Over 90 Celebrities and MPs Sign Open Letter to President Obama Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo on US Independence Day

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.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 »

Who Are the Six Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo and Resettled in Oman?

Idris Ahmad Abdu Qader Idris, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.So it’s good news from Guantánamo, as six Yemenis — long cleared for release — have been freed and resettled in the Gulf state of Oman. These are the first men to be released since January, and the first under the watch of the new defense secretary Ashton Carter, who, as defense secretary, has to sign off on any proposed releases, certifying to Congress that it is safe to do so.

They follow four of their compatriots who were resettled in Oman in the last batch of transfers, five months ago, on January 14. With these releases, 116 men remain at Guantánamo, and 51 of those men have been approved for release — 44 since 2009, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009 issued its recommendations about who to release, who to prosecute and who to continue holding without charge or trial. The other seven have had their release approved, in the last year and a half, by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of all the prisoners not approved for release by the task force, with the exception of the small number of men facing trials.

Of these 51, all but eight are Yemenis, the victims of a refusal, across the entire US establishment, to contemplate repatriating them because of the security situation in their home country. The other eight include Tariq al-Sawah, a morbidly obese Egyptian who was cleared for release by a PRB in February. and three men cleared by the task force and mentioned in a Washington Post article predicting a rash of releases in April, which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; Thanks Roger Waters, Says, “I Am An Innocent Man and a Good Person”

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).In the latest news about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and who wants only to return to his family in London, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of the legal action charity Reprieve, released sections from a number of Shaker’s recent letters from the prison. Clive made Shaker’s words available to We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group I established with Joanne MacInnes last November.

The quotes were subsequently made available to the media and were read out in Parliament yesterday by Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour, Islington North), a member of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and one of four MPs — along with the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and his Labour colleague Andy Slaughter — who visited Washington D.C. two weeks ago to discuss Shaker’s case with senior officials.

In a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn urged ministers to “step up the fight to free Mr. Aamer,” as the Daily Mail described it. “He has never been charged, never been prosecuted, never been through any legal process whatsoever,” Mr. Corbyn said, adding, “Can we have an undertaking from the Foreign Office to follow this up with real vigour to push the Obama administration to name the date by which Shaker Aamer will be released and returned to his family?” Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith Confirms That Shaker Aamer Could Be Released from Guantánamo in June

A giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, which was brought along by supporters to the day of action on Guantanamo in Trafalgar Square on May 23, 2014, as part of a global day of action on Guantanamo. The figure later became the centrepiece of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched in November 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 »

As Last Egyptian Is Cleared for Release from Guantánamo, Another Yemeni Faces Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Tariq al-Sawah as a young man, prior to his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, where his weight has ballooned, and, as a result, his health is severely threatened. Photo made available by his family.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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been campaigning, since we launched in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, for all the prisoners held at Guantánamo to be freed, unless they are to be charged and tried, and we are pleased to note that, as part of a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), established in 2013, seven men who had long been regarded as “too dangerous to release” have had those decisions overturned, and have had their release recommended.

Six of these decisions were taken last year, but the latest decision, which was taken on February 12 but was not reported until today, was for Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian in Guantánamo, to be released — which, we hope, will happen soon. I wrote about his PRB, on January 22, here, describing the 57-year old’s serious health problems, as well as the absurdity of continuing to hold someone regarded as having provided a wealth of useful information, and I find it entirely appropriate that the board has recommended his release.

In its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the review board stated: Read the rest of this entry »

US Ambassador Snubs 60 Celebrities and MPs Calling for Release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

"There is no love in Guantanamo": Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and her mum, actress/presenter Janet Ellis, hold a Valentine's Day card for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, to mark the 13th anniversary of his arrival at Guantanamo. Supporters of the We Stand With Shaker campaign have been encouraged to send cards to the US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, asking him to ask President Obama to secure Shaker's release.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 »

On Eve of 13th Anniversary of Shaker Aamer’s Arrival at Guantánamo, Renewed Calls for Action from Barack Obama and David Cameron

Andy Worthington with the Valentine's Day card made by the We Stand With Shaker campaign to mark the 13th anniversary of Shaker Aamer's arrival at Guantanamo.Despite a promise from President Obama to “prioritise” Shaker Aamer’s case after a recent meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the US defense secretary Chuck Hagel has told reporters that Shaker’s file was “not on [his] desk.”

He reportedly said, “As far as I know, I have made a decision on everything that is ready to be made a decision on.” Mr. Hagel’s role is crucial, as, by law, he must sign off on any planned releases from the prison, after Congress has been given 30 days’ notice.

