I’m delighted to report that, today, US Independence Day (July 4), the following open letter to President Obama, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, was published by the Guardian, on its website, which has seven million readers worldwide, and picked up on by the Daily Mail, Sky News and ITV News. Also see this Guardian article (a version of which was published in the newspaper), accompanying the publication of the letter.
I wrote the letter for the We Stand With Shaker campaign , which I founded, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, in November, and Jo has spent the last few weeks assiduously securing signatures. Celebrity supporters include Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, Ralph Fiennes, Russell Brand, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Richard E. Grant, Mark Rylance, Juliet Stevenson, David Morrissey, Frankie Boyle, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Michael Brearley.
Late yesterday afternoon, we secured the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who joined dozens of other MPs, including two former Attorney Generals, Keir Starmer and Dominic Grieve, and the six MPs who lead the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group: the co-chairs, John McDonnell (Lab.) and David Davis (Con.), and the four officers of the group: Andrew Mitchell (Con.), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab.), Caroline Lucas (Green) and Andy Slaughter (Lab.). Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the Tory-led coalition government passed the wretched Health and Social Care Act in 2011 (after David Cameron blatantly lied to the British people, by falsely promising “no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS”), privatisation of the greatest and most important institution in the UK, the NHS (National Health Service, founded in 1948), has been increasing to an alarming degree.
As Headway, the brain injury association, described the impact of the Health and Social Care Act, “The Secretary of State no longer has a duty to provide health services through the NHS, which increases the opportunity for private health care firms to deliver many services that were previously operated by the NHS.” The bill also replaced the bodies responsible for commissioning services — Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities — with Clinical Commissioning Groups, nominally under the control of GPs (responsible for 60-80% of the NHS budget), but also providing another opportunity for private health care firms to infiltrate the NHS.
I campaigned against the passage of the Health and Social Care Act at the time (see here and here), and then became heavily involved in the successful campaign to save my local hospital, in Lewisham, in south east London, from savage cuts (see here, here and here). Last year I campaigned to resist the Tories’ spiteful response to Lewisham’s success, which became known as the “hospital closure clause” (see here and here), and covered the People’s March for the NHS, a grass-roots initiative that involved a recreation of the Jarrow March from the 1930s to save the NHS (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
On March 17, as I have been writing about over the last few days, 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 was there for the debate, in the public gallery behind bulletproof glass, along with around a hundred other supporters of Shaker Aamer, including representatives of We Stand With Shaker, which I co-founded with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November, and the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with whom I have worked for many years.
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.” Read the rest of this entry »
Campaigners will be at US Embassy at 4pm with a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker, signed by over 60 MPs, celebrities and other supporters. UPDATE 1.30pm: Music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) and Saeed Siddique, Shaker Aamer’s father-in-law, will be attending the protest.
Issued as a press release by the We Stand With Shaker campaign.
In a shocking development, the US Ambassador, Matthew W. Barzun, has refused to meet with British MPs, celebrities and other supporters of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, who were planning to hand in a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, on Friday February 13, the day before the 13th anniversary of Mr. Aamer’s arrival at Guantánamo.
The card reads: “We urge you to ask President Obama to secure the immediate release from Guantánamo of British resident Shaker Aamer. Please tell the president we want Shaker returned to his loved ones in London now.”
Shaker Aamer has twice been approved for release by the US authorities — under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
What a day it’s been! A great launch, for We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, including the launch of our website, which features photos of supporters all around the world holding their own signs that say “I Stand With Shaker.”
Also released today — and also on the website — is the campaign video, made by Billy Dudley, featuring my band The Four Fathers performing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote for the campaign, which is available below, via YouTube. Please watch it if you have three minutes to spare, and please share it if you like it:
Our special guest for the launch in Old Palace Yard, opposite Parliament, was Roger Waters (Pink Floyd’s chief songwriter), who told me last night that he was coming, but we were also delighted to welcome Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve (and Shaker’s lawyer for many years), Green MP Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell MP (who has organised a Parliamentary meeting tomorrow evening with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, at which I’m speaking), the comedian Jeremy Hardy and, unexpectedly, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT March 9: Here’s a short video about the “hospital closure clause” the government cynically inserted into the Care Bill to enable solvent successful hospitals near to hospitals in financial trouble to be closed or downgraded without proper consultation. MPs will be voting on Tuesday (March 11), so please act now. Sign and share the petition here if you haven’t already (it has nearly 180,000 signatures). Also, please write to your MP to urge them to vote against Clause 119, and to vote for an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow MP. And finally, if you’re in London, please come to the following protests: Monday March 10, 6-8pm on College Green opposite Parliament, St Stephen’s Entrance, and Tuesday March 11, 11.30am-12.30 on College Green. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, this will be a noisy protest, so bring whistles, saucepans etc.
