Archive for October, 2015

Shaker Aamer’s Statement on His Release from Guantánamo

Joanne MacInnes, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker and campaigner Andrew Jackson at Biggin Hill airfield for Shaker Aamer's return home from Guantanamo.At lunchtime on October 30, 2015, a plane carrying Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, back to the UK as a free man, to be reunited with his family after nearly 14 years without charge or trial in US custody, landed at Biggin Hill airfield. Soon after, Shaker was whisked away by his UK lawyers to receive medical care and to be reunited with his family, and, I am led to believe, he is doing remarking well considering his long ordeal.

The following statement was issued by his UK lawyers and I’m delighted to post it below. It reveals the eloquence, generosity and concern for others that has been a hallmark of Shaker’s words from Guantánamo over the years. All his many supporters should take heart from the fact that he says, “I feel obliged to every individual who fought for justice not just for me but to bring an end to Guantánamo,” adding, “Without knowing of their fight I might have given up more than once; I am overwhelmed by what people have done by their actions, their thoughts and their prayers and without their devotion to justice I would not be here in Britain now.”

Shaker Aamer’s statement, October 30, 2015

“The reason I have been strong is because of the support of people so strongly devoted to the truth. If I was the fire to be lit to tell the truth, it was the people who protected the fire from the wind. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Finally Freed from Guantánamo: We Stand With Shaker Responds to the News

Andy Worthington, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (the founder and co-chair of the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group) and Joanne MacInnes at the launch of Fast For Shaker outside Parliament on October 15, 2015 (Photo: Seb Corbyn for Andy Worthington).

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Great news finally, as Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has just arrived back in the UK, at Biggin Hill airport. Below is a version of a press release I wrote and sent out this morning on behalf of the We Stand With Shaker campaign.

Responding to the news of Shaker Aamer’s arrival back in the UK from Guantánamo, Andy Worthington, the co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, said, “We are delighted to hear about Shaker Aamer’s return to the UK, bringing to an end his long and unacceptable ordeal in US custody for nearly 14 years. Eight years ago, under George W. Bush, Shaker was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and in 2009 the Obama administration also approved him for release. To be held for so long, after being approved for release, is unforgivable.”

Andy added, “We hope that on his return he is not detained by the UK authorities, and will immediately be allowed to be reunited with his family, and to begin to receive the medical and psychological care that he urgently needs to begin to put his life back together again. We thank all the campaigners who have worked tirelessly for Shaker’s release, the MPs from across the political spectrum who have devoted their energies to addressing this terrible injustice, his lawyers, the media who have understood the importance of his case and the principles at stake, and, of course, the concerned citizens around the world who have recognised his plight and acted on it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Finally, President Obama Vetoes Defense Bill That Contains Onerous Guantánamo Restrictions

President Obama and Guantanamo: a photo collage from Slate, in June 2014.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last week, for only the fifth time in his Presidency, Barack Obama vetoed a bill sent for his approval by Congress. The bill in question was the draft of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which provides funding for the military, but which, for several years now, has also been used by Republicans to impose restrictions on the president’s ability to release prisoners from Guantánamo — as well as an absolute ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason.

In a Veto Message on October 22, President Obama wrote, “I am returning herewith without my approval H.R. 1735, the ‘National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016.'” He added that “the bill would, among other things, constrain the ability of the Department of Defense to conduct multi-year defense planning and align military capabilities and force structure with our national defense strategy, impede the closure of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, and prevent the implementation of essential defense reforms.”

On Guantánamo, President Obama wrote, in further detail: Read the rest of this entry »

Keep Up the Fast For Shaker Aamer, As Foreign Office and State Department Say Release Delayed Until Late This Week or Early Next Week

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers ask, "Where is Shaker Aamer?" on the evening of October 27, 2015. From L to R: Richard Clare, Louis Sills-Clare, Bren Horstead and Andy Worthington.

