaigning over the last ten months!
Patricia Sheerin-Richman wrote:
Double, treble Like. We have an SSAC stall tomorrow morning. Will have to change the placards….No longer “Save Shaker” but “Shaker’s Coming Home”.
I hope the stall went well, Patricia, and that lots of people were delighted to hear the news!
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Here is my piece on Shaker…. Shaker Aamer to be released, campaigners demand accountability for his treatment during detention
Thanks for sharing, Carol!
Brigid Mary Oates wrote:
Brilliant campaigners Andy Worthington Patricia Sheerin-Richman Linda Bond Sara Hussain… London guantanamo. . Thank you so much
Brigid Mary posted a message by Ray Silk of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign:
A message from Ray Silk, Secretary of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign:
WONDERFUL AND JOYOUS NEWS: SHAKER TO BE RELEASED
Wonderful news! media reports state that the UK Government says Shaker is to be freed back to the UK. If we can believe this to be true, the tireless work of so many campaigning organisations, groups and individuals including political leaders, lawyers, Members of Parliament, human rights and trade union activists within the UK, the US and around the world, has at last been rewarded. All who signed a petition, handed out a leaflet, stood outside Parliament, the US Embassy, Downing Street, and MI6 and campaigned for Shaker in so many imaginative other ways, for Shaker to be freed, should congratulate themselves many, many times over. Our thanks to you all. However we must remain cautious until we witness Shaker on UK soil and in the arms of his dear family.
We must continue to call for Shaker’s immediate release from Guantanamo. Shaker’s lawyers have stated they are calling on the UK Government to demand that President Obama release Shaker so that he can return to the UK tomorrow. Shaker’s more than thirteen years incarceration in Guantanamo will go down in history as a most despicable and brutal act of injustice. We salute Shaker’s courage, and his principled stand speaking out loud from his Guantanamo cell for peace, justice and human rights for all.
Sara Hussain wrote:
Ray Silk is a fountain of knowledge with a huge dollop of humility and a heart smile
Thanks, Brigid Mary and Sara. Thanks also to Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, for her years of work on Shaker’s behalf – and those many letters to the Guardian!
Why was he in there and what happened?
Well, there’s a question, Stephanie. Check out my overview of his case here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/02/16/10-years-in-guantanamo-british-resident-shaker-aamer-cleared-for-release-but-still-held/
Reprieve’s page here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/case-study/shaker-aamer/
Brigid Mary Oates wrote:
Thank you you wonderful man xxx
Well, thank you again, Brigid Mary! I still recall the pleasure of meeting you at Menwith Hill two years ago for your (CAAB’s) big July 4th demo against US bases on UK soil.
Sara Hussain wrote:
I always had a dream to see you all who have spent endless hours campaigning for justice stood on UK soil with Shaker one day… InshaAllah i still have this dream and it will be realised soon
That would be lovely, Sara, but who knows what Shaker will want to do when he’s back? I do look forward to the day that I can meet him, though! After all, I’ve been writing about him and campaigning for his release for nearly ten years!
Robert Mcleod wrote:
Thanks Andy for all your hard work for justice, hope the US is willing to give him some sort of compensation
Thanks, Robert. We’re a long way from any kind of compensation, unfortunately, as the first job of lawyers close to the government is to find ways to avoid it. Don’t acknowledge that anyone was innocent, for example, which they continue to do. Prisoners are only “approved for transfer” subject to security considerations, and there is, scrupulously, no mention of guilt or innocence.
Kent Spriggs wrote:
The GTMO population identity was built on lies (e.g., on 5% were “battlefield captures”) so this is the Empire’s last gasp to stay with the narrative -“worst of the worst”; “would chew through (something) to take the plane down” – Cheney.
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
There are those that will try to put a spanner in the works to the bitter end as more of the public realize the terrible damage done at Gitmo…
Thanks, Kent and Carol. Yes, far too few people realize the extent to which Guantanamo was built on lies. This is what I wrote when I worked with WikiLeaks on the release of previously classified military files in 2011: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/04/25/wikileaks-reveals-secret-guantanamo-files-exposes-detention-policy-as-a-construct-of-lies/
Pucci Dellanno wrote:
Amazing. Let’s just hope there will be no further delays. 13 years too late, but at long long last.