On February 27, 2014, supporters of the NHS handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by nearly 150,000 people, calling for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw Clause 119 of the Care Bill (colloquially known as the “hospital closure clause”), which, if not withdrawn, will allow the government — and senior NHS managers — to “close viable hospitals without proper consultation.”
The handing in of the petition was followed by a demonstration outside Parliament and a Parliamentary meeting attended by Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, and all are featured in my photos above.
Clause 119 (formerly Clause 118) was cynically tagged onto the Care Bill by the government in autumn after the high court and then the appeals court ruled that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, as part of the proposals for dealing with an indebted neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, were unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
This is the second part of the transcript of a Parliamentary debate that took place last Wednesday, April 24, 2013, eleven years, two months and ten days after Shaker Aamer, a British resident, arrived at Guantánamo, six years after he was told that the Bush administration no longer wanted to hold him, nearly six years after his return to the UK was first requested by the British government (under Gordon Brown), and over three years since he was officially cleared for release by the inter-agency task force that President Obama established after he took office in January 2009.
That he is still held — as are 85 other men cleared for release by the task force — is so monstrously unjust that is is unsurprising that many of the men, including Shaker, are part of a prison-wide hunger strike, which has been ongoing for nearly three months, to draw attention to their plight.
The men have been failed by all three branches of the US government — by President Obama, who promised to close the prison within a year when he took office; by Congress, where cynical lawmakers have imposed almost insurmountable obstacles to their release; and by the courts, where a handful of judges (in the DC Circuit Court) have gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the men held in Guantánamo, and have been allowed to do so by the Supreme Court. Read the rest of this entry »
On April 24, 2013, eleven years, two months and ten days after Shaker Aamer, a British resident, arrived at Guantánamo, his case was finally the subject of a Parliamentary debate. The trigger for this was an e-petition to the British government, calling on ministers to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” which secured over 100,000 signatures, through the tireless work of numerous campaigners, making it eligible for a discussion in Parliament.
Jane Ellison, the Conservative MP for Battersea, Shaker’s constituency, requested the debate, which took place in Westminster Hall, and it will, hopefully, be followed sometime next month by a full debate in the House of Commons.
Below I’m cross-posting the transcript of the debate, in which, as I explained yesterday when I posted photos from a demonstration in Parliament Square that followed the debate, the MPs who spoke made “an unassailable case for Shaker’s immediate release.”
Primarily, these MPs were Jane Ellison, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, and the Labour MPs John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Yasmin Qureshi. Also present, and making short statements or asking questions were the Labour MPs Kerry McCarthy, Jim Cunningham, Stephen Timms, John Woodcock, Russell Brown, Gavin Shukur, Andy Slaughter and Anas Sarwar, the Conservative MP Mike Freer, Mark Durkan of the SDLP and the Independent MP Eric Joyce. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, in the Houses of Parliament, a passionate and packed-out meeting took place in one of the House of Commons committee rooms, attended by well over a hundred campaigners for the NHS, at which MPs, doctors and activists spoke, and there were also intelligent contributions from the audience, as, collectively, we tried to work out how, in the short term, to resist the government’s latest plans to privatise the NHS, and, in the longer term, how to save the NHS and build a successful movement to oppose the whole of the wretched age of austerity imposed on us by the Tory-led coalition government for malignant ideological purposes; in short, in an effort to destroy the state provision of almost all services — with one exception, of course, being their salaries and expenses.
The spur for the meeting, and the rally outside that preceded it, is the government’s plan to push through privatisation of the NHS — despite explicit promises not to do so — through secondary legislation relating to Section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act that was passed last year, in which almost all NHS services will have to be put out to tender by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget from April 1.
Although 350,000 people recently signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the plans (which I wrote about here), and Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb promised that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten, the rewritten regulations have barely changed, and they still oblige the NHS to put almost all NHS services out to tender, allowing private companies to begin to devour the whole of the NHS or face legal challenges that they will probably lose, because enforced competition will have been made into a key component of the provision of NHS services. Read the rest of this entry »
Today, February 14, 2013, is the 11th anniversary of the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has a British wife and four British children, arrived at the Bush administration’s experimental “war on terror” prison from Afghanistan, where he had travelled with his family to engage in humanitarian aid. After the 9/11 attacks, however, having managed to get his family to safety, he was captured and sold to US forces by bounty hunters. Ironically, Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo on February 14, 2002 was also the day that his youngest son was born.
To mark this dreadful anniversary, six years — six whole years! — since Shaker was first told that he would be going home to his family, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign organised a protest outside Parliament yesterday, attended by activists and campaigners — myself included — and also by MPs: Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), Sadiq Khan (Labour, Tooting), John O’Donnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison (Conservative, Battersea).
We were all there to ask why it is that Shaker is still held, when he was not only cleared for release in 2007, under the Bush administration, but was also cleared for release again in 2009, under the Obama administration, a fact that was only made public in September, when the Justice Department publicly released a list containing the names of 55 cleared prisoners, of which he was one. Read the rest of this entry »
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