Exactly one year ago, on October 30, 2015, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the US’s disgraceful “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, arrived home in the UK, a free man.
Prior to his release, Shaker had been told that the US no longer wanted to hold him in 2007, under George W. Bush, and was told again under President Obama, in 2009, that he had been approved for release. However, it took an extraordinary effort, by over 100,000 concerned British citizens, by MPs, by the mainstream British media and by campaigners, including myself, for him to finally be released — all because, it seems, an official or officials somewhere within the US administration refused to accept that he had unanimously been approved for release by a stringent US inter-agency review process, and regarded him, implausibly, as someone dangerous.
Today, he sent the following message to everyone who supported him over the long years of his imprisonment without charge or trial:
Dear good, beautiful, just people all over the world,
I just wanted to say thank you and I hope my message gets to you where you are in the best of health and happiness.
I am well by the grace of Allah (God) and I am very happy to let you know that I pray for all of you.
No words will be enough to show my gratitude to you.
Thank you for every morning I wake up out of that horrible place. Thank you for every meal I eat out of that miserable place. Thanks for every breath I take out of that dark place.
I have no doubt you can hear my thoughts, all of you good people out there.
May allah guide all of us to his paradise.
SHAKER AAMER (239).
On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »
So the sabre-rattling in the West has begun yet again, cruelly and idiotically calling for more bombing in Syria, one of the most devastated countries in the world, in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris — even though the terrorists were European citizens, and even though the ongoing war in Syria has, to date, created a refugee crisis unprecedented in modern history. In response, I’m hoping that anyone interested in peace — and in understanding the true horrors of war — will find the time to listen to a profoundly enlightening interview I came across by chance last Friday, on the 70th anniversary of the day the Nuremberg trials began.
On BBC Radio 4, the PM programme interviewed Benjamin Ferencz, 95, the last surviving prosecutor from the trials, who was just 27 years old when, in 1947, he became the Chief Prosecutor in the ninth of the twelve Nuremberg trials, of 24 officers of the Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS death squads, who operated behind the front line in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. and who, from 1941 to 1943 alone, murdered more than one million Jews and tens of thousands of other people, including gypsies and the disabled.
Ferencz’s testimony about what he witnessed at the liberation of the Nazis’ death camps, and his experience of the trials — and his subsequent conviction that he had to devote his life to peace — ought to be required listening for everyone, from our politicians to every single one of our fellow citizens. Read the rest of this entry »
Following Friday’s sudden news of the arrival back in the UK of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, there was an intense media frenzy, the likes of which I’ve never experienced. For several hours, the phone was ringing off the hook, I was conducting interview after interview — on the phone or by Skype — with Skype calls incoming while I was being interviewed, and the phone ringing incessantly, as I found myself unable to switch it off.
Below is a brief run-through of where my media appearances can be found. Apologies for the delay, but it’s taken me many hours to track everything down, and I simply didn’t have the time – or was, frankly, too exhausted and in need of distraction — to do so until now.
After making a brief statement to the Press Association (as featured in this Independent article), I spoke briefly by phone to Sky News (their coverage is here), and then took part in the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2. The show has featured Shaker’s story twice in recent weeks. I appeared on it following the launch of Fast For Shaker, the campaign I set up with my colleague Joanne MacInnes as an off-shoot of our We Stand With Shaker campaign, and Shaker’s own words, read out by an actor, were featured in another show shortly after. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday morning, I appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2, to discuss the launch of Fast For Shaker, the new initiative launched by activist Joanne MacInnes and I, the co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. I’m delighted to report that over 200 people — 188 on the calendar, plus others on the celebrity schedule — have so signed up to Fast For Shaker. The relay fast, with people pledging to fast for 24 hours on a day of their choice — and with a commitment to continue until Shaker is released — begins on Thursday October 15.
When I posted it on Facebook, I wrote, “Follow the link and see a two-minute clip of me on Victoria Derbyshire’s show on BBC2 this morning, talking about Shaker Aamer, as the co-founder of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, my hopes that he will be released from Guantánamo within the next two weeks, and our determination to keep pressure on the Obama administration to honour its commitment to release him as soon as the 30-day notification to Congress is up, which we’re doing by encouraging supporters to Fast With Shaker, who is on a hunger strike, for a 24-hour period starting on Thursday.”
The entire show is also on iPlayer for the next month, starting at 36:15 and ending at 43:45. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in April, the Washington Post suggested that ten prisoners were in line to be freed from Guantánamo in June, and that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, “may be resettled as early as this summer.” A Saudi national, Shaker was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, where his wife, a British national, and his four children live, including his youngest son, born on the day he arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002.