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After all the expectation that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, would be returned to the UK on Sunday, at the end of the 30-day notification period required by Congress (following the announcement on September 25 that he would be freed), it has been a disappointing few days, with only rumours and vague reassurances to indicate that his release is imminent.

Today, for example, the Daily Mail reported that Shaker “is expected to return to the UK within days” — adding that he is “due to leave the infamous camp later this week or early next according to sources in the UK and US.”

A source in Whitehall told the Mail, “He will be out within days. We’re working on the practical details of how it will happen.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Shaker Aamer’s 5000th Day in Guantánamo – Vigil Outside 10 Downing Street, October 24, 2015

Campaigners marking Shaker Aamer's 5000th day in Guantanamo outside 10 Downing Street on October 24, 2015. From L to R: Chris Tranchell, Joanne MacInnes, Harriet Walter and Tania Mathias MP (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

On Saturday (October 24), campaigners for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, held a vigil on Whitehall, opposite 10 Downing Street, to mark Shaker’s 5000th day in Guantánamo, and the last day before his anticipated return from Guantánamo. The vigil was organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with support from other groups including We Stand With Shaker and the London Guantánamo Campaign.

President Obama announced Shaker’s release on September 25, and Congress was then given a 30-day notification period, as required in US law in recent years. During the 30 days, Shaker told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, that he had embarked on a hunger strike because of ill-treatment, and that he feared not making it out of Guantánamo alive, and as a result, myself and Joanne MacInnes, the founders and directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, set up Fast For Shaker, to encourage supporters to fast for 24 hours, on a day of their choice, in solidarity with Shaker, to encourage him to give up his hunger strike (which he did), and to keep up the pressure on the US and UK governments to make sure his release is not further delayed. We are encouraging people to sign up to fast until Shaker is released, joining the 406 people who have already done so.

After hearing that Shaker’s release has been delayed because of a visit to the prison by three Republican Senators over the weekend, we now hear that he may not be released until Friday, because of the presence of journalists for pre-hearings in the proposed trial of those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Fast For Shaker Aamer Hunger Strike Diary

Andy Worthington points out, to President Obama and David Cameron, that the 30-day notification period required by Congress before any Guantanamo prisoner can be released has now come to an end in Shaker Aamer's case, and he should immediately be returned to the UK. Today, October 25, was supposed to be the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was released and flown back to the UK to be reunited with his family, who he has not seen for over 14 years.

Shaker is still held, despite being approved for release eight years ago, under George W. Bush (and again under President Obama in January 2010), although campaigners for his release, his lawyers, and, of course, his family and Shaker himself, are hoping it will take place in the next couple of days.

Sustained campaigns — and significant pressure from MPs — finally led, a month ago, to a promise by President Obama that Shaker would be freed, and today is the end of the 30-day notification period demanded by Congress before any Guantánamo prisoner can be released.

And yet, Shaker is still not home — and, as the Mail on Sunday reported today, “The release of the last Briton held at notorious US detention centre Guantánamo Bay has been delayed. Shaker … saw his hopes of finally being reunited with his family this weekend dashed thanks to a political visit to the base … [T]he visit of three Republican senators, on a ‘fact-finding’ mission to the base, once again delayed his long-awaited flight to freedom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s 5000th Day in Guantánamo – and My 2500th Post

Andy Worthington pledging support for the new Fast For Shaker campaign.

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My friends,

It’s a big day today — 5000 days since Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, arrived at the prison from Afghanistan, where he had already been held for two or three months in appalling conditions. If all is well, Shaker will not stay much beyond his 5000th day, as today is also the day that the statutory notification period required by Congress before they will allow President Obama to release anyone from Guantánamo expires — and a month ago the president told David Cameron that Shaker would be freed.

5000 days would be a long sentence if Shaker had committed any kind of crime, but in fact he has never been charged or tried by the US, and he was first told eight years ago, under President Bush, that the US no longer wanted to hold him, and was told the same thing almost six years ago, under President Obama, as a result of the recommendations of the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that Obama set up shortly after taking office in January 2009.