In a letter to David Cameron, Cori Crider, the Strategic Director of the human right organisation Reprieve, challenged the Prime Minister about what had taken place during his recent meeting with the US president. She wrote:

What assurances were you given regarding Shaker’s case by the President during your visit, beyond what the NSC spokesperson said publicly on Mr Obama’s behalf? Did the President provide any indication on when Shaker’s family can expect to see him returned to London? Did you ask the President to ensure that Shaker’s case was sent to Secretary Hagel for his consideration? And finally, in the light of Secretary Hagel’s comments, will you now press the Obama administration on providing a concrete timetable for Shaker’s return?

Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s First Phone Call from Guantánamo to His Lawyers Since Publication of the Senate Torture Report

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).NOTE: Andy is currently in the US on a short tour to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11. See here for further details. You can contact Andy on 347-272-3576.

In the Mail on Sunday on January 4, long-time Guantánamo reporter David Rose, who worked for the Observer for many years, wrote an article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, after he was given access to the notes of Shaker’s first phone conversation with one of his lawyers — Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve — following the publication, last month, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning 6,700-page report about the CIA’s torture program.

The Mail has recently dedicated itself to Shaker’s case, inspired in part by We Stand With Shaker, the campaign that I established in November with activist Joanne MacInnes, which features numerous celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — demonstrating how he is the elephant in the room of US-UK relations. Twice approved for release (in 2007 and 2009), his return has also been requested by the British government since 2007, and as a result his ongoing imprisonment is a shame and a disgrace for both countries.

On January 6, after Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, told the New York Times that “the Defense Department continues to aggressively pursue the transfer” of those prisoners “who have been declared eligible” for release — currently 59 of the remaining 127 prisoners — Reprieve urged Prime Minister David Cameron, who is “reportedly traveling to the US in January to meet President Obama,” to “raise his case and return from the visit with a clear date for Mr. Aamer’s release.” Read the rest of this entry »

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters Calls for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).My friends,

I’ve been offline for the last week, away from home with my family during this holiday period, staying in a house without wi-fi access. My apologies if you missed me, but I was also exhausted and run-down after the relentless work involved in the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched with a colleague, Joanne MacInnes, on November 24, so I felt it was acceptable to have a short break.

The campaign we established was for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling in particular for David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, to drop the government’s official position — that the final decision about his fate rests in the hands of the Obama administration — and to demand his release and his return to the UK.

This is required of the PM under the government’s obligations to Mr. Aamer, a legal British resident who had been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK with his British wife and British children before his kidnap in Afghanistan (where he had traveled with his family to undertake humanitarian aid projects) and his rendition to Guantánamo in February 2002.

Mr. Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009. In addition, the British government has been requesting his return since 2007. His continued imprisonment is, therefore, completely unacceptable — and inexplicable too, unless one accepts, as I think is necessary, that both the US and the UK governments, at the urging of their security services, would prefer to send him back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he would be prevented from talking about what — as the foremost campaigner for the prisoners’ rights within Guantánamo — he knows about various crimes committed by his captors in the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Speaks from Guantánamo, and His Family Talk About His 13-Year Ordeal

We Stand With Shaker: the logo for the campaign to secure the release  from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, launched on November 24, 2014.Today, the Daily Mail, which has thrown its weight behind We Stand With Shaker — the campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I launched three weeks ago with my colleague Joanne MacInnes — published an article dealing with Shaker’s recent phone call to his family from the prison — shockingly, the first call he has been allowed to make in two and a half years. The article also included comments made by his father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, and by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, who visited Shaker at Guantánamo last week.

The Mail began its coverage by describing the call — on an iPad provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who also facilitated the call — noting that the screen was “filled by a familiar round face with a white-flecked beard and deeply-etched lines,” but adding, “Though the man forced one of his big, trademark smiles, fear and misery were seared in his eyes.”

The family, the article explained, “bolstered his spirits with uplifting stories about their lives — how his children were faring well at school and growing up to make him proud,” although it added that they too — his wife, Zin, and their four children (the youngest of whom is 13, and has never met his father) “struggled to mask their sorrow.”

The very fact that he was allowed to call his family, however, must give hope that his release may be imminent. Although he was banned from talking to his family in 2012 — presumably, though this is not stated, as a punishment for his refusal to be cooperative and to cease his persistent resistance to the injustice of being held indefinitely without charge or trial — he “has been permitted to make two Skype calls to them in the past month.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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