The suggestion that he might be released soon gave hope to his supporters, who have been campaigning for years for his release — and, more generally, for those who are appalled that anyone should be held in Guantánamo year after year without charge or trial, and after twice being approved for release by high-level US government review processes, in 2007 and 2009, as is the case with Shaker, a vocal critic of the US “war on terror,” who has always fought for the prisoners’ rights throughout his 13 years in US custody.
The suggestion that he might be released soon also gave impetus to the delegation of MPs that visited Washington, D.C. last week, meeting Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and stressing the urgent need for a timetable for Shaker’s release — see, for example, the strong words of Andrew Mitchell MP, as reported in the Daily Mail just two days ago. Read the rest of this entry »
On February 24, I was delighted to be interviewed about Guantánamo by BBC World News — the BBC’s global, commercial arm — as part of their “Freedom” series. As the website states, “Whether it’s freedom from surveillance or freedom to be single, the BBC is investigating what freedom means in the modern world.”
The interview, which, unfortunately, isn’t available online, was preceded by a short clip of two former Guantánamo prisoners, from Afghanistan, talking about their experiences to the reporter Dawood Azami, who travelled to Afghanistan to meet former prisoners. The two men were Shahzada Khan (ISN 952, also known as Haji Shahzada), who was released in April 2005, and Haji Ghalib (ISN 987), who was released in February 2007.
Dawood Azami’s visit, and his meetings with former prisoners were also featured in a BBC World Service broadcast, “Guantánamo Voices,” and in an article for the BBC World Service’s online magazine, which I’m cross-posting below because it provides a powerful insight into some generally little-known stories, which demonstrate clearly the kind of chronic failures of intelligence that led to so many insignificant or completely innocent men — and, in some cases, boys — ending up at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »
This morning, I was interviewed on the BBC World Service’s “World Update” programme about Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and the latest news from the facility, in the long, drawn-out process of the US handing over control of the prison to the Afghan government. The show is here, it’s available for the next six days, and the section in which I’m interviewed begins at 27 minutes in, and lasts for four minutes.
The prison at Bagram airbase — America’s main prison in Afghanistan — was established in an old Soviet factory following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and was a place of great brutality, where a handful of prisoners were murdered in US custody.
Used to process prisoners for Guantánamo until the end of 2003, it then grew in size throughout the rest of Bush’s presidency, and into President Obama’s. During this time, a new prison was built, which was named the Parwan Detention facility, but those interested in the prison, its violent history in US hands and its unenviable role as the graveyard of the Geneva Conventions refused to accept the rebranding. Read the rest of this entry »
Eight days after he promised to resume releasing prisoners, not one of the 86 prisoners cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own interagency task force has been freed, and the hunger strike that has been raging for nearly four months shows no sign of slowing. I believe that only the release of prisoners will do that, and yet no one has been released in the last week, even though President Obama can use a waiver in the National Defense Authorization Act to do so, bypassing Congress, which has imposed hideous restrictions on the release of prisoners.
As I explained in an article published here yesterday:
Congress imposed restrictions in the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2012 and 2013, preventing the release of prisoners to countries where even a single released prisoner is alleged to have “returned to the battlefield,” and also insisted that, in other cases, the Secretary of Defense would have to certify that any prisoner the government intended to release would not be able to engage in anti-American activities — a requirement that appears to be impossible to fulfil.
To overcome these obstacles, however, a waiver was included in the legislation, which allows the President and the Secretary of Defense to bypass Congress if they regard it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday — April 30 — was a big day for Guantánamo coverage, as the BBC decided to provide extensive coverage of the ongoing hunger strike, now on its 84th day — and the ethical problems regarding the force-feeding of mentally competent prisoners — across a number of TV and radio shows.
I was contacted a few days ago by BBC World News, and asked to appear on the lunchtime news with George Alagiah, and on Monday evening I also received a request to appear on Newsday, on the World Service, at 7am. That show is available here (for the next six days) and my brief interview took place in a segment that began about 12 and a half minutes into the 90-minute show.
I then received another call, from World have Your Say, also on the World Service, asking me to appear on that show as well, and after I rolled up at the BBC at 11.30, I was shuttled around from the World Service to the rather roomy sound stage occupied by BBC World News, where I had a few minutes’ chat with George Alagiah. I can’t find that interview anywhere online, but the World Have Your Say interview is available here, in which Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign was also a guest, and our segment begins 19 minutes into the 26-minute show. Read the rest of this entry »
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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