His imprisonment for all these years is an indictment of the fundamental lawlessness of Guantánamo. Because Shaker is an eloquent, charismatic and irrepressibly outspoken critic of the US’s post-9/11 lawlessness and cruelty, he was, first of all, subjected to discussions about whether he could be sent back to the country of his birth, Saudi Arabia, where he would have been silenced, rather than to the UK, where he was granted indefinite leave to remain, and where he has a British wife and four British children. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Mixed Messages on Guantánamo, as Justice Department Tells Judge Not to Intervene in Case of 75-Pound Hunger Striker at Risk of Death

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

One day, when we’re looking back on Guantánamo and apportioning blame to those who contributed most powerfully to its cruelty, and to keeping it open long after the most senior officials in two governments conceded that it should be closed, a spotlight will be shone on the lawyers in the Civil Division of the Justice Department who have worked so assiduously to prevent prisoners from being released.

I have criticized these lawyers occasionally, but I have rarely heard any criticism of them in the mainstream media, and yet, from the moment that the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, they have been making life difficult for lawyers representing the prisoners, micro-managing their meetings with their clients and their travel arrangements, and often, it is impossible not to conclude, in an effort to obstruct the lawyers’ ability to represent their clients.

In addition, as I noted in an article in August, the Civil Division lawyers “have fought tooth and nail against every single habeas petition submitted by the prisoners, with just one exception — the severely ill Sudanese prisoners Ibrahim Idris, whose petition was granted unopposed in 2013.” I added, “Disgracefully, the Justice Department lawyers have repeatedly challenged habeas petitions submitted by prisoners whose release has already been approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force,” the high-level, inter-agency task force set up by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009, which issued its final report a year later, recommending 156 men for release, 36 for trials and 48 others for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the alarming basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Speaks to Anastasia Kyriacou About Guantánamo, We Stand With Shaker and Fast For Shaker

Andy Worthington with Anastasia Kyriacou after an interview on October 18, 2015.On Sunday, I was delighted to be interviewed by journalist and activist Anastasia Kyriacou for her show on Shoreditch Radio, ‘Anastasia Says.’ The show is here, and it lasts for 45 minutes.

Over the course of the show, I was allowed to explain how I became involved in the story of Guantánamo, why it is such a moral, legal and ethical abomination, and why, far too often, the liberal media, by insisting on “objectivity,” plays into the hands of the dark forces running our world — because the right-wing media does no such thing (see Fox News, the Sun and much of the Daily Mail‘s output, for example), and because the injustices of the world demand our involvement not our detached commentary.

Anastasia and I also spoke about my campaigning — from Close Guantánamo, which I established with the US lawyer Tom Wilner in 2012, to We Stand With Shaker, which I established last November with Joanne MacInnes to highlight the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, by asking celebrities and MPs to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and Fast For Shaker, launched just two weeks ago, in which Joanne and I have been asking celebrities, MPs and concerned citizens around the world to fast for 24 hours in solidarity with Shaker, who is due to be released this weekend. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011

Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.In an important concession, the US government has publicly admitted that the information it drew on to describe former Guantánamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) as a threat was profoundly unreliable, and that it ceased to accept it as reliable back in 2011.

Chekkouri was repatriated to his home country of Morocco from Guantánamo on September 16, and, as his lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve described it in a press release, just issued, “His transfer was subject to diplomatic assurances between Morocco and the US, which included agreements that there was no basis to charge him; that Morocco would not prosecute him; and that he would be detained no longer than 72 hours. However, after his arrival in Morocco Mr. Chekkouri was taken to Salé prison near Rabat, where he continues to be held in violation of the assurances.”

At a court hearing tomorrow (October 22), the Moroccan investigating magistrate “will determine whether Mr. Chekkouri should be set free,” as Reprieve described it, adding, “It is believed that the Moroccan authorities are detaining Mr. Chekkouri on the basis of the same allegations that the US government has now withdrawn against him.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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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