Neil McKenna wrote:
I was wondering how he’d be treated by the British authorities.
Khan Sultan wrote:
Thanks, Pucci, Neil and Khan. Great to hear from you all. Neil, I’m pretty sure that the British authorities will allow him to go home to his family without any problems, although he will be “monitored” in some way – but aren’t we all?!
James Mangan wrote:
About bloody time too. No due process and what about the rule of law. Shameful episode in USA history
Yes, absolutely, James. Good to hear from you. And we must now work to get all the other men out of Guantanamo – 113 in total – unless they’re going to be charged and tried, which seems to apply to just ten of those still held. 52 men have been approved for release, like Shaker – most since 2010 – and 51 others are awaiting Periodic Review Boards to establish whether they too can be approved for release. There needs to be a push by the administration to make sure these take place much quicker than they have been to date. Since starting in November 2013, just 18 men have so far had their cases reviewed, even though it is reassuring that 13 of these 18 have been approved for release, while three decisions have yet to be taken, but at the current rate of reviews they won’t be completed until 2021, and that’s just not acceptable.
Pucci Dellanno wrote:
Finally. 13 years in Guantanamo without charges.
Quoting Andy Worthington:
While we prepare for it, I ask all of you to also keep in mind the 113 other men still held at Guantanamo – 52 approved for release like Shaker, but still held, just ten facing trials, and 51 others awaiting reviews to establish whether they too can be approved for release, five years since they were assessed by President Obama’s high-level Guantanamo Review Task Force to be “too dangerous to release.” This was in spite of the fact that the task force also acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial. That’s not evidence, of course, but unreliable statements made by prisoners subjected to torture, abuse or bribery.
Thanks for sharing, Pucci. I’m glad you recognise the importance – especially here in the UK – of not forgetting about all the other men now that Shaker is to be freed. The injustice continues – as does the need to campaign against it until the US no longer holds anyone without charge or trial – and those responsible for it, and for the whole malignant torture program, are held accountable.
Pucci Dellanno wrote:
Actually Andy I knew there were still a lot of people there but I didn’t realise it was over 100. “Too dangerous to release:? After being kidnapped over a decade ago, held without trial, tortured and so on, it’s just a mockery isn’t it?
Yes, still 113 men, Pucci (after Shaker’s release). There are three levels of absurdity when it comes to Guantanamo:
1) 52 men approved for release who don’t actually get released (most told they’d be going home soon back in 2010)
2) 51 men considered “too dangerous to release” despite a lack of evidence
3) seven men facing trials that never get to happen (essentially because the government doesn’t want any evidence of their torture to be publicly revealed)
There are also three others: one man given a life sentence after a military commission trial in 2008, whose conviction has been overturned in the courts, but the government is appealing; and two other men who have accepted plea deals in their trials, but haven’t had their sentences confirmed.
This is great news, of course, but I won’t celebrate until Mr. Aamer is back in the UK; we’re familiar with the Obama administration’s and the US court system’s ability to drag things out, so even when the Attorney General does sign the necessary documents, the “notification period” may be prolonged indefinitely. And even when Mr. Aamer is free, I hope it won’t cause the few remaining people and organizations still opposing Guantanamo to lose interest in the prisoners that remain there.
Good to hear from you, Jim. It’s obviously understandable why any of us would be hesitant to celebrate too soon, but this time around I’m pretty sure that Obama wouldn’t have called Cameron unless it was really happening.
As for keeping the focus on Guantanamo, it’s obviously something I’ll be doing, as will protestors in the US, but obviously it’s going to be hard to make sure that everyone in the UK who has supported Shaker will now remember the other men still held. However, I’ll be doing my best to remind them!
Sabyasachi Chatterjee wrote:
Great win. And at this moment I can only vision the face of dear Andy Worthington for his relentless struggle for this. Thank you so much all those who fought for the cause. Humanity prevails. Now the total closure of that torturous Guantanamo Bay prison is awaited.
Thank you, Sabyasachi. I only just saw your message now. Very kind.
Razia Ahmed wrote:
congratulations to Reprieve and especially to Andy Worthington for their untiring work
Thanks, Razia, for the kind words!
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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